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INTERVIEW WITH CATERINA BORELLI
PAGE 1 (learning to watch) and PAGE 99
Series curator Kathy High conducted this telephone interview with Caterina Borelli in May, 1997.
How did you come up with these ideas for these pieces? Maybe you
want to speak a bit about the precursor to these pieces, PROLOGUE, which we
aren't actually seeing in the series, but maybe you can talk about how
these pieces came out of that.
Yeah, absolutely. I can't really talk about these pieces by themselves, but they do stand on their own. Two or three years ago I started reflecting about what I was doing in relation to doing personal work, experimental work, but also working with media in general. First, I made the PROLOGUE tape, the tease, which is really the statement of what is interesting for me in images, in moving images, and that is their similarity in structure with writing -- and mostly the similarity of experimental work with poetry in its structure. And probably it is the basis of how I look at images. And from that day I started making notes, and started working as if I were working on a book. I did the PROLOGUE, the introduction, then PAGE 1 and PAGE 99. PAGE 1 is the beginning of the book, and PAGE 99 is the last page. I did the beginning and the end.
There are two things that are really evident for me in relationship to images: one is the audience and the other is the maker. And in PAGE 1, as the audience -- and I see myself as part of the audience also -- we have a relationship to images, which is a gluttonous relationship, where more is better. You know, we just watch as much as we can. We watch everything. I think the process should be much more selective. We really have a pollution of images. We should really be more selective, and choose to look at something, or choose not to look at something.
PAGE 1 is like a relationship with food -- it's really about ingesting. PAGE 99 is at the end of everything, and about whatever I can make as a maker, or whatever I'm looking at in other people's work. I think that it's very important in relation to the audience that the work is open, so as to allow the audience to interact with it. Then they close the work with their participation. In the end, you, as the audience, decide what the image you are looking at is about. And you should be able to do so. Images, as products, should never be too descriptive. I think there is a sort of competition, especially in media, towards being so descriptive and so rude and so aggressive in what they show. Things could be directed much more effectively without being that descriptive. If you want to talk about violence, you don't really need to see a dead person.
Yeah, thinking about that, it's quite interesting in PAGE 1, the way that you started with these images which are very evocative but also completely out of focus. They come a little bit more into focus as you proceed with the piece . . .
But, you know, they come into focus because you get used to it.
Is that what happens?
Yes. Because they're exactly the same.
That's very interesting. Can you talk about where there are cuts in these pieces? There seem to be cuts in there and it seems to be edited to some kind of timing, some kind of structure, even though they're blurred colors and movement. And then also, can you speak about the soundtrack? Because I find that that's quite evocative in that it starts out almost nostalgic, with the movie projector sound and then the splashing water sound -- perhaps someone diving into a swimming pool. But then all of a sudden there are all these industrial sounds introduced, mechanical sounds, that bring it immediately away from that kind of nostalgia into something that's much more performative and rhythmic.
For the images, the images are basically non-edited. There is some editing but it's really just a clean-up. Basically, it's just changing channels on TV, so the crescendo really comes with the music. The music is very important. In all the works, music is very important. But this is the first work I've done in which when I've conceptualized the work, the music came first. I worked with the soundtrack first, and then with the images. I didn't shoot until I had the sound. First of all, I've been working with Sandra Seymour on soundtracks for almost ten years. It's a very important collaboration for me. And usually we start work when I have my rough cut ready, that's when I start working with her. I explain the whole concept, and she brings me sound elements, and then we go back and forth.
This time we started without the images. We wanted to work with this sound, these machine sounds, for a long time. Sandy had been collecting mechanical manufacturing machine sounds for a long time. They're all recorded in Brooklyn in different factories. And they were very interesting sounds for me, and for her, too. So I had this idea of what I wanted to work on, and we thought about using these sounds.
And the evolution of the soundtrack also follows on this idea of a book, where there are reminiscences of some previous states, as if you were reading, turning pages. You come into PAGE 1 with a certain state of mind that you've brought from watching the PROLOGUE. You carry with you this idea of continuity and structure which is the projector; that is in the PROLOGUE, where I used the projector parallel to the sound of water. The idea of continuity and the construction of a phrase in writing parallels construction of a phrase in a moving image. And the splashing, the splashing is the only sound where you say well, you know, get into it. In a way for me, it's that feeling. You dive into what you're working on. So you begin PAGE 1 with that and then little by little, this obsessive noise of this repetitive machine grows parallel to the images, parallel to the perception of your images. Because, as I said before, all of a sudden you get used to it. At first the image changes and you don't understand the image and the soundtrack really builds. But then the accumulation becomes instantaneous. And that's it. This idea of an overdose, of I ate too much. Watch too much, you go numb.
Right. And then you have instructions at the end of this piece which are really funny. Can you talk about how you came up with those particular phrases, and also the way that you incorporated the text? I mean specifically, your graphic choices in terms of working with the text.
Well, I always end up writing for the tapes. And I always write my own material. I began years ago, taking quotes from books that were interesting to me, and I ended up writing them. It's important for me, because it puts you in a dimension where you are detached from the image. It's automatic. When you read you cannot really be seduced by the image because you have to be aware that you are reading. So it creates a distance that I think is very important. It's very important when you watch something that you have a certain distance. And it's in this distance that you're allowed to make what you're looking at, to make it yours. When you read you have the text, you have your mind, and in between you make the image -- your own image. And should be able to do the same thing with moving images. You have certain images but you should be allowed to interpret them how you want, how your experience brings you to it.
Graphically, at first, the text seen in the tape is subliminal, like you almost don't see it. It cycles by a couple of times. And you may perceive it the first time, but by the second time you really can see it. But this goes parallel to this idea of too much. It's sort of an underlining, as if you are looking at too much, too many images. And then when the text begins, there are three phrases. The first one is very big, the second one is normal, and the third is far away. And the third one is distant. It really is distance, and it's what I am asking you to do, to be distant. I really thought about addiction and I really thought about things like food addiction, and drug addiction. Because in the sense you become a junkie, you just ask for more. You think it's not damaging, it's not that you need it, and you just have more. So I really looked for a terminology that would be that of addiction.
Right. Like "Calibrate dosage."
"Calibrate dosage." "Break the habit." You know, the word "habit" for me is terminology of addiction, and I think that's what it is. That's the way we look at things.
I like that. And then in PAGE 99, you close the book. Do you want to talk about why the hands open up, palms up, presenting text that's rippling inside the hands? It conjures up all kinds of images having to do with alchemy, or magic in a way, because the hands are coming out of darkness, and they seem to hold some kind of message and power. I'm wondering why you chose those graphic elements with this image. And also how you worked with the text in PAGE 99, because you did some very interesting effects to the text itself.
In PAGE 99, the thing I wanted to do was to offer something, to offer something precious. Not precious in terms of expense, but precious because it's something that somebody has thought about and it is delivered with tenderness, something from inside. Precious in that sense. Precious because it comes from the heart, something that's really from the inside. And I think that I offer this, something that is delicate, that doesn't want to be aggressive, like a small animal or something, that would be precious in that sense.
It's very much from inside and it's very much from my inside, what I bring outside in the way to make my images, or what I want to say. And the piece is nothing really because it's one image. I really wanted to work on something almost without images. If I was saying that I think that there are too many images around, I didn't want to create many more images, you know? I wanted to do something very minimal. I took a lot of time to get a nice balance with this, with the animation. It was done in After Effects. I wanted the movement to give this idea of a wave. I used the water form again because in the first tape I used water a lot. So I wanted to be constant about this certain element, in the same way that I used the sound of the diving in PAGE 1. And the soundtrack is these wave sounds and a heartbeat, which sound intimate, as if from your own inside, or how the inside of a person would sound if you listened with your eyes closed.
I wanted to ask you about the signing at the end of PAGE 1. I thought that PAGE 1 had something to do with blindness and deafness, in a way because the images which were out of focus seemed to speak to an inability to see images clearly. And then when the signing comes up, the soundtrack is completely silenced. I didn't know if that was an issue for you, so if it was you could speak to that. I was also curious as to what the signing said, because unfortunately, I don't read signing.
Yes. I think you have an inability to choose when you see so much, and you don't see anything. We're sort of handicapping ourselves. The signing says, "Learning to watch." So that's what it is. But what I wanted was something that would bring whoever is watching to think about, to say, "Well I don't know what she's saying, though I can make the connection."
Yes. I didn't feel frustrated by not knowing what was being signed. Actually, I did appreciate that freedom to fill in what I wanted. But I also like the fact that this section was directed to other portions of the audience.
I have to say that I had a hard time with the sign language; it's not really like deaf people signing because it's words, not letters that people use. Children use it. It is not really a language because it's an in-between, it's something that deaf people sometimes use, and I used it as a child to play, when in class we couldn't talk, so I used that. And I found out that other people use it, like my niece. It's sort of an in-between situation.
Oh, that's nice. Kind of a make-believe language, in a way. Do you have anything that you want to add about either of the pieces?
Yes. One thing I wanted to add: I've always produced single-channel work and I have always considered my work as television work, appropriate for that TV audience. I don't really work for galleries, I work for television, or I work for other people as a producer. And I really feel that these pieces particularly should be dispersed into programming. I think that it's great that we have a program on Channel 13 for experimental work. And it's too bad that PBS in general has less experimental programs, per se, than they used to have. I also feel that it would be better to just air this experimental or independent work in between different programs, and it is too bad that it didn't happen that way.
Exactly. I appreciate what you're saying, and I'm really happy that this is going to be part of the series.
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