Video Production for Magic Box

IMG_5298As stated earlier, the script was begun in early December.   The final edit was finished in early April. It has been the centerpiece of the building effort to see this film to completion. It was not however the only piece of preparation that had to be done. Early this spring we began pulling together the structure of the set. We began at a local scrap yard owned by a client. She let us sort through the stainless steel and aluminum pile in exchange for a trade for classes for her girls. From the pile we pulled rejects from a company that makes shower surrounds and stainless conduit housing. We were working from a design of Gabe’s, that in the early stages we were hoping to make portable for workshop teaching in the future. We had to abandon this plan due to time constraints, but the drawings and materials are gathered and I am sure that the portable model will be built when we have more time.

With the completion of the script we were able to record the audio for the film. We wanted this early so that we would have the audio to use as a sort of road map for the filming. The biggest challenge here was to find the voices for each of the characters. We wanted to do all the voices ourselves for several reasons. One of the most important was our focus on a complete professional result for the film. We knew we would be willing to stay with the process until each piece was perfect. The other was knowing that this will be a four film cycle. Loosing an actor, three films in is such a difficult hurtle to overcome, by making the voices and characters ourselves, we do our best to avoid this.

photo 1The recording took several days as we read, edited the script and tuned the performance to get the finished voice audio that we would need. Once the recording was complete, Gabe began editing the music and the voices together to form that rough draft. Those are his words. The result of the several days of editing between the Cubase software for music and voice and the iMovie program for compiling and layering the audio seemed a bit magical. It produced a beautiful audio version of the project that allowed the black and white script to breathe and begin to evoke the emotion that I imagined for the characters. Five original songs were created for each character or situation and then edited into a score format for the short film. Picket Line War, Trapped, The stone Woman, Curiosity, and Jeff’s Mind were created in house with the Cubase software and Garage 4 copy

Every part of the preparation happened on top of all the other things that happened this semester. So amid the web page development and the editing and the new gig at the community college, the set preparations continued. We used the 1 1/2” flexible natural gas conduit in a large half circle 30 feet around on top, suspended from the steel frame on the ceiling that is a part of the barns agricultural history, and on bottom, screwed onto the heavy stall matts and reinforced with a steel braces designed and created by Gabe to reinforce the structure to allow the large piece of canvas to be stretched between the two conduits. Pockets were sewn into the top and bottom of the canvas to allow the conduit to be threaded through and then stretched using zip ties and bungees. Lighting was the next critical issue to solve. Gabe chose a daylight LED bulb and rigged the light array to a dimmer switch so that the day and night passage of time would be 1photo 3  photo 2

As soon as the set, including a reinforced pedestal was built and lit, we were ready for filming. To make this possible we needed a way to move the figurines without having our hands show in the film. To solve this we made slides that would glide on the unglazed surface of the floors of the house without scaring that surface or allowing the figures to fall as they are being drug around the set, as many of them, especially the squids, are top heavy. To make the slides, we used a heavy clear plastic used for document display and tied a light weight but strong fishing line to holes drilled in on four corners. The ends were tied to color coded dowels so that multiple strings hanging together could be differentiated. The operation of the slides in the set was a bit like operating a marionette. The priority was to hide this manipulation throughout filming as much as possible.

The filming itself relied on playing the audio and filming just what we needed for each scene. We generally filmed 2 or 3 angles for each so to that the immovable figurines could feel more active on the screen. We used monitors to better view the camera in action. Here Gabe is checking the light levels and setting the manual focus, which had to be used extensively to control the shots. IMG_5431

The end of the filming is the beginning of the editing, which is another process that takes time. At this writing the film is about 98% finished. It is the perfect mixture of artful mystery and fairy tale. There are sections, following the camera closely up the stair case that make me feel I need another bone in my neck to properly follow the movement, and scenes in the dark with silhouettes of the squid heads with bright points of shine off the glazes that have the character of a dream. Yet it is paced in the classic formula, wishes, gold and three guesses. The mysterious supernatural figure in the attic oversees the world and it is unclear if she is a helper or the cause of all the trouble.

Bringing the script to life illuminated the ideas I intended and revealed deeper and older story telling devices and symbols that I did not realize were there. This is the essence of storytelling and art making. To put forth our knowledge and ideas, to give those things every bit of ourselves and then to be granted gifts in return. In this way, story and art are alive, as responsive and intelligent as a dear friend, whispering encouragement and demanding endurance.



International Top 10: Pamela Mei Yee Leung

Early in the semester I did a lot of research for this project.  Power points, web research and books.  All that research went into a gray covered Moleskine note-book that i have used for my ceramic classes for a couple of semesters.  Today, as I ran out of the last artists that I remembered from that list, I realized that the notebook was missing.  It’s no where in my house that I can find.  It may be at the studio or somewhere else and I  may  yet find it, but today it might as well not exist.

Rather than panic, or start the entire process over again with the research, I though I might trust fate and see what the Google gods would bring me.  I put ceramic video into the search engine and got back a load of instructional videos.  I changed it up slightly and added  art to the already existing search.  It was largely the same, except the last hit on the first page, was a video posted by The Guardian UK on the artist Pamela Mei Yee Leung.

Born in China, and immigrated to England at 14, Leung seems to have been that rare third element, created by combining two different things.  This is the essence of what I am working toward in my experience of collaboration and why I am so interested in other artists that collaborate.  Leung is a collaboration of Chinese and Western culture, compressed into a single person.  If you watch the video you will hear her speak both accents, at the same time.  It is wonderful and musical and seems so rare.

Her work too is a fusion of both cultures, the content is so clearly Chinese in origin Yet her approach is that of a westerner, the work is loose and direct and has a sense of whimsy that the English tradition clearly brings.

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The work is autobiographical and much of it from the last decade of her life was focused on her ongoing battle with cancer.  The animal heads point to different emotional states and states of being in herself and others as she went down the long road of illness.

The video shows her working with coils to the legs of some creature. the slow attention and careful execution are delightful to watch, there is a sense in watching her make those legs that there is nothing she would rather be doing and the quality of attention reveals a devotion to the material and process so essential to its mastery.  It is this quality of attention that reminded me of something that I tell all my students.  I remind them that work in ceramic will outlast us, in some cases by millennia, and that to work in ceramic in a way requires a letting go of time, when considering its  long history as a human material and each pieces potential longevity.  Pamela Mei Yee Leung lost her battle with cancer, yet she is still enriching lives by the work she has left behind, and it will continue to accumulate story and meaning through decades and generations.

This work feels aware of that.  No certainty of time, but absolute timelessness.

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As I’ve mentioned before, we are only permitted two artists from any single culture in this assignment.  I have two from both England and China, yet I feel certain that this artist’s work is neither and both and so an entirely new country.

Her website


International Top 10: Lin Tianmiao

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Though the relationship to ceramic with the work of artist Lin Tianmiao is not specific, I do feel it has a place in this group because of her strong commitment to the use of video in her installations and her ongoing collaboration with her husband, the video artist Wang Gongxin.  The other obvious relationship to the ceramics discipline is her commitment to objects.  Here we see common household objects , particularly those specific to her domestic life in her home in China.  Using objects as  a base, she winds thread, either silk or cotton to completely cover the object.  This has the effect of transforming the objects into a new idea, much like the transformation of the caterpillar in a cocoon.  They tare elevated in a way, stripped of individual identity and placed carefully into the gallery context, where they are then celebrated as art objects, rather than passed over as common household debris.

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Tianmiao’s work is often considered feminist, and though the artist freely admits much of the work is based on her life and experiences as a woman, She asks the viewer not to judge the work based on that criteria or on that of a Chinese artist.  Her request is that we see the work from an international perspective, and evaluate it there.  I think this is valuable advice.  When we view a man’s work, no matter how autobiographical, we never speak of it as dealing with men’s issues.  Somehow pigeonholing this work as feminist, reduces its importance to the larger movement of world art making.

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Here we see not all women’s bodies, or a general body, but Tianmiao’s body.  Her own personal statement about life and the transition of a midlife crisis.  She will admit that all women must undergo this emotional adjustment, but she does not claim to be laying a roadmap for all women to follow.  This is a personal journey of a particular experience.

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The placement of video within the installations is subtle and engaging.  Here the video is nestled in the center of a woven nest, a place for birth, as she winds the thousands of thread balls on the screen to create the work displayed.  This display of process is an invitation to consider the countless hours that go into the creation of works made with the hand.  The digital reference to that hand adds layers to the conceptual message of the work.

Video about the show Bound Unbound for the Asia Society in New York

Her Website

International Top 10: Hayashi Shigek


It is the work itself of Japanese ceramist Hayashi Shigek that employs technology.  On the surface, the work is inspired by science fiction and manga, and the look is that of mass produced manufactured goods.   Looking deeper the work reveals strong associations with traditional Japanese ceramics and culture.  

Shigek is from Tajimi City, a region well know for its porcelain production.  And it is in porcelain that this work is created.  The process is precise and time consuming.  In an interview published in Ceramics Now, He describes his process. 

“I make the prototypes with regular clay and make plaster casts for them. Then I pour the plaster, modify those plaster masters very carefully and create second plaster casts. Then I pour the slip into them and throw the remaining slip away. After taking the pieces out from the cast, I work on some final details and then put them into the kiln for the biscuit firing. I sand the biscuit surfaces and then second fire them at 2246 degrees (F). Additional decorations with gold or silver are added and then fired again at 1472(F). All the parts are assembled with epoxide-based adhesive and bolts. The latest work consists in forty parts. I am using thirty four different kinds of casts which are from two to seven split molds. Since I don’t have any assistancy, all the processes are done by myself. For my latest work, it took me nine months to make the casting process and one month for the firing and assembling process.”

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While the writing here is in Japanese, there are great photos of the works as they move through the process.  In the end, Shigek does not consider the work ceramic, the narrative becomes much larger than the medium of its production, yet the intense focus on craft gives these works a validity that the same objects produced in plastic would not have.  This fusion of deeply traditional making techniques to make these manufactured looking babies, which one curator connects to a Japanese story from around 900 ce about a baby from the moon found in a bamboo tree, layers these objects with profound meaning, though what that is exactly, the artist would prefer the viewer decide.