Head in the Clouds
by Brock Labrenz
On ‹Head in the Clouds›
Mira Hirtz talks to Brock Labrenz
1. While watching the film ‹head in the clouds› my haptic senses are triggered. First of all I notice the material qualities and the interaction of elements, and less a narration of the female performer or the symbolic level of nudity.
What do you consider as objects and as materials within your film? Where are their contours and what are their relations?
With this film, and others I’ve made like it, its actually difficult to differentiate the appropriated objects and their intrinsic materials from the captured images and sounds that constitute the cinema object. In my film, ‹Head in the Clouds›, Brittany Bailey’s performance installation of the same name, provides all of the visual subject matter and ensuing materials I used in the piece. These include her performance, the audience, and her materials (sand, cinderblock, dirt, rock, debris, her hair, her body and flood light). The sound scape is a mix of musical tracks similar to what was present during the performance installation. Ultimately, the dominante material in the film is my experience with those chosen objects.
2. As human beings we connect to the world through skin and body, through concepts and ideas. We are busy with balancing distance and closeness to the world – to what we call objects. Objects in this sense are whatever we define as being situated outside from us. Dance and movement explore these modes of inside and outside, and often try to blur the lines separating them. Thereby, the focus of movement and impulse can shift. Exploring, depicting, representing and witnessing these processes are not only happening in dance, that you as a choreographer and performer are known to as well, but within the practice of art in general.
Concerning your film I am wondering: In the process of creation, who is being moved by whom? What is giving the impulses? Is there an intelligence of the material that you encounter?
Both the performer’s movement and my camera/operator movement is self-governed. The camera/operator movement is dictated by a number of organizing principles, some of which follow my arc of perception (i.e. how I am experiencing/processing the piece from different vantage points and through different framings) and others that are designed to account for extrinsic observations of an imagined future observer. At the time of the performance, Brittany was re-inhabiting works by Marina Abramovic as a performer in the ‹Artist is Present› show at MoMa and as a result her movement is both a reaction to and a keeping with similar impulses she was exploring regularly in her work.
3. For me, the film plays with different levels of touch: On a first level, sand, skin and hair are touching. On a second there is the camera, its perspective and zoom, sometimes meeting the eye of the performer, the sound and light effects that act as tactile elements. And on a third there are the beholder’s senses reacting to the recorded material.
Do you use closeness and touch as artistic methods? In ‹Head in the Clouds›, what is the relation of the sensing moving body/ies and the surface of the moving picture?
Absolutely, I find closeness, both in live performance and in cinema, to be a very effective device in its ability to focus the viewers perception. We are all wired to respond to physical intimacy and regardless of whether that proximity evokes fear or lust, it produces a heightened state of mind that is immediately woven into the experience of the work at hand. During the editing of my films I am hyper aware of this phenomenon and always manipulating the space between removed observation and haptic experience. All of the levels of touch that you mention are at play simultaneously and without hierarchy. This allows for a viewing that is at one moment immersive, another voyeuristic, but always suggesting the possibility for a shifting vantage point and relationship.
4. After – and because of – triggering a merely haptic and material point of view, the film shows desire. Desire is often described as something that objectifies what is vis a vis to oneself. Even if an artwork by framing the desire doesn‘t, the gaze of many people objectifies nudity in a way that may blur the lines between oneself and the outside in a difficult way.
Is the objectification of the female body a notion that matters for you within your film? How do you relate desire and image?
When working with the human body, it’s impossible to preempt any and all objectification of it. You mentioned earlier, how upon viewing the film, that you immediately dismissed any narration of the woman or her nudity and were drawn to the disparate material elements contained within it. While I welcome your viewing and attribute it to an attentive and thoughtful gaze, I’ve never imagined that this would be the norm. In fact, I think objectification would likely be the first response for many. Then some might move on to concocting a narrative for the woman, ascribing circumstance and point-of-view, etc. I’m interested in creating films where audiences are able and encouraged to combat their own impulses and negotiate the apparent contradictions presented to them. This film features an artist in the middle of a performance. It’s a piece she created in which she chose to tie her hair to a cinderblock and bury it beneath 100 lbs of sand. This was done in the basement of a dilapidated tenement building and in front of an invited audience for a duration of 20 minutes. This is immutable. The resulting images are simply an expression of my desire to have whatever it is I experienced viewed this way or that way and I hope the film speaks for itself in this regard.
Brock von Drehle Labrenz, born 1980 in Catawba county, is a director who harnesses his extensive background in performance to create deliberate and sensual audio-visual experiences. His creative endeavors find him somewhere between the exactitude of modern cinema and the ephemeral transition of the body through space. Brock has persistently searched for ways to bring the audience closer to the experience of the performer and their onscreen choices, in an effort to share the singularity of a given moment. His career has taken him across the globe and his work has been presented and performed at the Venice Biennale, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Theatre National De Chaillot, and Sadler’s Wells Theatre. Brock has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from The Juilliard School (‘03).