Andrea Sisson

Tell us the story behind your first camera.
Disposable. Every weekend as a teenager, I absolutely loved it. I had covered my bedroom walls and ceiling completely with photographs and drawings that I would spend lengths of time arranging. I added photos to the plastered collection all through my teenage years. Each photo contained something special to me, a connection to people and places and things I wanted to see them at all times, all around me. I had a group of really special people in my life at that time. I loved people and things.

What about the first video camera?
The first video-recoding camera I had used was my father’s during my teenage years as well. I would make videos out with friends – a favorite I called “Hippie Witch”, a role I would play. I also made news shows with my brothers on our VHS camera as a kid.

Tell us about ‘Take me to the turf pls, thank you.”
The project started last winter, 2015 and is on-going. Until this summer (2015), I had been in LA for the most part of two years. I find LA to be a very brown, season-less, and surreal place. The winter can be green for a month or so, but then it dries up again. This past winter, after spending January and February in a stark brown desert shooting, I returned to Los Angeles to find myself in lush green winter. I felt like it was the first I’d seen green in about a year. I made a project during that time, but then in only a few weeks came March and the east side of LA became dry and brown again. I couldn’t get that greenery out of my eyes and I started thinking about the spring and summers I had growing up and in my 20s on the east coast. Spring always meant the arrival and sustainment of green grasses, tress, and also of soccer and sports and turf! In LA, it meant the end. It was a total nostalgia for my past and of my Midwest upbringing. So I bought some green turf and started making work with the imagery and I also started noticing that I tend to navigate towards greenery where I am. I travel, and having lived and worked many places, I have found that greenery and any sports field (a tennis, football, or soccer field, a patch of turf, or just grass) are places I connect with.

Why do you think you’re drawn to greenery?
When I lived and stayed in Scandinavia, Brooklyn or Los Angeles, I could find refuge on turf and instantly feel at home in myself. It is silly in its simplicity, but I think it makes so much sense with my upbringing. I had a thought this summer while was walking around a red track and soccer field in Brooklyn. I said to myself, “Maybe deep down, what I really most want in life, is to be a little girl again on a soccer field in Ohio eating my hair.” The project is on-going and is a documentation and surreal replication of the turf and greenery places from all over the world that I fill my life with or come across.

Switching gears, what do you love about film?
Film is just awesome. Firstly, film is multidisciplinary. I do research and study: society, art, life, changes. I write. I make imagery. I make sounds and performance work. And with film, I can bring all of these disciplines together into one piece of work. Secondly, film is a social science. Social research is something I often regard as my “work” at its core, rather than purely a creative & aesthetic endeavor. A story may be universal but its context in society, the time period, and the culture is what affects comprehension and interpretation. I really love to absorb social contexts – where and what society is, what they care about, how they are acting and functioning, where we have come from in history, and create stories – work and imagery – that is culturally relevant and in a way, functional. This is what film and art is about for me. Is it the queer movement or a spiritual movement or a time women are this or that? It can all be researched, studied, dissected, and put in context with film – art and imagery. Another degree of this is what’s involved in actual filmmaking. If not working under the ridged typical Hollywood system, film – or any large scale art project – can be great way to bring people together and practice different ways of making work, living, and coexisting together based on new ideas about life and humanity. You can practice ways that people can coexist, experience life, creativity, and work together through making a film.

So there is a notion of community connected with creating a film?
I feel like its something becoming increasingly relevant today – understanding different ways we can live and work successfully but also peacefully and happily and this stretches beyond filmmaking into other fields and into everyday life. Can you create a fluid community? Can people live and work together in open and caring ways? Can we all do our own work but still support the person next to us in the work they need to do? I believe we can and love how that can be practiced with a team and community to make a film or large creative project.

Growing up, what films did you watch?
I grew up in Ohio, so very “normal” childhood and mainstream movies. I remember loving Willow, The Neverending Story, and Fantasia. I didn’t considered film an art form (which is maybe also an American thing), until I saw Wes Anderson’s Life Aquatic in high school. It was a rare kind of film to stumble across at the Cincinnati Blockbuster, and it really changed the ways I saw film at that time. Prior to that, painting, music, photography, woodworking/craft, and sculpture were art I enjoyed. I was completely engulfed in art growing up but I hadn’t seen a film or movie that seemed to have been made from a similar artistic state of mind, skill, or craft. Before then, film was just entertainment. Yes, one part of the film industry is still ‘entertainment’ today, but there is also art film. It was great to experience that.

What sort of films did you enjoy watching over the years?
I went to design and art school but throughout college started wondering into films like Waking Life, Miranda July’s work, Science of Sleep, and Trainspotting”– a new era of film for me. I’ve really come into cinema-arts, roaming a large part of 70’s Italian Cinema in the Reykjavik Public Library – with Pasolini, Antonioni, Felini, Rossolini, Bertolucci. This really blew the lid open for me. Then French and more contemporary Greek, Spanish, Mexican, Iranian Cinema, contemporary American independent films. After that, I dove into the histories of video-art and performance-art. It was a whole new world to come into, completely out of the mainstream or entertainment film – and really a whole new industry to discover. I continue to seek out all I can on film today; I have a lot to learn and study.

Talk to us about the NOWNESS video with Ryan Heffington, Sia’s choreographer. What was the concept behind the film and did the final product come out as you imagined?
This was a heart warming, darling project to work on. I grew up a dancer, but like-wise to film I had grown up with dance and performance as entertainment rather than an art form. Similar to discovering film as art, during that time I started to dive into all the higher-arts including performance art and modern dance. When I moved to LA, Ryan’s class and studio was suggested. I took his weekend classes, so I started to get a touch of how he choreographed and worked. He had just done the Sia video and I was really curious about him as an artist. In his contemporary classes I would observe the way he taught and choreographed – giving these child-like, innate descriptions of his expressions. I started seeing why his moves seem to resonate so well with people – there is something very elemental, simple, and child-like about them. I always love Nowness, so brought them the idea of a video and Avi at Nowness was fantastic at crafting the work with me. I had talked with Ryan about the moves and crafted the soundtrack “poem” then the piece came together in rehearsing with Ryan, the words and moves and solidifying the pace. So then I got my best partner (& DP) to shoot at Ryan’s studio.

Who do you dream of photographing?
Tilda Swinton, Easton Pain – a dancer in Miami and amazingly strong identity as a young person, or any young people that are representing themselves and their identity these day. For example, India Salvor Menuez, Ben Ross, this cutie Angela Huete, and Paul Hameline. Also, everyone from the Russian agency – Lumpenmen. I once shot a behind-the-scenes with Guinevere Van Seenus not really knowing who she was, so I’d like to shoot her again.

What directors continue to serve as an inspiration to you?
Roy Anderson for his completely amazing Scandinavian films. Stanley Kubrick for his films and will to stand by his process completely in a time when things may have been even more oppressive for outlier filmmakers. Apparently he only made one film in Hollywood. Paolo Pasolini, video artist Martha Rosler, Guy Maddin for his docu-fantasias, Werner Herzog, Bernardo Bertolucci, Terry Malick, Japanese director Yasujirō Ozu for his massive amount of films from 1927-1962, Yorgos Lanthimos’ “Dogtooth,” and video artist Ryan Trecartin. I need to get more into Iranian and Soviet filmmakers.

For the sheer cinematography, what films should everyone check out?
The Great Beauty by Paolo Sorrentino and Dogtooth.

For the storyline, what films do you recommend?
Theorem (Pasolini), Animal Kingdom (Amazing Australian film by David Michôd), and My Winnipeg (Guy Maddin).

What has been your most challenging project thus far?
This past winter, we shot most of a feature film in the desert for 5 weeks. It was really hard. The desert, the low-budget film that we made in-part like a high-budget film, the 2 years of producing leading up to shooting it – making sure it got shot (actors, money, crew, producers, support). All of the “holding together” was crazy. We now have about another year to finish and put it out – but it seems much less difficult than the past 3 years with it. But I’m sure its still going to be extremely challenging.

Imagine your casting for a new film. Who would you cast?
Tilda Swinton. Add anyone with her and it’s going to be interesting to me. But really, there are so many people everywhere I would cast. I got to cast Julia Garner in our current film and she’s ethereal and so inspiring. There are so many actors, young people, non-actors, performance artists that I would love to work with.

You work with many different mediums. How did you conjure this concept for instrument design?
My formal undergrad university training was in Design and Fashion Design. The project was my thesis that extended past into an exhibition and showing at the Contemporary Arts Center. The concept was both inspired by growing up with my father who is a Luthier (makes stringed instruments), and the musician Eddy Kwon (who wears the piece). I asked Eddy what a physical representation of his music would look like – almost, what would it look like if he was an instrument. Eddy described a metaphorical object, which turns out, is essentially what I made. I constructed it out of cardboard, took it to my father, he worked out the acoustics and building process, and I constructed it in his basement workshop. I made 3 other accompanying pieces for the show. I’ve been focusing on writing, film, story, and imagery.

Shower or bath?
Shower.

What beauty products could you never live without?
Oxalis Apothecary’s Louisa Body Oil (for hair and body-use), Burts’s Bees plum tinted lip color, and Gabriele Natural face powder.

What books are on your to-read list?
The Possibility of an Island by Houellebecq (a suggestion from a friend), some Tolstoy, more Anais Nin, and I want to unearth some “Master Eckhart” and the novelist William Saroyan. I’m in the middle of the audio book The Voice is All about Jack Kerouac, and am reading Louise Bourgeois: Deconstruction of the Father, Reconstruction of the Father.

You’re at a bar. What do you order?
A Malbec or a Pilsner.

What’s your coffee of choice?
Find a good roast wherever I am. All teas are a good choice too.

Describe your travel routine.
So travel is basically my life. But wherever I am, when going to a new place to live and work I do this:
1. Take a walk.
2. Go with it.
Basically, I like to know what it’s like to live wherever I travel to or am staying. I love knowing I am alive right now. The time and place I am is only that exact time and place just then. I like to live it, breathe it, go with the flow of it, and often record that place and time through photos, writings, and metaphoric videos. I get a place I can settle into – an airbnb or retreat with a kitchen and I set up a kettle for tea. Then, on the first couple of days, I take longs walk to get to know the area – I find the park, coffee shop, or café. I will get coffee, read and write, and find the streets I will frequent and fall in love with. During this time, I take observational and often philosophical notes about the place I am, the people, the culture, the history. I start to research all of that as well, to get a kind of ‘grasp’ of the place, time, and culture I am in. After I feel settled, I get out some work and let the wind take me where it does, both physically and creatively. I like to get wrapped up by whatever that place has to offer – the customs, the environment, and the people which usually leads to great inspiration and new groundings perspectives to what I am working on. I absolutely love to find the café or coffee shop with the bartenders – men and women -that I will fall in love with.

Put your iPod on shuffle. What are the first five songs that come on?
No No No / Beirut
Ghost Ship / Jim Morrison
Born Under Punches / Talking Heads
Fantastic Man / William Onyeabor
Sabbath / Jenny Hval

In your own words, what is beauty to you?
Ah! People being themselves! People with identity and strength in that. There is no better time for standing up for who you are, and it’s beautiful.

 

For more of Andrea’s work, check out her website.