The DIY Movement and the Benefits of Media Making Rituals
"I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it." - Pablo Picasso
"Ritual is necessary for us to understand anything." - Ken Kesey
Film making is like ritual. People gather together with various instruments in hand and focus in the direction of the dramatic act, holding the space as sacred, so that the drama of the act can flourish to its best and be captured by the medium. The director says "Cut" and the ritual is ended for the moment, people take a breath, at ease sometimes with giggles or cheers, but definitely with some side conversation about what one noticed. All of it taking place in an environment, a building, or on a set, that is meant to represent another time, place or realm than the usual world right in front of us.
For me, when I make the full video myself, from initial images of possible ideas to final editing, the making of the video is another type of ritual. Film and video making is work, usually hard work, but there is also play. The idea that art making is somehow only "child's play" devalues the labor, but the playful adult allows all those insights that come to us without rigid pre-judgement as children.
In the end, the artist's greatest achievement is wisdom. The artwork its self - excrement, however, possibly imbued with the artist's wisdom which can be handed down the generations.
The making of a video in DIY fashion
Anatomy of a video: Fruit Crate City
You have to start somewhere and for me it is usually with an image that surfaces in my mind or on paper. Then I ground it to something about life that is important to me (or why spend the time doing it?). For Fruit Crate City, the first idea became the wish to illustrate a way that my brother and I used to play. How we stacked fruit crates on top of each other and built our cities which we populated with plastic dinosaurs and farm animals and little troll dolls etc. A story for the video came later. These fruit crates (in photo) are actual fruit crates from the 1960s and 70s, however, my father used them for storage and so panted them to protect the wood from termites etc. Today fruit boxes are made of cardboard.
Art as Reflection and Research
What is a Fruit Crate?
Once I knew the world that my video would take place in, it was time to work on the various props - objects that would inhabit this world. Since the original fruit crates were painted over, they no longer had the original labels, and the artwork is part of the charm of fruit crates. As the story started to develop it became important to illustrate what a fruit crate was and how it was used (to load up and store fruit). So, much of the video became about fruit picking and techniques in picking fruit. These fruit crates (in photo) were stacked and loaded with fruit and I photographed them. Once I saw this photograph I knew that stacks of fruit would be part of the story.
Art as Reflection and Research
Fruit Crate Art - California Idealism for Sale
A fellow friend and film maker had recently given me a CD by Brian Wilson and Van Dykes Parks entitled Orange Crate Art. The point of the album was, in writer Parks' words, "...to extol the propagandist art that brought California a sense of realty; it made real estate salable with the idea that California offered a Garden of Eden." Being born and raised in California and having lived here my whole life I wanted to honor the beauty of the landscape while showing this antiquated idealism.
The artworks, (in photo) painted in acrylic on Bristol board, were then put into the computer and I decided not to display words but needed some type of logo and came up with the Route 66 design. Route 66 was one of the first US highways and used extensively as people from the east came into California..
Regionalism in Art
Fruit Crate Art - California Dreams
On one label I featured a grapefruit which seems to be giant in the sky like the sun or the moon. The sun and moon became a visual motif for the video, appearing alongside and intercut with the grapefruits in my mom's backyard I grew up in Sunnyvale, California, and my family (some of whom were pickers and canners) saw how the once agricultural industry of the Santa Clara Valley was replaced by the technological industry and by the 1980s nicknamed Silicon Valley. One of my heroes as a teenager was Salvador Dali, and though he is known for his dreamscapes and surreal imagery he was many times provincial and self-referential in his work. One could see in his paintings the landscapes he knew since young and personal objects that appear and reappear within different contexts, even those objects from his imagination.
Play-Acting with Toys
Art as Catharsis - the Purging of Emotion
One day I had come to my home of 17 years in San Francisco and on my door was an eviction notice. I was told that I had 30 days to leave the premises. I had been evicted twice before and it being an intense experience lasting several months had to be processed creatively through my art. The story of Fruit Crate City would become the story of cities being built, and populated and the inhabitants moved and shuffled and finally the city torn down again. As a child me and my brother's fruit crate city was a stage upon which we re-enacted those ways we saw the greater world set up with its political structures and money systems and activities of allied and warring nations. At a young age children play and create, naturally synthesizing an understanding of the world.
Production of the Masses
If you can't find it on eBay make it yourself
My favorite toys as a child were plastic dinosaurs, but specifically a certain issue by Marx brand toys (now defunct). I searched for these toys and was glad to know the company no longer existed because I didn't want to use designs and objects of currently running companies. However, I tried to buy some on eBay and the bids went up to $30 a dinosaur, so I decided to make my own toys in a similar size and style of these plastic dinosaurs. While sculpting each one I wondered who had sculpted the toys long ago and gained an appreciation of miniature sculpture. These toys (in photo) are sculpted in Fimo, a plastic-like clay that hardens when baked. To make the toys look more used and played with, I then scratched them up, rubbed them in dirt and speckled them with paint.
Home is where your images are
When my brother and I played with our fruit crate city we furnished the "apartments" using alphabet blocks, old jam jar lids, electronic or automotive parts or whatever we could find that, when using a little imagination, could be used as a table or a chair. For the video I wanted little framed photographs to grace the walls of the apartment rooms. These photographs were from a selection of family photos spanning several generations from 1913 to 2013.
These mini photographs were made by taking a picture of the photos taped to a wall and then printed on photo paper and cut and pasted on tinted pieces of balsa wood, which is easy to cut.
Evicted miniature characters need miniature moving boxes to move their mini things in
These miniature moving boxes were designed by taking apart an actual moving box, conforming the same design to a micro scale and then cut from discarded grocery bags.
Variation of Style
When I was a young adult and evicted on two different occasions (both during the 1990s dot.com boom in SF), I ended up living with various people I didn't expect to live with only months before.
As with people, toys come in variation and so I decided to make these puff ball toys from furry material. In the spirit of "high-tech meets low-tech," I decided that once the shots were put in an editing timeline I would add, with animation, the little accent of making the googly eyes blink when the dinosaur character shows up with his stuff.
Fruit Crate City
Dream Sequence and Experimental Film
Narrative films or movies are often slaves of the story, the point of the film to tell a story. I teach cinematic storytelling in an art university and have found that it is within the dream sequence that we find the most experimental film techniques. Within dreams the story does not always unravel linearly but the images and experiences come up from within us or, as Maya Deren has written in her theories of "vertical cinema," where images and meaning are posited vertically in the moment and not just through the horizontal linear story. It is through a dream sequence project that students have a chance to play and experiment with image and sound in ways extending and expanding beyond the usual cinematic practices and rules.
Dream sequence excerpt from Fruit Crate City.