M. Parker Stuart is a Featured Artist for the 2017 Altered Esthetics Film Festival.
You can catch M. Parker's work three times during the Film Fest: Small Sadnesses will screen June 3 at 4:00 PM. Liquid Histories will screen June 3 at 7:30 PM. An installation of Saturday Morning Cartoons will be presented in the 2nd Floor Lobby of The Southern Theater during the duration of the festival.
M. Parker Stuart, Liquid Histories, 2017
+ Liquid Histories is a bit more personal than your previous work (Sorting Out... series). What did you learn as a filmmaker about diving into a piece that was closer to home?
Liquid Histories came out of necessity. It started with my Grandpa dying. He was 97, so it wasn't completely out of the blue, but it's still so very sad. He was my dad's dad, and that side of the family is country down to its roots. Grandpa worked on a farm, and when dad went out on his own he insisted on a country setting too, and that's where I grew up. So this stuff is in my blood. When Grandpa died, the visitation and funeral were held in the town my dad grew up in, a town I had been visiting since before I was born, a tiny little place you can't get to by accident.
A lot has changed since I was young. The day before I left to drive out I had a conversation with my mother. She had been in a gas station there and had overheard some of the men from town talking about the bathroom issue, which was on talk radio. They had been speaking in an explicitly violent manner and I would need to change my plans.
Not long ago people who have power decided to use the existence of trans feminine people to portray urban populations as the evil other in opposition to rural populations and vice versa (as well as a number of other things which I'm sure everyone knows about). Part of the fallout of this campaign for me was losing my ability to go home.
I made it to Grandpa's funeral, having changed my plans so that I would drive in for only the funeral and leave immediately after. When I got home, this piece kind of just vomited out of me. My Grandpa's death brought up memories of my dad's death a few years ago, and it made real the feeling of a loss of home that I've been dealing with. Making work was really the only way I knew to put it all together. Tie it up in a box and float it down the river.
I think the one thing that I really learned from making this piece is that you don't always get a choice in the art that you make. Sometimes it's going to happen regardless of what you intend.
+ A lot of your work contains algorithms you’ve created and scripted to alter the videos from their original form. In your artist statement you talk about how rearranging these pixels allow the ability to create new spaces to be free without constraints. Can you talk about how this process applies to these two pieces you’re prepared for the Ae Film Fest?
When I talk about creating spaces, there are actually two distinct spaces that I'm referencing. The first is a space only accessible to me and the second is a space created aesthetically for the viewer. I'll use Liquid Histories to illustrate the first space and Saturday Morning Cartoons for the second. They both do their spaces well.
This all started for me some billion odd years from now when I was spending a lot of time thinking about Kosuth's ideas about conceptual art. When you take a piece like One and Three Chairs and break it down to its core components, what you have is a definition of what a chair is, and a set of instructions for how to display the piece (find a chair, photograph it, display the chair and the photograph with the definition). To me, there was no difference between what he was doing and software. When you write software, you supply a set of instructions, package it up with some data and send it out. It's the same thing.
I started digging into that with my genetic algorithms and quines but it just never felt right. It was more software than art. At the same time I had been playing with making glitch work. The two just sort of fell together and that's when things clicked into place for me.
By letting go of the definitions for data set by tradition or software and supplying my own, I can create these little digital spaces that only I have access to. Little pocket dimensions I can slip into and out of whenever I want. I can create a pocket dimension based on a concept, or an emotion, or a question, or even just define a space that's not here.
The aesthetic effect is the only evidence that it exists.
In Liquid Histories, I used the concept that each pixel is a living creature that starts it's life with the first frame. As the frames change, the creatures have to find a new position that matches it best, and move there in a set amount of time. At the end of the sequence, they all start dying and the world around the center pixel shrinks to nothing until it dies too.
Saturday Morning Cartoons is primarily an aesthetic work. There's no real concept in the pixels themselves, just a few tricks to make them look the way I want them to. Here I'm using color, layers, contrast and motion to create a feeling of familiarity that is distinctly unfamiliar. You can see this in my paintings and my digital still work as well. I'm using color and construction to cut out a little pocket dimension that you can join me in. Some of my other pieces where this effect is really stand out are The Walls, Rolling Water, and Sinking In.
Here, as an installation, the little pocket is created between the looping videos, creating the feeling of familiarity, but the rules, or the expectations we have for this situation, are turned out and cut away. The bright, jumpy colors of television opening and closing in on themselves are contrasted against a window showing an undulating, dark landscape that could almost be speaking to you. It almost feels safe, like home, but it doesn't, because this ain't your fuckin' home anymore faggot.
M. Parker Stuart, Small Sadnesses, 2016
+ In Liquid Histories, you take inspiration from the death of your grandfather and ponder the mortality of humanity as well as the life of the pixel within your video. In a previous series of yours, you describe pixels as “imaginary points of color stored as data” (Pixel). Can you talk further about this correlation between the pixel and the human, and your impression of the insignificance of the pixel vs. the importance of humanity?
I covered the specific concept I used in Liquid Histories earlier, but there's a really interesting thought that you're kind of touching on. Pixels, and all data for that matter, only exist because of the values we have imbued them with. The 24 switches that make up the data we consider a pixel only become color because we all agree that those 24 switches represent a color and how that occurs. We have to supply the meaning, as the switches themselves are inherently meaningless, and we have to supply a structure, so we all interpret them the same way. Likewise, the importance of humans vary depending on the meanings we imbue them with and the structures we function in.
I've been doing some teaching with trans young adults, and one of the things I talk about is the structure of the data. Not only do we have to agree that these 3 bytes represent a color, we have to agree on the structure of all of the data in a single blob of it. These 3 bytes represent a color, and these 8 bytes represent the number of colors in a row… This is true for all data from complicated databases to videos to simple text files. You have to agree that there is a structure there that you can't see, and just trust that whoever put the data together used the same structure.
So what happens if you start changing the meaning of the data? What can you do to leave the data intact and unharmed but change the structure so that you have something radically different? Can you take something ugly and make it beautiful by simply not agreeing to comply with the structure and meaning given to you?
M. Parker Stuart, Saturday Morning Cartoons, 2017
+ Do you mind talking about your storytelling process? Liquid Histories and Saturday Morning Cartoons provide two very different backstories and impressions. How did you approach creating these two pieces?
Storytelling and I have a contentious relationship. I am not a story person. I don't see my life as a story, and I don't impose stories on things that aren't definitively stories. I just let them be. For much of my career I have actively fought against story people. It really bothered me to see someone put a story to a thing that was just a thing. Story people are like that, yeah? I could design a piece that is purely random and they'd find a way to make a story for it. I spent a lot of time and energy trying to make that as difficult as possible and failed every time.
I eventually gave in and just accepted it. Some people understand the world through stories, and that's ok. I like listening to their stories. The ways they find to fit stories in where there are none are so creative it just amazes me.
At some point, I'll probably tell a story, but at this point in my artistic practice, I mostly just listen to them.
+ Would you like to talk about any upcoming projects?
I'm doing some workshops for trans people again this year as part of the Transfabulous program through Hennepin County Libraries. We have 6 different workshops, each led by someone from the Trans/GNC community, that you can watch for on the library website. If anyone is interested they can also send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will get them a schedule. I'll be teaching Experimental Video at the Golden Valley Library on July 15th and 16th, from 2-4pm.
Additionally, at the end of the year our participants will be putting on an exhibition in the Cargill Gallery in the Minneapolis Central Library. You can come see our work from December 4th through January 13th. You should, too. Last year we turned out a large collection of really amazing work.
Images courtesy of the artist. Interview by Chelsea Arden Parker.
Previous film fest posts from Altered Esthetics blog: