August 3rd, 2015 | CineWomen interview with Zornitsa Stoyanova
– Zornitsa Stoyanova’s work convey a purely subjective, yet modernist, sensibility where the form conveys its meaning directly, heightening individuals’experiences of time and space. In Chrysalis figures appear and disappear in a gentle flow, sometimes moving the story forward, sometimes backward: throughout the film the physical properties of the images seem to convey Zornitsa’s feelings, mood, and impressions with extraordinary precision. Zornitsa, tell us about your trajectory as a performer and filmmaker. What inspired you to express yourself in this medium?
Primarily a performance artist, in the last two years I’ve become interested in creating more visual and installation art. Dance on film though has always kept my attention. While in college, I took a few animation and digital art classes and touched on the use of the moving image. I moved to Philadelphia in 2006 and started producing Dance Camera Projects’ public screenings of short dance on film that I thought were worth seeing. Shortly thereafter, I started creating my own films. It was a first experiment for me, so I did nothing with them. I put them on YouTube and left them alone.
The more recent aesthetic comes from a yearlong exploration I did in 2011 called “Why Does My Choreography Look Nothing Like My Dancing?” This was a project where I would film myself dancing in different locations with the idea of interrogating the movement being generated. What was surprising during this investigation was that I was more interested in the position of the camera than in the content of the movement. I started experimenting with mounting the camera (at that point it was an HD pocket camera) in different locations, on the ceiling, in a shoe, under a grand piano. Most striking for me was the distortion of the space in the digital frame. I started playing with going in and out of the frame and making one body part appear larger than another. This project allowed me to develop an intimate understanding of how the body changes inside the frame and I applied that knowledge to the moving camera. I feel that the “dance on film” art form needs to expand its awareness of the moving frame and integrate the camera as they would a dancer. These are how the tools developed.
As for the driving force behind it, as a choreographer/performer it is very important for me to have an active relationship with the audience. I look to create immersive experiences that resonate with the viewers. When I teach, I often talk about the ability of a performer to illuminate their inner emotional landscape. I recognize that some things are simply impossible to convey in performance and others are impossible to convey in film. So why not use both together or separately to create a permeability of understanding between the viewer and the performer?
Film is exciting for me because it constricts and expands time much more dramatically than does performance. In 10 minutes of film you can show just as much material as in a 40 minute performance. That ability to transform, to move through space and completely leave the physical world, is something I really love. You can’t do that with a no budget solo performance, but can do that with a no budget short film.
– We want to take a closer look at the genesis of your experimental dance film: how did you come up with the idea for Chrysalis?
In 2013, I created an evening length dance installation event “shatter:::dawn”, where I used Mylar in the set and at the end of the performance. I was interested in the material and its potential, but as performance often works, I ran out of time and couldn’t develop that aspect of the performance. Later the same year, I gave birth to my son, so for a while I was busy with motherhood. The filming improvisational process actually came out of the time limit of motherhood. I would steal minutes and hours when my baby was asleep and film short 2-6 minute improvisations with the Mylar. I started taking photos, just so that I could see what Mylar looks like on the body, to see how the body integrates and abstracts from it.
The idea of Chrysalis came organically. One of the many times I was practicing my short improvisations for video, I decided I will shoot a short film. Based on my previous explorations, I automatically knew how to move the camera and what would be an interesting and dynamic image. Within the first 10 minutes I decided on the scenes and shot the raw footage of Chrysalis in less than one hour.
The mirroring and editing of the film also arose organically. Since creating the evening length piece in 2013, I’ve been obsessed with optical illusions and wondering how an experience like that could be presented in live performance. I still don’t have an answer to that, but I know I could do it in film very easily. It was important for me to move the horizon and to keep changing it. I was looking to instill a sense of “otherworldness” and displacement of the body. I wanted to create images that would evoke meaning and also keep shifting, so that there is disorientation and a constant question of evaluating the meaning of the image.
So, I edited for 2 days and Chrysalis is the result. I’m presently working with other footage from small improvisations developing that mirroring/psychedelic technique.
– We find fascinating the way you explore the boundary between multiplicity and sameness, can you introduce our readers to this idea behind your work?
Multiplicity is a theme that comes up in my work both in performance and visual/digital art. I’ve had the fortune of working a bit with Deborah Hay. Her approach is very much about noticing all the multiplicity of your experience in and outside of your body throughout time (or at least this is my interpretation of her teachings!). In my movement practice I work on splitting and juggling my full attention to all my senses, my memories, and my emotional landscape. It’s a practice of constant scanning and ability to pinpoint arising impulses, feelings and movement. It’s an impossible task. On a spectrum outside the body, I very much look for multiplicity of meaning. I purposefully chose working with Mylar because this material has so much potential for different meaning. It is used to grow plants, as an emergency blanket, as insulation for space stations and satellites, yet as you see it for the first time… there is almost no clear functionality for it. It is malleable and could become a clear cultural reference one second and an abstract object the next.
As for sameness, I am fascinated with unison in a very formal compositional way. I grew up in Bulgaria with stories of communist marches and ideas of complete unison among the masses. This idea of complete sameness/unison is very human constructed. I can’t think of a single organic/biological process that is in complete sameness with another. So when you see it manifested, it is extremely attention grabbing and satisfying. In past films, I have superimposed myself onto myself to create that idea of many of the same in unison. However, to me what’s present in “Chrysalis” is not so much sameness, but rather an “opositeness”. Or an “alternative” to self in time and space. I often think that when we create a piece of art, we actually create a 1000 pieces simultaneously. Just one of those multitude of possibilities ends up manifesting in the physical world. The rest of them live with us in our mind and imagination adding to our experience.
– Your art reveals a remarkable effort to go beyond realism or the limits of imagination. How did you develop your film-making style?
It’s been a very long improvisation process, one that I cannot determine a starting point for. I am inspired by visual art and usually would see an image and would pick one or two of the tools I perceive the artist used to create the work. Then, I’ll just use these tools and keep playing. That play might take years before an understanding of something a method or process crystallizes. After that, I look for what it does, what are the images evoking, meaning, referencing and does all this resonate with my aesthetic. I do look for surrealism, to me that is important.
– Chrysalis contains a clear homage to the Sci-fi imagery. Can you tell us your biggest influences in art and how they have affected your work?
Yes, Sci-fi is a huge influence on me. I love sci-fi fiction and read/listen to an average of two books a week. Outside of that I am highly inspired by artists like James Turrell and Anish Kapoor. I’m fascinated with reflectivity and emotional impact. I remember the first time I saw a light sculpture by James Turrel. It was at the Mattress Factory, an installation museum in Pittsburgh. I was alone when I walked into the dark gallery to see his red cube “Catso, Red” and was floored. My knees buckled and I was on the ground. It was so powerful in its simplicity and also created an optical illusion of a three dimensional object suspended through space. Being a choreographer, I wanted to create an environment that moves the audience, both literally and emotionally.
Another large influence is light sculptor Andy McCall and choreographer Naoko Tanaka. I saw both of their work in Berlin. Andy McCall’s work moves very slowly and that makes the viewer either watch it very closely, or go inside it and experience it. Naoko Tanaka works with different kinds of flashlights in creating shadow images. Her images transform and open the imagination to meaning depending on how she moves the flashlight.
Experiencing these works, I started the long practice of improvising with light and Mylar and filming it.
In addition, one of my daily activities is looking for reflective light art and installation on Pinterest. That led me into a practice of taking long exposure photography.
– By definition cinema is rhythm and movement, gesture and continuity, however rarely in mainstream cinema we assist to such a spectacular dance like in your films. How do you conceive the rhythm of your works?
Rhythm is pocketing different amounts of time and allocating them to certain events. In its essence it is time stretched and shortened. Continuous recognizable rhythm, like in music, is how we humans perceive the passing of time. That particular perception automatically creates a desire for a story and an expected development of narrative towards a climax. I try to craft my work so that there is no passing sense of time. I shy away from “storytelling” or “moral” and thus look for rhythms that are more unrecognizable. I’m very interested in abstraction and potential for narrative. I don’t want to create clear narratives, but rather offer images that have the potential of making your own. Of course I am very careful on what those images are and aware of their potential meanings, but still I don’t try to develop a clear simple trajectory. I think that’s really where the rhythm of the piece comes from.
– Chrysalis is part of Mylar Storms: can you introduce our readers to this ongoing project?
Mylar Storms “started” a few months after my son was born. It started with me shining flashlights into Mylar in my basement and taking pictures of it. Initially I was just experimenting and having fun. The project got shape when a friend of mine saw the pictures on facebook and asked to exhibit them at the European Month of Experimental Photography in my home town Sofia, Bulgaria (October 2014). I had four photographs from the series there and all of a sudden I realized that I was creating visual art. I still continue to create photography with the Mylar, but now there are two main series with it. There are long exposure selfies involving fiber optic light and edited refracted photographs with Mylar that I call the “propagating” series. Shortly after that exhibit, I started filming myself. Chrysalis is the result of those solo improvisations. I am presently working on 2 other short films within the same realm from footage taken with other dancers. Also, in March 2015 I started rehearsing with dancers in Philadelphia. When we gather, we do long form improvisations and have done two showings. Mylar Storms encompasses all this activity. In its performance iteration it is still a huge question. I see a potential for solo stage work and also an immersive installation dance event. In October 2015, I’m starting a yearlong residency and I plan on focusing on the performance aspect of the project. I hope to present it sometime in 2016, but as of now I don’t know in what capacity and if it will be the solo stage version or the group immersive event.
– Your research will culminate in a public art event in the next year. Can you tell us something about this event?
As a self producing artist, all I know is that it will happen. During the year long residency there will be showings of it and I’m presently looking for presenting partners and potential spaces. I would really love to do performance/installation event in a gallery, but would also be excited for the possibility of an immersive theater event.
– Do you think it is harder for women directors to have their projects green lit today?
I think its hard to be a woman in any art form. I’ve been really fascinated with the idea of making art with no budget and what that really means. When there is no money, what is the budget for time, commitment, missing family time, materials? Why are we so pressed to create art in a few months or weeks? Can a project span years and why not?
Throughout my travels in Europe, every performance maker/ dancer I talk to complains about the lack of support and money. But I think support is there, money is not. I think in the performance world primarily made by women, we support each other by donating our time, creating platforms for each other, giving feedback. I’m not sure if there is a community like that for women directors. What I know though is that in the performance world women choreographers are neglected by the large presenting organizations. Take any major dance festival and notice that half if not more of the choreographers are male. In an industry that is 90% female, its pretty strange to see this discrepancy.
The one thing I would say though is that us women are working with or without money and sharing and talking and writing. We are furthering culture, even if we are not in the limelight.
– Thanks for sharing your time, Zornitsa , we wish you all the best with your filmmaker and performer career. What’s next for Zornitsa Stoyanova? Have you a particular collaboration in mind?
Next in September 2015, I’m teaching improvisation in Budapest, Hungary. I’m also dancing with a site specific improvisation company in Philadelphia, called Graffito Works. I’m looking forward to teaching more dance on camera in Philadelphia and abroad. I also co-curate and produce a small festival called Move Dance Think Fest, so the next iteration is on the front and center for me.
Artistically, I’m very excited about Mylar Storms. I’m making a new film in that universe, as well as doing more photography. I’m presently looking for local places to exhibit my photographs. In October, when I return back to the U.S., I will be starting to work on the performance aspect of it. I’ll be working with a long time collaborator of mine, composer Michael McDermott, for at least a portion of the year. Hopefully by the end of 2016, there will be a live performance.