Sarah Lasley’s “The Imagemaker” premieres tonight at the IU Libraries Moving Image Archive Screening Room as part of The Body & Transcendence: a night of films by women directors. Julie Rooney, whose work will also screen this evening, conversed with Lasley about her new film and the themes that resonate through the films in the program.
JR: Who is the showgirl, and why is she in the desert? Is she alone?
SL: The initial narrative premise of the film is that the showgirl has wandered into the desert seeking attention from the viewer. In that regard, she isn’t alone because we are there for her to entertain us. I shot this film in Arizona, but I liked the idea that it could be a desert neighboring Las Vegas, and maybe the showgirl stumbled into the desert by accident. As the film progresses, the harsh conditions of the desert force her to recognize that she is more than just a beautiful image, she also has physical and emotional needs.
JR: What were some of the challenges of creating this film?
SL: I shot this film entirely alone in the desert for two weeks over the summer, first in Tucson, AZ and then at Georgia O’Keefe’s Ghost Ranch in Abiquiú, NM. I was forced to shoot at dawn due to how quickly the temperature would rise. By 10am it was already almost 100 degrees. The locations I chose needed to be fairly remote as well, so the process of setting up a shoot involved a mountain hike with the costume and a second hike with the equipment. Occasionally hikers would pass by and stop me to ask all sorts of questions (the costume isn’t subtle). So overall the process was slow. Additionally, wearing high heels and dancing in the desert isn’t the safest—I was constantly pulling cactus spikes out of my feet.
JR: Your use of digitization in this film is fascinating. How does it change the meaning of the film?
SL: I shot the film with a 4K camera, so the image size of the footage was double that of a standard HD frame. The extra size allowed for me to crop into the footage and animate panning, tilting, and zooming in post-production. The ability to shoot alone and create an additional “character” from the camera movement was the primary impetus for the project. I’ve long made films about the power dynamics of looking and being looked at and the resulting self-consciousness of being aware of oneself as “viewed.” This self-consciousness is common to many who female-identify given the standards of female appearance/performance and our use in culture and mythology as the object of desire. The presence and nature of the camera shifts throughout the film, as does the showgirl’s understanding of herself as a physical body in space.
JR: Nature’s role in this film is transformative in both tone and character. In which scene does it move you the most, and why?
SL: Nature is always the other woman in my films. She’s the unattainable beauty we can never compete with, and she’s also the mother who can hold and heal our pain. The final scene in the film is the most abstract, and for me, it’s where nature is doing what she does best… washing away our narratives and releasing us back into the world with a new wholeness. This film came directly out of my time traveling alone out west. The more I sat and listened to the land around me, the more my personal issues seemed to dissolve into the ether.
JR: Tell me more about why you selected the other films in this screening. How do they create conversation with “The Imagemaker”?
SL: The screening features a really incredible group of women artists. On the surface, “The Imagemaker” is about the body, it’s corporeality, and it’s freedom, but subversively it uses metaphor to analyze gender roles and our expectations of women in society. These are all themes within the work of the other women directors we’ve selected. You have been working for years on a project that re-contextualizes the images from Audubon’s “Birds of America”, freeing them from their frozen pages. Your approaches are as varied as the people you collaborates with, and the films range from 10 second blips to hours-long live performances. This hybridity and range in itself is a kind of feminism. Brenna Palughi is a no-budget filmmaker and long-time collaborator of mine, and her film “Close” gives an honest portrayal of female desire and intimacy that counters the usual roles given to women in narrative film. Margaret Dolinsky’s VR environments use visual metaphor and the embodied navigation of 3D simulated space to connect us to those around us. She will be presenting a flythrough of one of her environments. Rachel de Cuba’s videos use poetic imagery and lush soundscapes to connect women and nature to their histories. Generational and geographical ties are the blood and bread of her visual spaces. Riley Keske’s video uses an abstract form and repetition to explore embodiment, stillness, and anxiety.
The Body & Transcendence: a night of films by women directors screens at the Indiana University Libraries Moving Image Archive Screening Room Wednesday, May 3, 2017 at 8:30 p.m. Sarah Lasley will participate in a talk back after the film.
Julie Rooney and Sarah Lasley will present Drawn From Nature: Performance, an experimental performance combining video projection and movement, at The Fuller Projects in Bloomington, Indiana on May 5, 2017 at 7:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.
This spring Indiana University Cinema and Indiana University Libraries Moving Image Archive teamed up to co-program the Filmmaker to Filmmaker: Conversations from the Director’s Chair series featuring Frederick Wiseman and Robert Greene and Films of Patricio Guzmán: Everything is Memory.
Sarah Lasley is a video artist from Louisville, Kentucky. She received her MFA in Painting from the Yale School of Art in 2008 and her BFA in 2005 from the University of Louisville. Her no-budget films explore the mediated nature of gender and the subject/object relationship of the camera to a performer. She has taught video production and emerging media for the past eight years at Yale University, Pratt Institute, and Vassar College, amongst others. Her short films have screened internationally in film festivals and galleries, most recently at Lesley Heller Workspace in New York, NY, Vox Populi in Philadelphia, PA and Franklin Street Works in Stamford, CT. She is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor in Digital Media at Indiana University.
Julie Rooney is a multidisciplinary artist who creates time-based performances and videos. Her work draws from technology, classical music, and modern dance to create performances which unite these disparate fields into seamless emotional and conceptual artworks. She seeks new and exciting combinations of these forms that challenge their traditional relationships. One other notable aspect is her artistic research with animal and natural imagery across unique transmedia landscapes. Whether the imagery is philosophical about “human-ness” and The Wild or metaphoric for human behavior, animals and nature are important to her artistic practice.
In addition to teaching at IU, Julie is an active videographer for dance and the arts, working for artists and organizations in New York City, Denver, and San Francisco. She received her MFA from the University of Colorado Boulder and her BA from DePauw University.