When looking from the outside in, it is always easy for fans to laud the triumphs of creatives while seeing past who they are as individuals. In my time learning about your craft and world, I found a quiet, realistic, and beautiful soul with a mission existing beyond personal recognition or singular applause. With this being said, what focal drive motivates your sustained creative impulse?
Thank you, I wish I knew what drives me. As a kid, I always made things impulsively, and as I got older I realized that I would make art for the rest of my life and that it would be no other way. I think I do make art out of a desire to be understood, like sometimes making art can be like a message in a bottle you are sending out to the world to find your tribe and community of others who are like-minded. But I think I also make my work as a form of personal emotional, spiritual processing. It’s like the only language that I can articulate and explore parts of myself I don’t understand yet. I think I have to make the work to grow.
When watching your test for Tiger Girl, I related very much with the introverted shy protagonist who was inveigled out of her protective fear-composed confines to find a presumed liberation in the dangerous or unknown. How much does this main character reflect your own inner journey across time as you have been forced out of the confines of what felt “safe”? Alike, why is portraying these invisible yet pervasive social forces important?
This character Lily is definitely a reflection of my youth and aspects of myself that I still grapple with. While I have changed and matured, I think writing a character like this is part of that process of understanding where I’ve been and how I’ve changed. This capacity for transformation is what makes fiction and narrative storytelling important. It allows us to challenge and overcome the narratives that confine us. Just when we think we know who we are, we are proven different. Fiction exposes that.
Many millennials because of digital life-needs grew up with their hands in various forms of creative expression, so to see this interdisciplinarity in young creative leaders does not surprise me. Having proficiency with visual effects, applied arts (practical effects manufacture, engineering), and film directing yourself, I wonder how easy it is for you to hand over your vision to a team opposed to wanting to do so much yourself? Do conflicts about this ever arise, if so, how do you resolve them?
I have constant tension between being an individual DIY artist and needing to expand and work with a team. The latter requires learning how to problem solve collectively with a group. It also requires a certain degree of business acumen. Learning to expand one’s operation takes time and experience and I have been fortunate to work on many projects where I have learned how to collaborate with others. Economically, the world of experimental film/art is still impoverished which means that I still often have to resort to rolling up my sleeves and doing work myself. I am grateful to have these skills, but the thing I enjoy most is working with people and I try my best to grow projects that call for this teamwork. Collaboration makes the process of art-making less lonely. As for your last questions, conflicts always arise on projects. There is never enough time, money, or personnel. That is the nature of filmmaking and artmaking — it is constant problem solving, sometimes technical, sometimes interpersonal. Learning to collaborate means learning how to handle conflict-resolution. I am constantly learning and trying to teach myself how to improve and be a better collaborator.
Platforms such as Nick Knight’s Show Studio or the Stan Winston School of Character Arts reveal the nitty-gritty behind the scenes of film and effect production. Many artists seem secretive or fearful about revealing the “sauce” behind how they build their worlds, but you also share your processes unhesitatingly. What is it about process sharing that you find valuable?
The artists before me who shared their process are the very reason I found the bravery to try at all. I find the behind-the-scenes process very magical. I love sharing. I think audiences enjoy it too. I have only found benefit from sharing my process and it feels great to connect with people this way. We make art to connect with others, and I think that should be both on and offscreen.
It has been reported that some of your films have taken up to a year to complete, and that writing your new film has taken around two, and that special effects demand time and precision which also take time to finish. How difficult is it to edit your films down into shorts? Do you often agonize over edits, or do such time demands depend more on the 3d effects pipeline/process?
For a music video, editing might take 1-2 weeks. But my short film “Kiss of the Rabbit God” took about 2 months to edit. I’ve learned that editing, like writing, is not just about spitting out a single functional sequence. It’s about repeated iteration and revising, and interrogating what the message is behind what you’re trying to say, and finding the sharpest way to say it. So the time it takes really depends on the context and the narrative of the project, but I’ve learned to sit in the reality that good things take time and it’s better to digest slowly and not rush things when it comes to editing narrative work. The same goes for visual effects. And yes it is all agonizing!
In not a few of your music videos, I have found repeating symbols that must hold a meaning and therefore I will ask you what they might be. What do tentacles, roots, or moving stalagmites signify? How about the vesica piscis or mandorla shape, does it hold special meaning? Lastly, what is the meaning of openings into the body revealing something non-human beneath?
Roots and tentacles, I’m not sure I guess I have always been fascinated by biological textures and the idea of fleshy abjection. I was a very neat, clean obsessively perfectionistic child, so perhaps images of the grotesque are alluring to me because they rebel against all that. The vesica piscis is a yonic shape – an archetypal feminine symbol that Bjork and I explored for her album Vulnicura. It’s a form that I think we all recognize in our subconscious, a beautiful and powerful one and it continues to stay with me. I’ve been interested in the idea of “queer morphologies,” or the idea of queerness inviting us to question the human-animal dichotomy. Sometimes queerness seems like an access to that which is not just beyond male-female, but what is beyond human-nonhuman. I’ve always been fascinated with fairytales and myths about transformation. That kind of storytelling seems quite truthful and expansive to me.
Social media has shortened the attention span of not only Gen Z but also older individuals, yet your films being of the average length of 10-15 minuets demand patients. What are your views on the effects of immediate gratification from instant culture? Does your work purposely push against this impulse?
It’s hard. We can’t really fight these changes but have to ride with them. I still try not to let technology determine the shape of my art, but try to flip it the other way around. Let technology serve what i’m trying to say. If this story I’m telling needs to be 15 minutes, let the film be 15 minutes. But then I can still cut the film down into consumable 10 second clips and share them on instagram. I will use the formats to promote my work and my business, but when it comes to the integrity of the art I try to give it the real estate it calls for.
You seem in your interviews to have a philosophical or deeper side when discussing social unrest. I see your love for Chinese culture and hear your critique about the West’s flatting of it into stereotypes or a monologic monolithic singularity. What is your honest view about contemporary Western culture, and how do you think art can shift it? Also, do you find any hidden dangers in our new trajectories though they seem to many so promising?
I think there’s a lot to unpack right now. We are all on the same runaway train speeding into an unsustainable future and there’s very little time to process all the violence and death happening around us. There is also not enough real face-to-face discourse that we ought to be having. I think having political discourse on social media can be galvanizing, but it can also be flattening, dangerous and deadening to real social change. In the end, it is tech companies who profit off our tragedies, rage and grief. I think it’s important that we engage fearlessly with each other and question the Western capitalist narratives that have brought us to where we are now. But we also have to honor the complexities of the moment. Our time requires critical, expansive imagination and radical acts of compassion more than ever.
All images with courtesy of Andrew Thomas Huang http://www.andrewthomashuang.com