Micah Weber Interview by Matt Dan - 2015
Matt Dan, Animated Arts '16 interviews alum and Animated Arts tech Micah Weber, who's new film, dracaena marginata comes out in March 2016.
I am sitting here with Micah Weber, a 2014 Animated Arts graduate from the Pacific Northwest College of Art. Tell us a little about yourself.
I am 30 years old, and I started my undergrad later in life. I came in with all these ideas of being a painter, drawer. I grew up down in Eugene, and I spent a long time working by myself. I went to community college, worked retail, and did the things people generally do after high school for perhaps too long. I had a parent who was really sick, and I took care of her. I was in my sophomore year at PNCA when she passed away.
Your work seems to pull from Robert Breer and structuralist filmmakers. What made you switch from painting to Animated Film?
Just watching it, making something move was so much… I didn’t feel like I was repeating myself at all, even though there was an obvious authors hand involved. When I was painting, I started to feel like I was looking at other peoples work and wanting to replicate what they were doing. For an art student I feel like that’s a problem. When I started working with moving images, it was all new. It didn’t seem like I was making anybody else’s work. I was making my work and it was like a trap, or a dare with myself that I had to be in this place of being new. I liked that this new work never became closed in the sense that there’s a compositional or conceptual resolve. I understand that this can be frustrating at times, but I don’t think many things in life are as resolved as art.
When I think of a nice painting I think of it as still and resolved, a moving image is this constant state of motion.
That’s the interest I’ve had with moving images. That’s why I like structuralist filmmakers, and people like Breer, Brakhage, or even George Brecht. There’s this sense of a lack of story arc, and if there is one it’s a material story arc. I guess there are always these two things to think about – am I paying homage to material, or do I want to tell a story? The thing that I’ve always liked about these artists is that they’re doing both. They are telling stories, but it’s completely akin to noise at times. They’re not following a prescribed narrative structure and that’s kind of where I’ve been for a while. A lot of that comes from trying to figure out how to talk about something I find difficult to talk about. With my thesis film [Almost Nothing: House Fire] I realized the only way I could talk about grief and mourning was to talk about how I couldn’t talk about it. It became in this way, a sort of place for potential.
Yeah I remember someone saying, “Motion is the enemy of form.” Using motion to deter language, like narrative is a complete structure. We just watched your newest film 00:03:54:29. There are images of things like animation registration, snapshots, vector-based lines. To me there seems to be these strings through themes of architecture, material, and form. There still seems to be a structure where it folds out rhythmically for rhythm’s sake.
Yes, these last two films I’ve made started out with doing animated drawings in Flash. The structure comes out in the shooting process. I remember in my early days at PNCA I was talking to Laura Heit and she was asking me to do storyboards, thumbnails and the like. I didn’t like doing that and she told me, “That’s because you’re not an animator.” It came down to not thinking in movement, but in another way. So one way to think of it was to have something moving already in place. I can do that in flash because I can make the line work quickly. Then I edit the playback. I watch it loop and say “Oh this one little line turns slightly counter clockwise in a way I don’t like” so I fix it. So it’s all in post-production and the hard part is making the material to edit in the first place. That model replicates itself down the line, and while I’m shooting. I’m also interested in spending time with still images. So I like just photographing still images and trying to figure out how to tell a story that way. La Jetee is probably the most obvious connection you could make.
Looking at your most recent film, the editing seems to make a statement on its digital condition. You’re taking something that is digital into the physical, printed realm and shoot it back into the digital with a camera to edit it on a computer. I’m curious about how you make those decisions.
I’ve been thinking more and more about how the way I’ve been editing… I don’t really write poetry, and I don’t really read a lot of poetry, but in some ways it’s like poetry. I always think, “OK, it’s these images, this word next to this word, and having a larger perspective – then we need to have a return to a previous word.” Maybe it’s how the two images look next to each other that’s interesting to me. There’s this image I have of house framing that I’ve been using a lot. It comes back from this photograph I’ve inherited from my parents, it depicts a wall that’s basically unfinished and you can see the framing and insulation in it prior to adding drywall. As a composition I thought it was interesting. There’s no context to it at all. It was just this upward shot of a bare wall, and ever since I just thought, “OK, that’s my philosophy. My program as an artist is that image right there” and I draw on that a lot. This sort of incomplete image, it’s like a stop. There’s no story here, it’s a dead end, but it’s not finished yet. So there are these constant contradictions, things get put next to each other that just don’t go together. There are all these hidden meanings in these images and the goal is at times to just flat-line whatever expectation the viewer may have in hopes something else is brought to the foreground. And the sound has a lot to do with that too. Which is where I think the poetry part resides.
I’m curious about the sound in your work, and what it is – It sounds mostly like an abstract composition.
I think the sound is like the way that the images are shot. There’s no filters, or added digital effects. These are just photographs. The titles aren’t a digital effect either, I print the titles out and I shoot the titles. The sound is very much the same way. I record things day to day with a field recorder, and in that sense it becomes like a documentary. I’ve been thinking of this work as “anti-narrative documentary.” What is a documentary if it has no story to it?
Yeah, I remember you listed yourself as specializing in documentary on the Society for Animation Studies website.
That’s what it’s always been about – is shifting the lens – I’m interested in animation as being a document. Not being representative of anything other than what’s there, and that’s where structuralist filmmaking is evident in my practice – or Stan Brakhage in his cameraless films, or Tony Conrad and his Yellow movie. I also think there’s something of a visual poem in the document at the same time.
How do you see the distribution of your work happening? I remember seeing your work on display in Blackfish Gallery once and it’s kind of like… the question of where your work goes parallels with the idea of keeping your work unresolved, because it’s not fitting into commercial animation, or a commercial gallery.
I have everything on Vimeo, just as a means of securing it, and I’ve been applying to numerous festivals. I’ve had luck with festivals, but I have also found that towing the line between fine art and filmmaking doesn’t always fit in very well with the work that is typically shown at big name festivals. And as for galleries, the work I am making doesn’t always fit within that context either – at least conceptually – I’ve never liked the way short films look when looping in a gallery setting – whether on a monitor or projector. It seems like the only way that kind of thing works is when it’s understood as a full on installation – and that’s a different type of experience too.
So instead of hiding everything on Vimeo where nobody can see it, I’ve been channeling everything to my website so it can only be accessible from there and I’m still controlling its means of being viewed. Although I still think that’s also a futile task.
Do you find that existing on the webspace has been any more effective?
No not at all. The internet is cool, I don’t think it’s on its way out, but I think this thing about having ten-thousand followers on Instagram is like being just on the other side of the train tracks. The glass ceiling is within sight, and we’re supposed to be honored because we can see it. I don’t really buy it and the thing with Internet validation is tricky. I think that power still functions in a very tower kind of way. It’s easy to get caught up in how many ‘likes’ you get on a video.
Yeah, and Vimeo will have their priorities and tastes in festivals and the like.
I am interested in community in a very big way. I always think about what Marina Zurkow said, that the auteur is not the paradigm of the future. I think that’s funny because a lot of the artists I really like are kind of auteurs – and animation is really conducive to that kind of work. I’m thinking about other ways of working, other models. Because I do have people in my life that are making very personal films, like Zoe Bullock for instance, and I want to design a model for distributing my peer’s work regardless of how disparate the content. I kind of have a production studio in mind where filmmakers can focus on building their own coherent body of work through research-integrated practice and then have the ability to publish collectively as a group or larger entity with like-minded peers. I’m really interested in wrestling that back.
Micah Weber (b. 1985) is a moving image artist and 2014 PNCA alumni currently residing in Portland, Oregon. His work has been seen at the Houston Cinema Arts Festival in Houston Texas, Automata in Los Angeles, Experimenta in Bangalore India, The Forks in Winnipeg Manitoba, and throughout Portland Oregon. Weber’s current projects involve a continued work exploring connections between memory and the relationship language has in respect to politics surrounding death. His new film, dracaena marginata, is due out in March 2016. (mh-wbr.com).