CURRENTS Interview: Bruce Hamilton & Susanna Carlisle
Bruce Hamilton and Susanna Carlisle are new media artists whose work incorporates video projection, multimedia installation, sculpture, and performance. Their recent work has addressed environmental concerns such as the vulnerability and destruction of the natural world and the built environment due to climate change, natural disaster, and man's impact on the environment. Bruce and Susanna are participating artists in CURRENTS NEW MEDIA 2018 in Santa Fe, New Mexico. CURRENTS is an annual festival dedicated to promoting new media art and technology in an accessible environment and to bringing together the work of established and emerging new media artists for events showcasing interactive installations, multimedia performances, VR and AR environments, experimental documentary, web based/app art forms, robotics, 3D printing and design, and more.
LE: How long have you two been working with CURRENTS and exhibiting work in the festival?
S: We’ve been producing art with CURRENTS since its beginning in 2002. This is the 9th annual year of CURRENTS as a festival, but Mariannah Amster and Frank Ragano, who started the festival and since directed and curated it, had intermittent shows before then—not every year and not the same as it is today. It has really grown and the focus of CURRENTS has changed a lot throughout the years due to Mariannah and Frank’s awareness of advancing technology and their passion and dedication of sharing new visions with the community and the public.
LE: Tell me about your piece for CURRENTS this year.
B: In August and September of last year, we had an artist residency in Venice. We spent much of our time shooting video around the city, mostly the reflections of the city in the canals and waterways which focused on the deterioration of the city and its erosion. We made a three channel piece that will show some of this footage. Each video is a different length so the images will keep appearing in a different sequence in relation to each other, and they won’t occur simultaneously. The sequence of the three channels will be constantly changing and creating different juxtapositions.
LE: The residency obviously shaped the fact that you were shooting a project in Venice, but where there other ties that you wanted to make between Venice and this issue of degradation and climate change?
S: We have been to Venice many times and have been really taken by how much the city changes. We have seen erosion from the rising water, which has risen above the marble supporting the bricks. The water is eating away at the mortar and the foundations of Venice, and it continues to rise and erode due to climate change, boat wakes from water taxis, the tourist impact, and so on. We’re very concerned about how it will continue to shift over time. We had intended this project to study the acqua alta and the inflatable gates which keep the rising seas out of the lagoon, but it doesn’t happen in August. We had to shift gears to show the deterioration of the buildings and the different effects that the rising water has on the infrastructure. Filming the reflections of the city in water is distorted but also has a sense of poetry. These issues in Venice are very representative of different cities around the world that are affected by climate change and rising sea levels.
LE: One topic that keeps cropping up while discussing climate change is how we got to this point and what we can do. Oftentimes it’s pointed out that technological and industrial production is pushing climate change even faster. Does your work comment on how new media and climate change interact?
B: One issue with climate change is that we are all part of it and we are all contributing to it.
S: Exactly. Driving, traveling, flying to Venice...anything we do affects the environment. It’s almost paradoxical.
B: We try to bring it to people’s awareness in a different and less obvious way than just discussing CO2 levels. There is a huge challenge to the infrastructure of Venice and we don’t know how long a city that is being threatened like this can exist.
S: Most people who go to Venice usually aren’t thinking about how they’re walking on water and the whole city is crumbling apart. Especially with access to new technology and the internet, the moving image has increased access to information. We don’t have to think as critically about what we see, so this video installation becomes a space to physically reflect. Making videos about an environmental issue seems diametrically opposed to the issue itself, but it’s also a way to push this sensibility to the foreground.
LE: And your work is not immediately obvious. I was first struck by the aesthetic beauty and tranquility of these videos, but the more time you spend with them, the more deeply you think about the issues that they are depicting.
B: We try to make a meditative space that people can experience, and slowly, through watching, take something away. People can make whatever connections they want. That’s an advantage of CURRENTS—there is such a range of works that something is going to speak to everyone, and they don’t have to relate to every piece.
S: And it’s nice to provide a sanctuary where you can drift and dream, especially when everything around you is moving so fast.
LE: This piece definitely allows for more space and room for interpretation. Do the three channel aspect and different combinations of video relate to this?
B: We wanted to do a three channel video after thinking about the classical art in Venice; it works almost like a triptych. That’s also why we are projecting on unstretched canvas.
S: These images are very naturally painterly. They are just the water processing the imagery via reflection—the movement of the water warping the images of the buildings.
LE: Is climate change a constant theme throughout your work?
S: It has been prevalent in our work since 2008, and before that, we focused on a lot of social issues as well as environmental. A constant theme has been the idea of contrasts and how time affects the world around us.
LE: What is your process in creating work, and what role do each of you play?
B: Susanna does most of the video work, the logging, and all of the technical aspects. Once it’s all on a hard drive, we start assembling it into something more.
S: Then we pick what we want and start editing and figuring out how we want the images to work together. We didn’t want to process any of these images in this piece; it’s entirely unedited cuts from the videos. Bruce sewed up the canvas to design the presentation. He is a master at the fabrication of details. We help each other realize our ideas, and it turns out that we need both of us to make these ideas come to life.
LE: Is there an integration of sound in this work as well?
B: It’s just the sound from the different clips overlapping on one another, being mixed together, and coming out as ambient sound. There are church bells, people talking in different languages, motorboats, and whatever was captured by the cameras—just the ambient sounds and noises of the city. And this was the year of the Venice Biennale, so it’s also a reflection of how many people were coming and going and affecting the city.
S: And each loop will have different combinations of the videos and their sound—they’re each 20 to 30 seconds difference in length. It’s like the water itself that keeps shifting. And it mimics how you experience the world; it’s not total repetition and you will see different inputs at different times.
LE. Similar to your experience of traveling to Venice multiple times; you can go to the same places or sit at the same steps over and over, but every time it’s a little bit different.
S: Absolutely, it really is.