Artist Statement

            What can artists say when they talk about their own work? We can talk medium: the materials and tools used to make the work. We can talk process: how it was made. We can talk inspiration: the inception (or perhaps precedence) of a work. We can also talk meaning: what emotions and ideas are conveyed by the work itself. A comprehensive Artist’s statement will basically cover all of these with an emphasis on the latter, Meaning. Yes meaning, the ultimate MacGuffin of sentient life.

            Since meaning is basically invisible compared to the other more tangible components of any given work, it is the most coveted and talked about. Let us start with that, meaning and intent. Currently I think the generalization that most accurately sums up my work is that I am interested in perception and in how humans organize remembered perceptions to construct meaning in time and under the monolith of our own mortality. I am fascinated by the maelstrom of raw sensory data which is miraculously and habitually organized, by even the dullest of minds, into ostensibly clear thoughts populated by people and solid objects. I believe that phenomenal reality is just an abstraction we have grown accustomed to. To crystalize this idea in my work, I like to start with nonfigurative formalism which through movement, editing, and sound drifts closer to an associative surrealism. My films are only ostensibly strange but in reality there is always something familiar beneath.

These interests first manifested themselves, in mature form, in my graduate thesis film, A Narrative Film. In this film I was reacting to what I feel is the conceit of the narrative. I have often heard it said and implied that the narrative, a sequence of events which leads from point A to point B, is the closest artistic equivalent to life. That is a truism in many ways. We are born (the beginning), we live for a time (the middle), and then we die (the end). This is the structure of human life in its broadest and most simplistic form, but life, as a lived experience is rarely so linear. Life is complicated. We live our lives reacting to a maelstrom of raw perceptions which are filtered by reflex as “reality” enters our minds in a never ending continuum. Consciousness routinely organizes its perceptions into a convenient tube of linear progression even though every moment something totally foreign and unexpected enters the event horizon of individual experience. Human experience is not linear, every moment is pushing and pulling the individual in a different direction yet for some reason the idea of life as a simple domino line seems to be the most natural thing in the world. This imaginary domino line then becomes the document that individuals use to make deductions about the self. The longer this domino line becomes, the more we think we know about ourselves but in the end most self inquiries end in aporia. The Narrative is a sanitized reality which has gotten rid of the noise. With A Narrative Film I tried bringing back some of the noise (both figuratively and literally) by parodying the three act structure of the traditional narrative. However, instead of the acts being directly developed in to one another, each is a totally isolated absurdity in and of itself.

            One may reasonably ask, if this artist is interested in human perception and by proxy “reality” itself why does he feel the need to resort to nonfigurative formalism? Why doesn’t he incorporate broader strokes of realism with recognizable forms and characters? We have gotten so used to adding up the sum of our perceptions and transforming them into quotidian spaces. Perceiving things like people, objects and space is only possible by clumping lots of sense data together very quickly. It’s one of the primary things our brains are made for and we can do it without even breaking a sweat. It is my hope that by presenting my viewers with a totally foreign visual reality (one might even say medium specific), by forcing them to do the math by hand without the aid of a normalizing calculator, that they’ll be given a new and invigorating awareness of the film itself and its possible representations.

            This deliberate obfuscation of visual ideas certainly has its roots in surrealism. But whereas most surrealism gets it strangeness through normal objects in extreme juxtapositions my work gets its strangeness through an initial rejection of figurative illusionism. A rejection which has just started to backslide into representationalism and into pretending to be something that it is not.  

            Visually speaking, my recent works have much to owe to Russian Suprematism and Constructivism, more specifically through the works of Kazemir Malevich, El Lissitsky, and Lazlo Maholy-Nagy. Though, I should probably say that my discovery of Malevich and the rest was only through my original fascination with Kandinsky, whose imprint is present in my work as well. I’d be remiss not to mention the cinematic influence and precedence of the absolute films of Oskar Fischinger. His films have no plot or characters, yet still manage to mesmerize for startling lengths of time. The shear presence that his films exude is not only due to his amazing animation abilities but also due to their impressive marriage to music. This is an impressive juxtaposition because music, the most abstract of all the arts, helps give context to Fischinger’s formalism. In my own work, however, I am wary of the power of music to change how we feel about what is on the screen. I feel that music can be incredibly manipulative and when used in a careless manner it has the potential to manhandle the imagery in disastrously inauthentic ways. I prefer to make the visual and sonic components basically equal. I want the imagery to feel like it’s missing something without the soundscape and I want the soundscape to feel like it’s missing something without the visuals.

            As an animator the techniques I use to make my films are anything that will allow me to create imagery and make it move, whether it be digital, 2D, 3D, or analogue. I first learned how to animate with a light box and a shooting station but these days I primarily work digitally. The software I use most often to animate are: Autodesk Maya, Aftereffects, AnimateCC, Photoshop, and Toonboom. When I need to do editing and sound design I then resort to Premiere and Protools. Animating the imagery often starts with a story board and moves on to key-frames but at many points during the creation of “A Narrative Film” I started with drawings in my sketchbook and then I’d turn those designs into loops. Sound is then added to the loops and at that point the juxtaposition of the loop with the sound points me in a new direction. Once I know where it wants to go I break the repetition in order to make room for new actions. Imagery often comes first, but sometimes I make a soundscape first and then I use that to generate and animate new imagery.

            At the beginning of this statement I made a joke about the meaning of life. I called it a Macguffin, which refers to any narrative device that motivates the characters and pushes the story forward despite the contents of which are never known or adequately explained to the audience. That is basically the way I feel about the meaning of life. Nobody has the answer but we all talk about it as if we did. What if life has no meaning? What if it just is? Perhaps life doesn’t need any meaning either as existence is a cosmic privilege in and of itself.  Just like a Mcguffin, the search for meaning and a contemplation of what it means to Be can certainly drive our own life narratives and take us to interesting places but in the end the answer really doesn’t matter. What really matters is art’s ability to immerse its audience in aesthetic or emotional ecstasy.

Michael Edwards