A Conversation w/ Tess Martin

A Conversation w/ Tess Martin

The following email conversation took place in December 2014 and January 2015, upon the acquisition of The Lost Mariner (2014) by Tess Martin 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 The Lost Mariner (2014).


Jeremy Todd, VIVO Member, Video Out Distributed Artist and Enthusiast:  Is The Lost Mariner your first photo cutout animation piece? Given the unique range of animation processes within your body of work so far, I’m wondering how you end up working with particular techniques from project to project — including this newest one?

Tess Martin: Yes, The Lost Mariner is my first film that uses photo cut-outs, though I have worked with more traditional cut-outs in A Moment’s Reverie (2007) and Plain Face (2011). For me the animation technique chosen for a particular film should very much make sense – there should be a reason for it, because the animation technique helps inform the storytelling.

So in this case, I chose photo cut-outs because I started with the metaphor of photographs. The main character suffers from a memory disorder, and believes he is in a different time. Photographs are normally our link with the past, so I decided to use that theme to an extreme – everything in the film is made from photographs, even the people.

VO: I was recently in conversation with Cindy Mochizuki, another artist-producer distributed by VO, and she spoke of animation allowing for an articulation of things that would otherwise be limited and/or ethically problematic in her work (I’m paraphrasing here of course). Does this make sense to you? What’s your recurring interest in animation about as an artist?

TM: That makes sense to me. One of the best things about animation is that it is not limited. It is the opposite of limited. It’s not restrained by gravity, actors, the real world and has infinite possibilities. You can animate paint, sand, objects, people, drawings, food, furniture. There’s almost too many options. For me, the question becomes – what can animation do that you can’t do in other art forms, and within that, which animation technique is most appropriate for this project? How can you tell the story in a way that really justifies the use of animation, and the chosen technique? I think that is one of the things that keeps me coming back to animation – that challenge is really exciting and creative.

VO: There’s a lot of narrative diversity across your works with us. What attracts you to a story? With The Lost Mariner, were you already familiar Dr. Sack’s case study?

TM: Yes, sometimes I like going for a clear narrative, but sometimes I think a more intuitive approach is required. And actually, what I consider narrative is still unconventional in a lot of other people’s minds. I guess because I like telling stories that don’t necessarily follow a central character, this immediately leads to unconventional narratives. There are a lot of options available to me in terms of structure and narrative. I like stories that make you think and challenge the viewer.

With The Lost Mariner, yes, I was familiar with the book in which it is included – The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. I think I read it a number of years ago. But it wasn’t until I recently re-read it that I thought the Lost Mariner chapter would make a good short film, and one that would be great to tell through animation.

VO: How did you first discover VIVO/Video Out and what has your experience of the centre been like so far?

TM: I first discovered Video Out back in 2010 when I met Sharon Bradley at a festival in Portland, OR. She explained to me what her job was, and I couldn’t believe it! I wanted to work with her so badly. She invited me to submit films, and I’ve been lucky that most of them have been accepted for distribution since. Mainly my experience has been with the organization submitting the films to film festivals on my behalf. I have a lot of shorts and therefore a lot of festivals on my list – it’s been great to have the support that Video Out provides in taking on some of those submissions.

VO: Can you talk about some projects in development?

TM: Right now I am in the early stages of a follow up short to The Lost Mariner, also centering on a patient with a memory disorder, this time more severe. It will also be animated, though I’m still working out the exact technique. I’ve also been spending a lot of time applying for funding and residencies, which I hope will help with this project.

VO: Thanks for this conversation Tess. It’s been a pleasure to learn more about your practice and your latest work with Video Out. We look forward to your next submission.


Video Out offers video artists professional representation for rentals and sales of their moving image work. Video Out’s distribution collection features over 5000 videos, both historical and contemporary, by video artists from Canada and abroad. Video Out returns 67% of revenues generated from sales, rentals and broadcast licenses to the video producers we represent. Video Out was founded as a non-profit, artist-run distribution centre in 1980.