Art, Interviews

Artist Marco Brambilla on Sensory Overloads and Video Collages

Creation (2012), the third episode in Marco Brambilla’s Megaplex trilogy, is wonderfully wacky. Hyper-saturated, endlessly looped and three-dimensional, the video collage is a sensory overload of the highest order. Following in the footsteps of the first two works, Civilization (2008) and Evolution (2010), countless characters and props from iconic films twirl, swirl and whirl in space to Prokofiev’s haunting Cinderella waltz. The figures, extracted from their original environment, and trapped in this new one, appear in one-second loops as if perpetually glitching. Unlike the two previous videos that travel vertically and horizontally, respectively, Creation moves in Z-space through a double DNA helix. Equal parts mesmerising and overwhelming, Brambilla’s immersive vortex – to be viewed in 3D on a screen or with virtual reality goggles – delivers aplenty on the theatricality promised in the exhibition’s title. We spoke with Brambilla during his first trip to Hong Kong to decipher his creative process and shed light on the crazy world of Creation.

Marco Brambilla in his studio
Courtesy the artist and Simon Lee Gallery

How did the Megaplex trilogy come about?

I got very interested in the library, or the archive, of film language and I was collecting more and more of these cinematic memories. When I was young I used to watch two or three films a day; I was crazy addicted to watching films. At the time it was Fellini, Antonioni, Kubrick, mostly European films, and some Spielberg and American cinema too. Later, the interesting exercise for me was linking all these things together. After the first piece, I found myself having more that I wanted to continue to explore. What could be done with it? What juxtapositions could be created? So the two other pieces followed.

And from a conceptual perspective?

The trilogy really comments on cultural dislocation through technology. As a result, it is meant to be immersive, candy-coded and saturated – but it is also meant to feel hollow because all the dialogue, context and story development have been removed. In cinema today, films have disposed of all back-stories. There’s no longer any character development or setup. Look at one of the latest action films, for example. The filmmakers assume that we know all these characters already. In a way, these films become just the highlights of themselves. I think films are becoming increasingly self-referential. In a way Creation has become more relevant in the last four years since I made it: you try to satirise pop culture, but actually it moves so fast that by the time you have done that it has almost done it to itself.

You describe your technique as video collage. Can you tell me more about the juxtaposition of these two media?

The three pieces in the Megaplex trilogy are the only ones for which I used this video collage technique. In a lot of Hollywood movies, everything seems to be made from the same kind of focused and generic language. The idea was to take the highlights from these films and to  focus on the more superficial aspects of them. I wanted to reprocess them into a kind of exaggerated, hyper-saturated version of what they’re drawn from. To do that, I thought of creating a moving collage. For the first two works, I made paper collages with printed-out stills. The scrolls are about twenty feet long, with characters, environments and geographical signposts all mapped out. Then you’re able to figure out what the most familiar yet subversive moments in history are. In Evolution, for example, a very macho, aggressive piece, John Wayne represents the 1950s and 60s, and Clint Eastwood the 1970s. For me, the most interesting part of the process was once I had all the signposts mapped out, to then sit there with the films and watch ten a day in fast forward to find elements that I may not have set out to find: it became this stream of consciousness.

Creation (Megaplex), Marco Brambilla

Do you consider these paper scrolls as works of art in their own respect?

No, I think exhibiting them would remove the magic. I saw a piece by Thomas Demand at Prada and he decided to show the mechanism and the sculpture from which he had made the piece Grotto and it completely destroyed the work for me. I thought ‘what’s the point of seeing the whole process?’ I rarely do prints of my videos because I think it’s more important to watch it in motion – I have the virtual reality version, which is the first among any of my works to have been adapted in that format. That’s why the show is called Theater. It has a kind of dual presentation of the work: one is immersive in an expected way, the way you would see a film; and one is immersive in an even higher technological form. I think both enhance the magic of 3D in cinema: creating new spectacular environments. Cinema is a dream factory.

How is Creation an evolution from the two that precede it?

Creation is more of a spiritual journey, or a non-sequitur journey through history and origin. There are nine phases: Origin, Fertilisation, Birth, Garden of Eden, Corruption, Society, Reinvention, Collapse and Void. It came from questioning how to make the most impact with a pop and mainstream language. How do you get that epic quality that you find in some murals from the Renaissance? There’s a tremendous amount of density. I wanted to replicate that. Also, this piece was completely designed in 3D. This is the first one that moves in Z-space so there was no way to create a prototype collage on the floor. It had to be done in a much more studied manner than the first two. I really used the latest technology; the people who did the special effects in The Matrix worked on Creation too.

Installation view at Simon Lee Gallery, Hong Kong

Are there any original visuals in this piece?            

No – I didn’t want to create any new material. Even the background – space – is from existing films like Clash of the Titans or Mars Attack. Everything is completely sampled and that’s why it took so long. I really wanted to be authentic to the fact that there’s nothing original.

Can you explain the composition of the video?

Since it is about the origin of matter, the origin of life, I thought a double DNA helix would be a suitable format to anchor all the images. And I think when you’re dealing with something as busy as this, and in motion, you do need to give the eye an anchor point and I think the symmetry and the colour palette have to be well defined. Especially with the motion, you have to be able to follow it. You want to take the viewer just passed the point of saturation.

There are definite painterly qualities to your work: traces of Baroque and Surrealism, what interests you in these artistic movements?

Obviously there are some influences here like Bruegel and Bosch, where the narratives are non-linear, yet still exist in cells within the larger work. I like the idea of creating a story through gesture, colour and emotion. When I sample some of the characters, I basically pick the expression. Most of the loops are only one second and half long, it’s not really the character in full motion. You only have that one instant, like Julie Andrews in The Sound of the Music. She only has that one exclamation and it’s almost like an opera singer resetting all the time. The brush strokes here are samples of film.

Can you tell me more about your choice of classical music?

It’s Prokofiev. He’s so cynical and beautiful. The underlying tone of the score is very subversive and kind of dark. Bernard Hermann, who did many film scores in the 50s and 60s, had references like Stravinsky and Prokofiev, so this is going back to the inspiration for some of the film composers. I thought about using film scores, but I really wanted something more primal and theatrical. I hope it’s also a play on the relationship between popular culture and art. I like making the grand, the sublime, and the pure, as banal as possible.

Marco Brambilla: Theater runs until October 4, 2016 at Simon Lee Gallery.

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