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?
Karly Stark: I am an experimental filmmaker and lecturer currently hunkered down in my apartment in Oakland, CA. I lecture in the School of Cinema at San Francisco State and teach courses that mostly focus on experimental filmmaking/production and queer/trans film theory, and my creative practice focuses on essay and diary filmmaking. I’m also currently working to incorporate hand-drawn rotoscope animation into my film practice, so that’s been taking up a lot of my time recently.
SP: How does your film in this program relate to your ongoing practice or body of work?
KS: I made the problem is… as part of a larger collaborative project in an MFA class at San Francisco State back in 2015. The project was a filmic translation of a renga poem—a member of my cohort made a one-minute film then passed it along to the next person, who made a one-minute film commenting on that film, etc. I was chosen to make the tenth and final film, so it was tasked with encapsulating all that came before it. I’ve always gravitated towards poetry in my films—in essay or diary work I always include a poetic mode of address either through voiceover or text on screen. So, I wrote the problem is… as a way of drawing together the themes I saw at work in the piece as a whole, and for me it always makes sense to have it come from a single voice, to try to be intimate and universal at the same time.
This film is probably the only thing I’ve made that doesn’t have an overtly queer voice, so it also feels really affirming to have it screen within a program and exhibition that facilitates that lens or reading.Karly Stark
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?
KS: These are definitely huge themes in my work, and of course in my artistic process in general. I’m a non-binary queer filmmaker who makes really personal, lyrical films. My early films have all been vehicles to explore my relationship with my gender and sexuality—my first queer sexual experiences, my position as the first openly queer member of my family, etc. I also feel that queerness, ambiguity, transness, in all its forms and intricacies, is such a core part of who I am that it’s the filter through which I see everything.
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?
KS: I feel so honored and humbled to see my work alongside artists that I’ve admired from afar for so long and whose work I find wildly inspirational, and also just so many queer artists. This film is probably the only thing I’ve made that doesn’t have an overtly queer voice, so it also feels really affirming to have it screen within a program and exhibition that facilitates that lens or reading. It’s a film I made five years ago, when I was in a very different place than I am now, so revisiting it in a context that centers my current positionality has opened up a kind of diaristic reflection for me.
SP: How are you coping with the current public health crisis? How has it impacted your approach to art making?
KS: I’m remarkably privileged in that I am healthy and have secure housing, a few months of employment, and the ability to stay home and wait this out. Honestly, the first week I spent a lot of time furiously animating to keep myself really busy, but as the weeks have gone by I’ve taken a step back and focused on slowing myself down. I’ve mostly been journaling more, playing guitar and making music.
SP: Lastly, what’s the last piece of art, media, or culture that exerted a profound impact on you?
Karly Stark is an experimental filmmaker, educator, and curator based in Oakland, California. Their creative work focuses on experimental modes of cinema that explore human experience and memory through a queer lens.