Alison O’Daniel, Night Sky, 2011, stills from a color film in HD, 75 minutes.

Alison O’Daniel works across disciplines, combining sculpture, sound, painting, performance, and films with live accompaniment. Her seventy-five minute film Night Sky recently premiered at Anthology Film Archives as part of Performa 11 and the exhibition “Walking Forward-Running Past” at Art in General. The film will screen Sunday, January 29, in Los Angeles as part of Liz Glynn’s Black Box, a performance art festival afterparty for “Pacific Standard Time.”

SOUND IS A CHARACTER IN MY LATEST FILM, which features a story of two girls traveling into the desert. Their car breaks down and they encounter a small portal made out of a Hula-Hoop hovering in the sublime landscape of the desert. When they reach into it, they discover a dance marathon happening on the other side. Other narratives are at play—road movies, buddy films, sci-fi and queer narratives—but the language of the film emerges around the ambiguous relationship between these girls, one of whom is deaf.

The film is full of synaesthetic experiences of sound where, for example, a light flashes in the desert and is transferred through the sound of bells or water. There are also elements where sound either breaks down or emerges in strange phenomenological ways in a sort of reimagining of what sound is. For instance, a dance marathon features the Los Angeles–based duo Lucky Dragons, who often make music by having their audience members touch cords they’ve engineered. I wanted to work with Lucky Dragons as their work addresses the relationship of the body to making sound. In the film, their speakers break down, forcing the dance marathon contestants to continue dancing––but in silence. As they dance, the girls’ car simultaneously breaks down in the desert.

I started out with the goal of making a film that was accessible in different ways to both a hearing audience and a deaf audience. I had particular ideas about who should be included in the cast and crew, which are made up of both deaf and hearing individuals, as well as performance artists, such as the filmmaker Cauleen Smith and Joanne Karl, who runs the Integratron, a sound chamber–meditation space in Joshua Tree, which is also the main location in the film. Due to the combination of people with different abilities and backgrounds all working together, a lot of interesting elements emerged. When working with an interpreter to write the score in sign language, we were considerate of what it means to explain music to a deaf person. We didn’t want to just describe, “Oh this is a synthesizer, and this is what a synthesizer does.” Instead, through metaphor, we aimed to describe the relationships between emotions, physics, instrumentation, the body, and even sound design.

When I screen the film I like to have two versions of live accompaniment. One is a pretty standard live music score performed either by the composer, Ethan Frederick Greene, or by local musicians. The other version is a retooling of that score through sign language. As the hearing audience encounters an unknown language representing music, their relationship to the score is disabled. Instead of listening, they’re able to watch the score unfold through choreography and movement. Simultaneously, the deaf audience is given an unusual amount of access to the score through an abstracted, poetic description of music.

It’s important to note that I am partially deaf, wear hearing aids, and lip-read. I occupy this strange in-between space. I grew up in the hearing world, but have always found myself just slightly outside of understanding what is going on; as a child, this caused a sense of wonder that has continually evolved. Not having access to everything creates a space for transcendence, and out of that a language of abstraction can emerge, and sound becomes profound. This sort of approach also extends into the material I work with. My background is in materials and performance—I was a figure skater and studied fibers as an undergrad—and I have a very tactile and physical relationship to the score itself. When I start writing or creating a narrative, I always start with a list of elements that I want to be in the film. Then I play a game of connecting the dots between these things, writing scores based on chance operations, almost like an exquisite corpse game. In some ways I’m creating a map to follow.

— As told to Natilee Harren

Ira Sachs


Ira Sachs, Keep the Lights On, 2012, color film in HD, 101 minutes. Production still. Erik (Thure Lindhardt) and Paul (Zachary Booth). Photo: Jean Christophe Husson.

Ira Sachs is known for his mining of various communities: queer culture, art culture, film culture, literary culture. His previous films include Last Address (2010), Married Life (2007), The Delta (2007), and the Sundance Grand Jury Prize–winning Forty Shades of Blue (2005). His latest effort, the semiautobiographical Keep the Lights On, will have its world premiere at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. Here, Sachs discusses his various personal motivations for creating the film.

THE FILM COMES OUT OF THE DESIRE to tell our story honestly, without judgment and with a certain transparency. There’s a particular way that gay people learn about their lives in secret, and that becomes the overriding means of narrating our stories. I find that a lack of honesty is what has gotten me into the most trouble in my life. I wanted to make a film that was straightforward about the experiences that I’ve gone through in a long-term relationship, which were fueled, in some ways, by hiding.

The script initially came out of a close reading of journals. What’s interesting about reading journals is the ellipse and the power of the ellipse in conveying time. I hoped to kind of use that as a propelling force. The gaps are what propel the film through time. I specifically tried to convey emotional time with these actors, based on the small shifts of how they related to each other, as characters.

I’ve made a film with a Vietnamese lead actor, I’ve made one with a Russian lead actor, and now I’ve made a film with a Danish lead actor, and I think that there's the sort of intellectual reason of the nature of the outsider, that I'm interested in, as a character. But it also has something to do with a certain kind of acting style that you find in non-American performers, which I am really drawn to, which tends to be the certain level of realism that you find in European performers. There’s a certain interest in the detail of each moment on-screen. It feels very experiential––really exposing the details of life, in some ways.

Ira Sachs, Last Address, color film, 8 minutes.

Before Keep the Lights On, I made a nine-minute film called Last Address that consists of portraits of the last residential addresses of a group of New York artists who died of AIDS. I got very interested in the changing nature of queer life in New York over generations, and particularly because of this idea of a “lost generation.” For me, as an artist, I found that having these relationships with individuals from other generations, as well as the work from other generations, was really crucial to developing my voice. This compelled me to create QUEER | ART | MENTORSHIP, which gives other people a way to really learn and work with artists from these various times. In the most banal way of putting it: We live in isolation, and we gain strength from community. For me, in creating this program is also the sense of re-creating my own community.

I need to remind myself, at some points, that I have permission to make certain kinds of images. The best way to do this is to look at the work of people who’ve come before us, someone like David Wojnarowicz, or the New York artists of the 1970s and ’80s, the age of punk. Punk meant comfort with being outside the mainstream––not to be careful, not to be precious, to be messy, and not to worry too much about what your parents might think. A really important part of being an artist is trying to forget your mother, on some level.

— As told to Chloé Rossetti

Mats Bigert


Bigert & Bergström, one of the final pages from The Last Calendar, 2011.

Mats Bigert is half of the artistic and design duo Bigert & Bergström, along with Lars Bergström. In collaboration with Cabinet, they have created The Last Calendar, a project based on the Mayan long calendar calculations for 2012. Their exhibition “Meditations on Divinations” is on view at Forum Gallery in Stockholm until January 31. Here, Bigert discusses the research process for the calendar.

THE INITIAL IDEA FOR THE LAST CALENDAR came while we were working on Tomorrow’s Weather, an installation that uses weather forecasts to explore how we try to control our living conditions by making estimations on future events. We were examining the temporal nature of truth within celebrated ideas, scientific or otherwise, that history has proven to be wrong. The end-of-the-world Mayan long calendar scenario was floating around in these discussions, and I was interested to see whether there were other earlier and precisely dated opinions about the apocalypse. It turns out there were plenty. I pitched the idea of combining these cataclysmic fantasies with the banality of a wall calendar to the editors at Cabinet, and together with their research team, designer Richard Massey, and photographer Charlie Drevstam, we were able to get the project together in time for the new year.

In truth, Harold Camping, the host of Family Radio (who predicted the world would end on May 21, 2011), and his flawed line of prophecies wasn’t the igniting spark for the project; it was more our interest in the mind-set of a person who could convince a large number of followers that the world is about to end––especially someone who could keep doing so, even after being incorrect so many times before. Camping is a good example of the eschatologist in general. These people are usually equipped with a very vivid imagination and an enchanting charisma, but seemingly blind to self-reflection. He would never laugh about his own mistakes. It’s like Amoz Oz has noted on fanatics: What makes them immune against criticism is their absolute lack of humor.

We chose to explore different divination methods. Lars was going to teach my son how to make tin soldiers. But when my son got bored and turned to the iPhone, Lars and I started to play around ourselves, pouring melted tin into water. This technique of divination is called molybdomancy and is still used in Germany and Austria on New Year’s Eve to forecast the coming year. We became intrigued with the random outcomes, these small abstract sculptures, and started to look for other methods of divination. The list of “mancies” (a word which comes from the Greek manteia, or divination) is long and full of poetic ways to interpret the world. We singled out methods we could tweak and fit into the cataclysmic theme of the calendar; for instance, there’s the painting we made with coffee grounds, which looks like satellite images of arid landscapes or brown Yves Kleinian spacescapes. Or there’s our take on meteromancy––divination through looking at meteorological phenomena––a photo we took after an F5 tornado hit Joplin, Missouri, last summer. Myomancy––divination through the study of mice––is illustrated by a labyrinth model littered with mouse turds that we’re now using in a new film.

One doomsayer we found compelling is Joanna Southcott, who was a medium with psychic powers living in London in first half of the nineteenth century. She not only prophesied that a second coming of Christ was underway, but also that she was the bearer of that very child––at the age of sixty-four! It turned out it was a false pregnancy and she died soon after. Regardless of her mistaken virgin birth, she accumulated over one hundred thousand followers who called themselves Southcottians. I recently visited John Martin’s “Apocalypse” show at Tate Britain and was fascinated to see his images of absurd destruction and rupture. They’re really prequels to modern disaster movies. Martin’s Last Judgment triptych seems emblematic for the nineteenth-century when a lot of millennialists were trying to gain followers. The spectacular possibility of being part of that last moment of a crumbling earth is still very riveting to audiences. In fact, right now the Mexican government is launching a PR campaign called “Mayan World,” in hopes of an invasion of pilgrims in December.

I’m going.

— As told to John Arthur Peetz