A Conversation w/ Cindy Mochizuki
The following email conversation took place in November of 2014, upon the acquisition of Monster, Monster (2014) by Cindy Mochizuki for active Video Out distribution. This work will be shown as part of a Recent Acquisitions Screening at the centre in February of 2015.
Still from Monster, Monster (2014).
Jeremy Todd, Outreach & Distribution, VIVO/Video Out: Monster, Monster (2014), your latest work with Video Out, is yet another experimental animated short about, well, monsters, or perhaps more broadly, the shape-shifting ambiguities of language, memory, vision, dreams — from Kudok and Shiro Yagi (2012) to The Oblivion & the Blind (2007). With this new piece I kept thinking of that oft-quoted sentence from Antonio Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks (written from 1929-35): “The old world is dying away, and the new world struggles to come forth: now is the time of monsters.” Is there something about the figure of the monster that seems poignant to you in terms of the present moment — our global cultural epoch?
Cindy Mochizuki: I have been interested in ghosts, monsters and spirits for some time in my body of work. For me the ‘monster’ or the ‘monstrous’ is so many things but it is also the un-nameable thing we fear. A few years ago I started doing work back in the archives around the Japanese Canadian internment – and I was reminded by my own fear of witnessing these images but also of my role as an artist as to how I would respond to them; maybe how to ethically work through them. Animation came to me as a form that could without words (without a recognizable language and form) open up another space; maybe another way into seeing the past — also a way where I felt there were not rules — at least that is how I make the animations.
When you talk about Gramsci’s quote I am reminded about a point in my practice where I felt there were no words or images for me to describe the past as it was and that I was struggling to find some kind of artistic form to move forward — to move me forward from a paralysis (or fear). But I was always returning back to looking at images from history and returning back into the archives. The monster maybe is this mash-up; the thing that is imagined and dreamed of but bears a quality of nostalgia. But we are also largely responsible or part of the make up that called for it or created it.
VO: Monster, Monster was made in Japan. Many of your works could not exist without a very sensitive engagement with Japanese literary and cultural traditions (and Japanese-Canadian histories). Your last name is Japanese. How have you seen yourself considering or relating to ideas of Japan, or things Japanese, in the development of your art practice? Have you?
CM: I have been interested in early Japanese cinema and stories especially around folklore and yokai (spirit creatures) but not until I was much older and started to think about what my reference points were in terms of my art practice, especially in the areas of storytelling, animations and drawings. I was drawn to looking back into those kinds of cultural and artistic references from Japan, especially when it came down to narratives that revolved around dreams, creatures, monsters, ghost stories etc.
But I personally, as an individual, have a complex relationship to Japan in that my mother was actually born in Osaka and spent much of her time in Yokohama. My father is a third generation Japanese Canadian and after the internment made the ‘choice’ to relocate to Japan and lived there for some time after returning back to the west coast in the late fifties. I grew up speaking both English and Japanese but I think one’s cultural identity via history is complex – I don’t think I would necessarily identity myself as Japanese if you asked.
VO: Monster, Monster also seems consistent with your previous work because of the modest scale of production. I find a very graceful economy of means — a kind of knowing do-it-yourself framework — in all of what you do. Is this an intentional choice within your art practice generally? In the case of Monster, Monster, perhaps it comes about in part from the residency context in which the piece was made?
CM: I think it varies in terms of the project, but for the most part the animations are definitely working under a modest scale of production. I would say in the cases of Kudok and Monster, Monster I gave myself a set of a parameters (i.e. one piece of clay, one day and 2 flashlights). The most important thing for me is one take. A lot of Monster, Monster is made up of several ‘one takes.’ When I created Monster, Monster I didn’t really plan anything ahead of time either. I just went in and set up a small stage with paper and some lights and then quickly made whatever creature came to mind with a piece of clay. I often do these sorts of things as improvisational techniques just to free myself from working within a set formal structure at all times.
VO: I also think of you as an artist with strong foundations in conceptually-oriented, performance-based practices. Are these different processes and/or forms within your body of work related for you in significant ways? Perhaps it’s something to do with notions of the monstrous – of hybridity or flux?
CM: Yes, I often with great hesitation use the word ‘interdisciplinary’ to describe my practice in the sense that it does move across conceptually oriented practices and performance among other fields of practice. I would even include writing in this… I think it’s all inter-connected. There is something performative about the animations for sure. During the making of the work this is influenced by strategies explored in Dadaist performances. A work like Monster, Monster has been made with an anti-structure and by working against a prescribed boundary.
I’m going to throw a question back at you here… When you mention the “monstrous, hybridity and flux” are you talking about the animation itself or are you talking in terms of a practice? I think that’s an interesting concept — that a practice can be monstrous…
VO: Yes, I was thinking of all that stuff in terms of what the monstrous might be, and also senses of self, our identities as artists and as people — how these things shift and are always complicated, full of contradictions, evolving, devolving. I suppose an organization like VIVO might be understood as monstrous too. Yes. Of course it is! Speaking of VIVO, how did you first get involved with the centre? What has your experience of VIVO and Video Out been like over the years?
CM: I first got involved at VIVO as a Venue Manager… I think I would say in the late 1990s. This is revealing my age now isn’t it? And then I was hired as the Public Programs & Outreach Coordinator I think around 2003-4. It was called Video In Studios at the time and it was a much different place. A lot has changed. I was in my 20s when I was doing all this so I was very young and learning a whole lot very quickly and meeting all kinds of artists and activists that hung around Video In. It was very formative and I see it as a starting ground for me for sure. It’s been really interesting to see its changes and I’m looking forward to seeing where it will go in the next 10 years and the kinds of practices it will continue to support and the work that will be made. It’s the only media arts organization in B.C. of its kind and has produced and supported the work of a lot of really important Canadian media artists and has actively contributed as an archive of video art.
I co-founded an event for the Powell Street Festival Society called Spatial Poetics eleven years ago and I remember Video In was often the hosting organization. I think because it was first at Blinding Light in Gastown, but then that venue closed and we needed a new space. Not to sound completely nostalgic but I am here; I kind of miss those times. There was a kind of energy and spirit that you long for… But inevitably we move on and things change.
VO: Can you talk about some projects in development?
CM: I’ve had a really productive summer doing residencies in Japan so I feel like I have just been trying to slow things down once I got back to Vancouver. But of course you get busy again… I have several pots cooking on the stove. One project that is now in editing and post production is Dawn To Dust, an animated installation from the perspective of five characters (a bird, a mutt, a ghost, a house snake and an old stone statue). The piece is based on interviews with family members discussing the memory of a wooden shack house that they lived in down in the south of Japan after the war. There are several animations to that piece so I’m still adding layers to it. I ended up writing a fictional text from the process and will most likely start to illustrate it – not sure if its going to be a graphic novel or some other form that utilizes image and text – we will see. And next year I’ve got some new projects on the horizon that are contingent on funds, but I’d be excited to see them all happen and they vary in artistic form (community-engaged projects, performance etc).
VO: Thank you Cindy for this fun and informative conversation about your work and ideas. This is a wonderful supplement to the new work coming into distribution and the pieces already with us. We look forward to your next submission to Video Out.