Interview: Luke Savisky
by Katie Geha
Pioneering Austin filmmaker Luke Savisky has a new installation at the Austin Museum of Art New Works gallery. ...might be good corresponded with him over email to discuss projected light, breaking out of the confines of the cinema aperture, and the music that sets the mood for many of his works. Certain elements of the installation may change over the course of the exhibition’s run, so readers who want to see the exact pieces we're referencing here should drop by the museum within the next few weeks. Also, take note: on April 28th, Savisky, in association with the City of Austin and the Fusebox Festival, will present an outdoor projection onto City Hall.
...might be good [mbg]: I was wondering what role the architecture of the gallery at AMOA played in the creation of the installation. It occurred to me that a lot of the objects were squares or rectangles, as was the light that was projected. Was this a response to the "white cube" of the gallery?
Luke Savisky [LS]: This installation and those formal rectangles became a kind of exercise in restraint for me. Over the last few years, I'd been projecting on snowy cliff faces, the water tower and recently, in huge ancient soaring cathedral guts laced with marble saints and giant gold-leafed blood-soaked crucifixes.
As with much of my previous work, my tendency for the New Works gallery would have been to try to visually or physically transform and expand the room to more of a seamless whole rather than four gallery walls each separated by doors. Luckily, rebuilding the room was not in the budget, because I realized fairly quickly that the transitions of passing from one mind space or dimensional space into or back from another had to be internal to the participant.
I wanted the simple transitional shapes to reflect the architecture, the situation, its confines and associations. I had worked with odd sculptured shapes and distortions of the regular 16mm projector frame, but for this more formal arrangement, I wanted something fairly direct, only slightly distorted. The 1.33:1 window shape wasn't it, and a wide "screen" shape was too directly associative, so for the North wall piece I flipped the projectors over on their sides and added anamorphic lenses, making a 2.66:1 vertical passageway, using the concentric frames to invoke a feeling of physical movement through the wall.
mbg: In your expanded notion of cinema how does the screen function?
LS: I've had a very stormy relationship with the constrictions of the frame, in painting and other traditional arts, film, video, architecture and now computers, always struggling to think of ways to burst out of it or distort it, shape it, expand it, transform it, multiply it or pass through it in some way. The confines of the cinema aperture and screen can be a prison, a grave, a window, a boundary, a convenient container for the mind of film makers, or a means of transformation, escape or transcendence, dependent on the context and your relationship to it. It could also represent a passage that in physics would be seen as a portal.
I've spent enough strange time with it that maybe it's drawn me all the way through, not to a fantasy land, but to something outside the frame itself, so that it feels like I'm looking back on it in a way. That makes pieces like this feel to me like a tribute or a reconciliation. Am I hearing the soundtrack to 2001? . . . maybe that's part of what Kubrick was referencing with the monolith (haha).
mbg: Can you explain the twirling cage in the center of the gallery? Is it also referencing the confines of the projected image?
LS: The trap/cage piece, like the motion picture screen, has strong associations to most viewers and definitely visually references the architecture and boundaries of the gallery and building it spins in, but its transparency and movement create more possibilities. The viewer is also charged with comparing the internally formed 3-D reality of the shadow to the reality of the thing itself.
mbg: I really like thinking about the idea that the cast of the projector light onto the screen could be read as some kind of prison--you called it a "convenient container for the mind of the film maker. " But it also strikes me as a type of container for the spectator. On the day I visited the gallery, it was family day and I spent a good hour on one of the comfy couches watching kids go wild in the installation. It occurred to me that participation, viewing and being viewed, sort of triggered the exhibition. Could you talk more about how viewer interaction and play became part of the installation?
LS: The gallery viewer is almost always held in a series of containers and expected to behave, right? How many times have you been in a video "installation" (usually someone's short film projected onto one wall in an empty room) and expected to stand or sit uncomfortably on a hard floor enduring a 20 minute DVD loop? And how often have you walked out of one of these before experiencing it fully? The point where the decisions the artist makes to structure a work meets the decisions the viewer makes in viewing it is the ticklish terror some artists avoid like the plague.
I wanted to present some options that aren't always present, some level of participatory freedom, ways into the piece and a way out of the usual mindset, stimulate some contrasting thought over time and a comfortable place to sit while experiencing it—a way to allow the viewer to project him or herself into the work. I was thinking of a "living gallery" idea where the couch is moved under the art instead of the art hung over the couch.
mbg: I know you've collaborated with a lot of musicians in your career as a filmmaker. The music in this installation really helped to create a sort of poetic mood to the act of seeing your ghost self projected on the wall. How did you pick this music? How does it interact (or counteract) with the projected light?
LS: The music in the installation will likely alternate between music by Stars of the Lid and The Dead Texan (the music you heard). Stars of the Lid is Adam Wiltzie and Brian McBride. The Dead Texan is Adam's collaboration with Christina Vantzou. The Dead Texan has a slightly airier presence that meshed beautifully with the formalized shapes, visual rhythm and domestic feel of this phase of the installation. SotL is more lush and expansive and may come into the mix later.
I've worked with Stars of the Lid since they first started playing live. I'm the third member in the shadows behind the projectors designing the visuals on their live tours and they've composed and sequenced the sound for a large number of my events and installations. When I listen to their music, it’s impossible for me not to start visualizing light, images, colors and shapes. There's been a mutual trust, admiration and implicit understanding since the beginning. It’s been ideal, really.
I've been honored to hear and to work with some amazing musicians and composers over the years here in Austin and elsewhere. I'm still daunted by how lucky I've been to witness such an incredible wealth of unique talent. All those experiences have deeply affected my artistic approach and growth. The installation felt right when all the pieces were working properly, but it feels complete when I push play on the CD.
Katie Geha is pursuing her Ph.D. in art history at The University of Texas at Austin.