Poking Around in Consciousness with Alice Anne Parker

Professional psychic, acclaimed author, and award-winning filmmaker Alice Anne Parker reflects on her practice and short film Riverbody (1970) in our ongoing conversation series for McEvoy Arts at Home.

Guest curator and San Francisco Cinematheque director Steve Polta speaks each Wednesday with artists in the Screening Room exhibition certainty is becoming our nemesis, which was interrupted by McEvoy Arts’ temporary closure due to the coronavirus. The program is now available to view online in its entirety.

Steve Polta: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your current artistic concerns or projects? Where are you answering this Q&A from?

Alice Anne Parker: It seems irrelevant, but I’m thinking about all the old filmmaker friends of mine who are dead—Yikes! Bob Nelson, Scott and Freude Bartlett, John Knoop, Peter Hutton, the lurid and wonderful George Kuchar [and his equally wonderful brother Mike, still with us]—and what a great time we had making movies! I was an academic, working on my doctorate at UC Berkeley when I started teaching English at SFAI. Goodbye Ph.D. What could be more fun than making movies with these witty, brilliant pals?

I made movies of things I wanted to see.

Alice Anne Parker

SP: How does your film in this program relate to your ongoing practice or body of work?

AP: I think I was interested in seeing a lot of people nude when I made Riverbody. Maybe it had something to do with being undefended. Exposed. Years later I became a professional psychic, which I suppose means being undefended in a completely different way. Being a psychic, for me anyway, involves poking around in someone’s consciousness. Someone has a problem and they need help. You go into them and do a little reorganizing until the problem dissolves—but of course, you are undefended and exposed as well. I didn’t ever think of myself as an artist. But maybe that’s how art works. It can change your awareness of something in a seemingly effortless way. Later I wrote a few books, one still in print after thirty years.

Alice Anne Parker Riverbody, 1970, 16mm screened as digital video, color, sound, 6 min. Courtesy of the artist, Canyon Cinema and University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive
Alice Anne Parker, Riverbody, 1970, 16mm screened as digital video, color, sound, 6 min. Courtesy of the artist, Canyon Cinema and University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive

SP: As you know, certainty is becoming our nemesis is inspired by McEvoy Arts’ exhibition Orlando, itself inspired by Virginia’s Woolf’s 1928 novel and Sally Potter’s 1992 film adaptation starring Tilda Swinton. What, if any, is your prior relationship to the work of these artists?

AP: My only connection is that I’ve known Tilda for some years.

SP: The program explores themes of transformation, self-invention, and gender performance and suggests that ambiguity of identity can operate as an emotional survival strategy and act of defiance. Are these themes something you consider in your artistic process or as central to your work exhibited here?

AP: I didn’t ever consider themes or my artistic process. I made movies of things I wanted to see. The result appears to be much of the above, certainly transformation and ambiguity of identity… I’m not so sure about survival strategy or defiance.

SP: In what way has your inclusion in this program (or in conjunction with the larger Orlando exhibition) impacted your view of the work itself?

AP: It has certainly made me very happy! That is, I’m delighted that my movies are still being shown. So looking forward to watching the entire program.

SP: How are you coping with the current public health crisis? How has it impacted your approach to art-making?

AP: My husband and myself are old, both in our eighties. We’re not terrifically concerned about our own survival, but we also have kids and grand-kids. We speculate that this mess may be the forerunner of a brave new world, more conscious, less opportunistic—there seems to be some evidence for this. My husband is a novelist and a painter, I’m enjoying myself doing very little.

SP: Lastly, what’s the last piece of art, media, or culture that exerted a profound impact on you?

AP: Probably Kurosawa’s Dersu Uzala [1975]—I’ve seen it so many times, but it always moves me.


You can watch Alice Anne Parker’s Riverbody (1970) here. For more from McEvoy Arts at Home, click here.

Alice Anne Parker

Alice Anne Parker is a psychic, author, radio host, and filmmaker, who has taught at Rutgers University, The University of California at Berkeley, and the San Francisco Art Institute.

Siren Landscapes and Alien Shores with Julia Dogra-Brazell

Artist Julia Dogra-Brazell describes taking inspiration from the waves in the next installment of our conversation series for McEvoy Arts at Home.

Guest curator and San Francisco Cinematheque director Steve Polta speaks each Wednesday with artists in the Screening Room exhibition certainty is becoming our nemesis, which was interrupted by McEvoy Arts’ temporary closure due to the coronavirus. The program is now available to view online in its entirety.

Steve Polta: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your current artistic concerns or projects? Where are you answering this Q&A from?

Julia Dogra-Brazell: For the last twenty years, I’ve experimented with narrative structure through film and video. Having moved to the south coast of England from London a few years ago, I answer you from there, close to the waves and sand you see depicted in the film. Transformed by the pandemic, it has become a siren landscape in which, we are told, no one should land and no one should linger.

SP: How does your film in this program relate to your ongoing practice or body of work?

JDB: Between Dog and Wolf is the first of a trilogy of longer works (including Past Perfect and Terra Incognita) started in 2018 for a show in London in 2021. Previous films have been fleeting (1–4 minutes in length) relying on the condensation of montage for effect. Though I once thought it impossible, for this trilogy I wanted to see if I could ‘scale up’ and slow down without losing any of the intensity or depth of the earlier works. Living by the sea has, in any case, altered the rhythm and pace of my editing. More things seem possible.

At some point the logic is in the edit, the subconscious.

Julia Dogra-Brazell

SP: As you know, certainty is becoming our nemesis is inspired by McEvoy Arts’ exhibition Orlando, itself inspired by Virginia’s Woolf’s 1928 novel and Sally Potter’s 1992 film adaptation starring Tilda Swinton. What, if any, is your prior relationship to the work of these artists?

JDB: I’ve always admired Woolf. The first book of hers I read was The Waves. I guess it was inevitable that I’d think of her again when making this film. She allows access to such provisional states of interiority. Finding a correct distance—whether making or receiving a work—seems vital to the exchange offered by such encounters. Coincidently in this regard, I first came across Tilda Swinton asleep in a glass box at the Serpentine Gallery (for Cornelia Parker’s The Maybe) in 1995. At a time when fewer people visited galleries, I found myself standing alone in the space—with Swinton potentially awake and aware of my presence or asleep and possibly even dreaming. It brought the whole question of distance to the fore quite literally.

Julia Dogra-Brazell, Between Dog and Wolf, 2018, digital video, color, sound, 8 min. Courtesy the artist
Julia Dogra-Brazell, Between Dog and Wolf, 2018, digital video, color, sound, 8 min. Courtesy the artist

SP: The program explores themes of transformation, self-invention, and gender performance and suggests that ambiguity of identity can operate as an emotional survival strategy and act of defiance. Are these themes something you consider in your artistic process or as central to your work exhibited here?

JDB: Not consciously. The starting point for this particular piece was the stranger who brings something initially alien to a shore: whether, as in this case, the Romans, Vikings, St. Augustine, artists or, today, migrants attempting to make it to the UK in precarious boats. But when making, I have to let even that go. At some point the logic is in the edit, the subconscious. I never reference anything too specific in my work.

SP: In what way has your inclusion in this program (or in conjunction with the larger Orlando exhibition) impacted your view of the work itself?

JDB: Imaginative and sensitive curation of this kind helps me to see that bearing witness—a preoccupation of much art-making today—is possible even from a slight distance and from an acute angle. I often worry about that. The balance between sustained resonance and specificity is a tricky business.

SP: How are you coping with the current public health crisis? How has it impacted your approach to art-making?

JDB: There are practical and financial issues right now, of course, but my biggest concern is what kind of world we will find ourselves in after this. We need to dream and think big, so we don’t go back to living unintelligently as a species.

SP: Lastly, what’s the last piece of art, media, or culture that exerted a profound impact on you?

JDB: Two pieces that really stay with me are Ryan Gander’s Locked Room Scenario (2011) and Tino Sehgal’s This Success/Failure (2007). They both put you on the spot when it comes to a response. More recently, the brilliant IFC series Documentary Now. It’s a great way to survive lockdown.


You can watch Julia Dogra-Brazell’s Between Dog and Wolf (2018) here. For more from McEvoy Arts at Home, click here.

Julia Dogra-Brazell
Photo: Goso Tominaga

Julia Dogra-Brazell works with film, video, sound and the still image in the context of experimental narrative. She has taught at LCC University of the Arts, Sotheby’s Institute of Art, Brighton University, and ECS/IEJ Media School.

A.I. Fantasies and Beliefs with Zach Blas

Artist Zach Blas elaborates upon his explorations of artificial intelligence in the first interview of our new conversation series.

Guest curator and San Francisco Cinematheque director Steve Polta speaks each Wednesday with artists in the Screening Room exhibition certainty is becoming our nemesis, which was interrupted by McEvoy Arts’ temporary closure due to the coronavirus. The program is now available to view online in its entirety.

Steve Polta: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your current artistic concerns or projects? Where are you answering this Q&A from?

Zach Blas: I am an artist living in London, originally from the US, and I’m currently on lockdown in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. These days, I am making work on the fantasies and beliefs swirling around artificial intelligence. 

SP: How does your film in this program relate to your ongoing practice or body of work?

ZB: I have a long-standing interest in the cultures and politics around digital technologies. With Facial Weaponization Communiqué: Fag Face (2012), I started to question how biometric facial recognition standardizes and reduces the complexities of the face to a calculable identity. How very un-queer! Now that facial recognition and AI are so entwined, I feel that I’m on a quite clear path that can easily be traced back to this work, which was made about 8 or 9 years ago. 

Zach Blas, Facial Weaponization Suite. Courtesy of the artist
Zach Blas, Facial Weaponization Suite, 2012. Courtesy of the artist

I think of my work as conceptual, queer science-fiction.

Zach Blas

SP: As you know, certainty is becoming our nemesis is inspired by McEvoy Arts’ exhibition Orlando, itself inspired by Virginia’s Woolf’s 1928 novel and Sally Potter’s 1992 film adaptation starring Tilda Swinton. What, if any, is your prior relationship to the work of these artists?

ZB: I came to Tilda Swinton through the films of Derek Jarman when I was a teenager. Her performance in The Last of England (1987) has particularly stayed with me over the years. I’ve always wanted to work with Tilda. I even tried to get in touch with her to consider producing my 2018 film Contra-Internet: Jubilee 2033, which is a re-imagining of Jarman’s 1978 film Jubilee

Zach Blas’ Contra-Internet: Jubilee 2033 is featured in Cinematheque’s online program, I Hate the Internet: Techno-Dystopian Malaise and Visions of Rebellion, online now through May 16.

SP: The program explores themes of transformation, self-invention, and gender performance and suggests that ambiguity of identity can operate as an emotional survival strategy and act of defiance. Are these themes something you consider in your artistic process or as central to your work exhibited here?

ZB: I think of my work as conceptual, queer science-fiction. I am interested and motivated by transformation into the unknown, the alien, the opaque. I’m not so interested in queer as an identity category. I do not think of my anti-biometric masks—like the Fag Face Mask—as simply hiding, disappearing or enacting a kind of individual privacy. I think of the masks as demanding a collective opacity through a gesture that I describe as informatically queer. 

Zach Blas, Facial Weaponization Suite. Courtesy of the artist
Zach Blas, Facial Weaponization Suite, 2012. Courtesy of the artist

SP: In what way has your inclusion in this program (or in conjunction with the larger Orlando exhibition) impacted your view of the work itself?

ZB: My work is rarely included in queer exhibitions but rather exhibitions concerned with digital technology, so thanks for making room. 

SP: How are you coping with the current public health crisis? How has it impacted your approach to art-making?

ZB: I’m washing my hands constantly and not going out much, like many others. For the time being, I’m focusing my energies on two books I’m writing–one is a collection of my essays and the other is an edited anthology on Donna Haraway’s concept “informatics of domination.” I’m also in the research phase of a new installation that focuses on AI and religion. In part, this work is a re-imagining of Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment

SP: Lastly, what is the last piece of art, media, or culture that exerted a profound impact on you?

ZB: Lyra Pramuk’s new album Fountain, particularly the track “New Moon.”


You can watch Zach Blas’ Facial Weaponization Communiqué: Fag Face (2012) here. For more from McEvoy Arts at Home, click here.

Zach Blas is an artist, filmmaker, and writer whose practice spans moving image, computation, theory, performance, and science fiction. He is a Lecturer in the Department of Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths, University of London.