A Conversation w/ Kristin Li
The following email conversation took place in August 2015, upon the acquisition Two Snakes (2015) directed by Kristin Li for active Video Out distribution. This work was presented at the eighth installment of Video Out’s New Additions Series which was held on August 12th 2015 from 7:30pm – 9:30pm at VIVO Media Arts Centre, 2625 Kaslo St.
SJD: Shauna Jean Doherty
KL: Kristin Li
SJD: How long have you been making video art?
KL: I’ve always been interested in video and film but only started seriously making things last year. I moved back to Montreal in the early days of 2014, after dropping out of a PhD in Chicago and traveling for a few months on leftover stipend money. There wasn’t much to do in Montreal winter, so I made videos out of a few ideas that had been with me for awhile.
SJD: Did you experiment with other mediums to explore autobiographical concepts before you chose video?
KL: This is my first time working explicitly in autobiography. I usually critique or make fun of things but wanted to try a personal project. Maybe it’s because I started therapy.
SJD: What is it like to be an artist in Montreal?
KL: Tenants’ rights are much more robust here than in most other cities and there aren’t many full-time jobs available to Anglophones, so lots of people I know don’t work very much. There’s always free time circulating and people excited about projects—within a month of coming back to the city, I was able to find a dozen people committed to working on a ridiculous queer S&Mish movie based on the story of Samson and Delilah. In another city I probably wouldn’t have made such a complicated first movie.
SJD: Have you had any mentors or people who have influenced your artistic production?
KL: A couple of experienced artists have given me an infrastructural sketch of the art and video world but I still feel mostly clueless about that. I collaborate with friends who are good at things that I’m not. My aesthetics are generally informed by watching movies, especially melodramas.
SJD: You noted that this video was originally presented with a live performance, can you explain what the event was like?
KL: I organized a night called OEDIV CISUM with Slut Island, a group that puts on queer and feminist music events in the city. We paired up eight artists with eight musicians or bands, and each pair spent a month making a video accompanied by live score. Some of the artists were working in video for the first time. Julie Matson, who also performs under Echo Beach, scored my video. I heard it for the first time on the night of the screening.
SJD: Did you make the animations in Two Snakes? They are so awesome.
KL: I did. I made them in Flash because I learned to use the program in middle school.
SJD: At what point did you recall the television show that you reference in the video, what do you think triggered the memory?
KL: The TV show came to me when I was scrambling to figure out what to do for the live score event. I wanted to make something about myself and suddenly remembered the legend of the white snake and its hilarious homosexual overtones. I initially just wanted to reenact the story, which would’ve been a video about finding a self in reclaimed ancestry and finding a home in reappropriated narratives, but of course that’s too easy. So I made a video about the impossibility of doing those things.
SJD: Have you been back to China since you moved to Canada? Do you have any plans to go?
KL: I went back to China twice after moving to Canada in 1998. The last time was in 2007. I have no plans to go but I would really like to visit, particularly to do a project about China’s economic history through the experience of my parents’ generation, who came of age during the Cultural Revolution and are now steering this juggernaut in the matrix of global capital.
SJD: What do you think about the attempt to define a contemporary queer aesthetic? Do you think it’s possible to do?
KL: Definitely. What’s queer if not an aesthetic? We all know it when we see it.