8 Ecstasies, 2014, 11:00, high definition digital animation, collaboration with composer Zig Gron. The film was the centerpiece of an installation, also called 8 Ecstasies, in 2014 at Pierogi/The Boiler, in Brooklyn, NY (View Documentation).
The film, 8 Ecstasies, although completely digital, derives from hand drawings on isometric graph paper, which served as the basis for several large wall drawings. In 2007 I found a way to animate the drawing, as if opening and closing it, with each “finger” controlled separately or in groups. As before, I worked in a 3-D environment, but in this case the isometric figure was actually made from layers of flat lines and mattes. These were carefully designed to simulate a 3-D logic of occlusion, just as with the original isometric drawing.
I set the drawing in motion according to rhythmic breathing, using a one-minute sound collage of internet pornography. All my films are concerned with an uncanny correspondence between sound and image; here my use of pornography had to do with humanizing and dramatizing abstraction, by pointing it toward a climax. I was also thinking about the Baroque ideal of spiritual-sexual-aesthetic ecstasy.
In 2012 I sent the animation and sound source to Zig Gron and asked for a set of variations in which the rhythms and timing of the original sound source would reiterate precisely in each variation, however changed it might be in in texture and mood. My idea was to loop the one-minute animation cycle as the sound went on a journey. Each variation would correspond to the underlying rhythms of the breathing, and thus would also correspond to the looping animation. I also asked Gron to consider some sort of transformation of mood from the “profane” to the “sacred.”
Gron is a Los Angeles-based experimental video artist who also has extensive experience preparing mixes and temporary music tracks for Hollywood films. Among other credits, he was Music Editor on all three of the Matrix films. His day job typically involves the sampling and collaging of existing sound tracks in order to imprint narrative moods; his own video works, e.g., Door Opera and Konflikt, often use incidental sound as compositional building blocks for larger musical structures.
Gron composed a sound track of eight variations, incorporating the original source — and its rhythms and timing — while taking the mood to distant realms. I responded to Gron’s stunningly expansive score by abandoning the idea of strict repetition. Though retaining the underlying premise of a looping animation cycle, I added new animation, camera movement and especially, color development (for more on my use of color, read this post on the Romanov Grave website). Afterwards, Gron and I worked back and forth for more than a year, refining the sound-image collaboration.
8 Ecstasies Installed at the Boiler
Video Documentation, 5:26
The installation 8 Ecstasies was exhibited at Pierogi/The Boiler from May 16 through July 6, 2014. Besides the film 8 Ecstasies, made in collaboration with composer Zig Gron, the installation included light and video projections, sculptural elements, drawings, and a second collaborative project, with the poet and memoirist Nick Flynn.
The film 8 Ecstasies begins with a quotation from Teresa of Ãvila, and the installation, in turn, was inspired by Gianlorenzo Bernini’s Cornaro Chapel, his only fully realized fusion of architecture and sculpture. Bernini, the most sought after master of the Italian Baroque, created the chapel to function almost as a theater, with center stage taken by his sculptural ensemble, “The Ecstasy of St. Teresa.” The scene depicted comes from the Saint’s account, a century or so before, of lacerating spiritual ecstasy, written in poetic language that was undeniably sexual –– a remarkable act of literary daring in the face of the Spanish Inquisition. Her political power as a Carmelite reformer, it seems, armored her words; no inquisitor was willing to risk seeming dirty-minded. Bernini’s astonishing visualization of Teresa’s spiritual-sexual-aesthetic ecstasy is arguably the definitive Baroque artwork, and occasioned another shrewd lapse of Church censure.
From the Boiler’s ceiling, 40 feet high in places, sheets of bubble wrap were hung to create an asymmetrical “aisle” for the projection, and large rolls of bubble wrap were used for seating. Gron composed an extended score in order to provide a 5-minute interlude between showings of the film. During this interlude, the lights went dark, and isometric drawings, made with glow-in-the-dark tape on bubble wrap sheets, became visible, the largest and highest of them directly above the projection wall. These drawings were modules derived from the imagery of the film and were plotted onto the isometric bubble wrap pattern. A second video projection of the artist’s hand drawing a similar figure; a shadow projection through glass; and a hanging sculpture made of 500 four-inch foam rubber cubes, all slowly become visible, timed to synchronize with musical events.
The isometric drawing that was filmed being drawn was framed. It was hung in the entrance hallway, which was separated from the dark interior by a lightproof curtain. Beneath was a shelf with copies of a newsprint publication that was a collaboration with poet and memoirist Nick Flynn (Some Ether, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, The Reenactments). Flynn wrote a poem – “[salvaged process notes for david brody’s 8 ecstasies]” – using fragments from my notes recording the technical progress of the animation over several years. The layout of the poem was spread across pages of excerpts of the notes, alongside reproductions of 15 drawings, similar to the one framed above the shelf. A wood-encased thumb drive is mitered into the frame. The thumb drive contains a unique digital print of 8 Ecstasies along with the drawing video. There are 15 prints, each paired with a different drawing video, and each inserted in that drawing’s frame.
At the end of the interlude, all lights went down and the film began again.