August 9th, 2010 | Interviews

Gwenaelle Gobe

Miwa Matreyek’s innovative combination of projected animation and performance creates worlds of visual wonder (scored by the likes of Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn of K Records and Anna Oxygen!) Matreyek collaborated with Anna Oxygen in the multi-disciplinary performance group Cloud Eye Control but debuted her new solo work ‘Myth and Infrastructure’ for the final installment of this year’s New Original Works Festival at REDCAT. This interview by Drew Denny.

Please describe the process of creating and performing Myth And Infrastructure for those who might not be familiar with your work. What does this work consist of, how did you come up with/develop it, and how do you exhibit it?
Myth and Infrastructure is a project that, as a whole, involves a performance as well as an installation element. The installations and performance can either be shown separately or together. Since I have been touring and performing in theaters, I have been concentrating on the performance element. The performance consists of a screen with front and rear projection, and my body in shadow. The shadow figure becomes integrated into the animation as it enters the screen, and things are born and affected by my body. My body becomes submerged in an ocean and my back becomes an island covered with trees. My body slowly lumbers through a sleeping city. I wanted to make this piece as an evolution of my thesis work, ‘Dreaming of Lucid Living’—an exploration of shadow and animation and themes of domestic spaces, dream-like vignettes, large and small cities, magical powers. I feel like it’s really based on me being a night owl and working in the middle of the night that feels like it could last forever—creating little secrets and being inspired by what’s around me.
I watched the excerpts of Myth And Infrastructure on your website—I could only describe it as magical! Your silhouette fills with light, and you’re batting around little human shapes and tickling skyscrapers—do you feel like you possess magical powers when you interact with your animation?
Well, at least I want the audience to perceive me as having magic powers! I make work pretty intuitively, and I am definitely drawn to creating a fantastical/dream-like space in my animations. I feel like the intersection of the real body and projected animation is very interesting. There is a way that by integrating the two, the body can become weightless and fantastical, whereas the animation takes on some gravity and presence. I also feel that audience sees two narratives when they see my work. They see one narrative of the ‘story arc’ presented by the body and animation making a ‘whole’ picture on the screen and another narrative of the audience being aware of what I am doing with my body and animation in real time—solving riddles of how the layer of my body is composited into the layer or projection. There is a simultaneous sense of illusion and non-illusion.
Do you check out of your ‘self’ when you perform? Or are you just being you in a different kind of space?
I think the performer is both me and not me. I am not a character, but rather a body. I have often put myself in my animations as a body or parts of my body—video of my hand composited into landscapes, characters and so on. I think it works for me because to myself, I am both me and anonymous. If I put someone else in my videos or as a performer, I feel like I have to deal with a lot more about that person’s gender, history, age, appearance, physical presence and movement … and that changes my work. For me, my body is the most direct [route] from imagination to reality. When I am performing in my piece, I am trying to perform with an awareness of how my shadow integrates into the animation and cinematic composition. I try to be very aware of smiling in moments, it’s amazing how much a smile can read to the audience—even as a simple silhouette.
How did you develop the technologies you use? What’s been the most difficult part?
Hmm—for my own work, I am not using any special technologies. For now, each show is basically a big Quicktime file that plays through. I think it’s more about the techniques of overlapping projection, creating illusions, slight of hand, choreography and preciseness. What’s interesting is that I feel like I am still making discoveries of effects and perception. One of the challenges is experimentation—as I think of an effect, I need to set up the screen and projectors to see if what I was visualizing is actually effective or even works in real life. Sometimes it doesn’t. But it’s definitely a kind of work that needs physical space to test things out. It has caused my apartment to be extra messy.
What music do you listen to while working? How you choose music to use in your performances?
For Myth and Infrastructure, I asked my friends Anna Oxygen and Caroline Lufkin to make original music for the piece. I wanted the songs to be songs that feel complete on their own, rather than sound-design or sound-effects kind of tracks. The process started with me describing the feeling of the scene and music and sending clips of what I was making to help inspire the music … so it was a very back and forth process until everything fit and felt complete. The song during the Island scene is a song by my friend Mirah off of her album (a)spera on K records. In terms of music in general that I listen to while I work, I guess it’s often music that makes me feel energized to work, or music that feels complimentary to the scene I’m working on. I am listening to a lot of iamamiwhoami, Joanna Newsom, Janelle Monae, Yeasayer and Fever Ray
I go to CalArts so I’ve heard a lot about Cloud Eye Control—could you describe that project? How long and in what capacity have you worked with Anna Oxygen and Chi-wang Yang?
Cloud Eye Control is a multi-media group born out of the collaboration of Chi-wang Yang, Anna Oxygen and I. Chi-wang and I met our first year at CalArts 2004-2005 in the Integrated Media Program at CalArts, which is sort of an extra thing you can do on top of your chosen metier. It’s a program for grad students from various departments—theater, film, art, music, dance—who are interested in interdisciplinary work and especially work that involves technology. Chi-wang, who was a theater directing major, invited me to make animation for a Brecht play he was working on based on Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic. We worked together and made our first performance exploring the mix of animation and performance. Anna Oxygen came into CalArts the following year for the music program and Integrated Media, and the three of us came together and made two more works while in school. Our work is really a mixture of all three of our backgrounds—experimental animation, theater, and music. Also even though we each have our backgrounds, we are very collaborative in all of the process of making work. We brainstorm about staging, visuals, sounds, and story together. The Identity of Cloud Eye Control came about as we were graduating and wanted to show our work outside of school. Venues want to have things credited to names, and we decided it would be good to come up with a group identity that ‘creates’ the work—i.e., ‘Created by Cloud Eye Control.’ We literally pulled words out of a jar.
After working collaboratively for so long, how does it feel to perform solo?
Making the work with Chi-wang and Anna has definitely changed my work. I started CalArts in the animation department thinking I would just be making a couple short films and be out, but with the CEC work, I was exploring performance and installation. My thesis ‘film’ was actually a performance—‘Dreaming of Lucid Living.’ I am really glad I went to CalArts, for the people I met there as well as how supportive they were of me making performance and installation work in the animation department. I feel like my solo pieces satisfy a different part of me. Coming from an animation background, I feel I definitely have a ‘cinematic’ background to how I think. With Cloud Eye Control and working with Chi-wang and Anna, I definitely have to open myself up to a more theatrical or performative kind of work in the collaboration process. Where as with my work, it’s very much about the body being a part of the animation and cinematic experience. Animators are control freaks. We can control every frame, every pixel—and my solo work is sort of an extension of that, where every thing is very choreographed and precise. I love both, though. I think CEC allows for a lot of challenges, clashes, harmonies, discoveries, and my solo work allows for a lot of indulgences in myself … and discoveries of my own.
What’s your relationship with REDCAT? How has the NOWFest experience been?
The REDCAT has been super supportive of my work and Cloud Eye Control, and I am super grateful. In 2008, the REDCAT approached Cloud Eye Control and came on as producers for Under Polaris, a piece we did a work-shop version of a year earlier at a residency in Portland. We did a sold-out 5 night run of that show in 2009, and have toured the piece a bit. REDCAT has been supportive of my own work as well. I performed ‘Dreaming of Lucid Living’ in 2008 for the Studio Series, and have made an animation installation for one of their Gala events. Mark Murphy and George Lugg, as well as all the fabulous staff at REDCAT have been great mentors and friends, who have given us/me great advice and support, both technical and artistic.
I listened to an interview of you at TED—did you perform for a TED talk? What was that like? What else was going on there that day?
Yes, I performed at TED Global in Oxford in mid July. It was amazing! I got to be there for the whole week of the conference, and it was a marathon of inspirational talks and ideas and meeting a lot of interesting people. A lot of food for thought. It was exciting to see ideas that could really improve the world—a talk by one of the founders of Keva.org, new ideas about approaches to education, a biodegradable fungus substance that can replace styrofoam. I feel really honored to be invited to be a part of TED.
Where else have you exhibited your work? Which are your favorite spaces?
I have shown my work at film fests, animation fests, performance fests, theater fests, art galleries … I love showing in different places and different audiences, since their reactions and feedback can be very different. I love doing shows at the REDCAT—it really feels like ‘home’ to be here, since I’ve gotten to know everyone. One of my favorite shows was at the Platform International Animation Festival in 2007. They had a whole night of installation and performance with a number of artists. It was a really fun night full of diverse work. It was really interesting that a lot of the artists were not animators but rather photographers, sculptors and programmers, whose work was also animation. I hope that there are more animation and film festivals in the future that are open to showing performance/installation. After I did the performance at TED, I did a show in Philadelphia at a friend’s gallery. It was a very interesting experience to go from doing a show in a 700-seat theater to a small gallery that fits 30 people sitting on the floor.