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.
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.
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.