Ben Sachs: How did you come to partner with I Am Logan Square on this exhibit?
Nelson Carvajal: I’m a native of Logan Square. I’ve lived in this area since I was 11. I went to grade school down the street from the Congress Theater, and I have a lot of family here. Last summer, I had an installation in one of the galleries [participating in] the Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival, and through that, some people from I Am Logan Square approached me about doing a show [with them]. It was one of those insanely lucky things. I’ve never curated a show before, and for the past few years I’ve wanted to create a DIY film event in this area, because I think there’s a lot of great work being produced here, but it’s only being shared within, like, tiny sewing circles. There’s no sense of an overall movement. It’s mostly online, but we need to take this great content that exists online onto more established platforms.
BS: How many pieces are in the exhibit?
NC: Quite a few, because I brought in another video artist, Amir George, to exhibit his work with me. Altogether, there are 14 digital shorts, and we’re going to split them up across four TV monitors. The monitors will be on milk crates and stuff—we want the exhibit to look like it was found in an alleyway, like it falls between the cracks of a more formal exhibition. It seemed appropriate to what Amir and I do, which is urban-centric, mostly appropriated content. A lot of [the exhibit] consists of video mash-ups and underground music videos... I think it speaks to the times, which are so media-heavy and where everyone’s creating stuff.
BS: “Film Is Dead” is a pretty loaded title. Would you care to elaborate on it?
NC: Well, I’m not talking about the concept of filmmaking being dead; I’m talking about the physical medium of film—you know, Kodak filed for bankruptcy last week. But [film] is such a cumbersome format to shoot on and screen on. . . so, for the filmmakers who are working outside of the mainstream or bigger independent filmmaking, they’re sort of left to their wits. They can shoot stuff on, like, the Flip cam or their phone, and this is our era—our digital era. And some point, somebody’s just gotta say, if the majority of independent filmmakers are making things that aren’t on film, why, you know...
I feel like the word video or the word digital has a second-tier connotation. Like, people in the industry talk about it, they’re like, “Oh, you made that cool little video,” like you’ve just made it for YouTube or to embed on someone’s blog. That’s not the case at all, in my eyes. That’s our format, our new language, our new tool. Just like the Internet has become a filmmaking instrument, digital filmmaking—it’s something we have to develop a new language for. We’re not shooting on 35 [millimeter]—we’re shooting on small micro-pieces. So that opens up a whole new can of worms: We’ve got to develop a new visual language to tell our stories. If we know that most of what we make is only going to be seen on, like, iPads, then that changes the framing of how we’re going to shoot everything. It’s going to be tighter, closer. The soundtrack becomes a different thing too.
BS: And the work becomes a different thing again when you’re exhibiting it publicly, rather than on, say, an iPad.
NC: Sure, but that’s a step we all need to take, so that people who aren’t necessarily making movies become aware that these things are happening and maybe start taking it seriously. And when they revisit that same content on their iPad or on their phone, they see it as more than just a novelty or a gimmicky video that a film school graduate made in his free time between bussing tables. With an important cultural shift like this, we need to have these avenues of exposure, so people can share it or blog about it or Tweet about it or send it or what-have-you. So now you don’t have to go to Hollywood and be a [production assistant] till you’re 40 to get that chance to make your 35-millimeter movie.
Right now, I feel, is the best time to be an independent filmmaker, because this new media, this DIY filmmaking is still being developed. I’m not saying that what [Amir and I] made is the definitive form of the next wave, but I think it’s an inkling of something bigger than ourselves. . . and that’s very exciting, this democratization of filmmaking. It’s bringing it to the point where everybody can be making art. I’m not saying that everybody’s going to be a great filmmaker or a great video artist or whatever, but they can all take part in it.
BS: Tell me about the work you’ll be exhibiting.Occupy and Repeat, which is a video that’s comprised of stuff I found on YouTube of various people taking part in the Occupy Wall Street movement. I would find certain videos where somebody gets hit in the head, or a riot happens, or somebody gets sprayed with tear gas. I thought I’d repeat them four or five or six times and then knock out the original sound, so all you hear is, like, weird, hollow, unnerving effects. It’s almost like a ritual video, because the only text you see on the screen between these appropriated clips would just be the word OCCUPY... The video is sort of a summation of how mass media presented the movement. There was some great writing about it, but for the most part, on the national level it became just spectacle. So I thought, “Fuck it. Let’s just turn that spectacle up, give the people what they want.”
Some of the other pieces are more impressionistic, like a series of images I shot in Bucktown-Wicker Park, areas I’m used to seeing from the el. I just wanted to get across in those the feelings of being aimless in the city, wandering around in the sprawl of everything.