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Interview with Amelia Garretson-Persans + Ian P. Hundt

In your artists’ statement for Mystery Pond, you frame this installation as a response to months of quarantine, and one defined by yearning for connectivity to our planet, deep time, the mystery of being, and one another. These are all ontological and existential ruminations, specific to pandemic life. What is it like to process this moment in your practice?

AGP- I think it’s a comfort. That is what I keep coming back to, it is a way to process. It is a way to practice for loss, death, change. We are not a religious family, so I think being creative and making, and taking information in and trying to make something from it is a way to digest what is going on. This project is very much about checking in and slowing down. 

IPH- How does any art practice survive this time? The premise of this piece was super helpful to get closer to answering that question. And you know, it lives in the street. People can walk by and ignore it or not. For me, this piece became like a helpful way to process the moment in front of a lot of people. It was catharsis. It feels weird to draw emphasis or attention to yourself in any way with everything that is going on in the world. But, I was working on the piece and I was getting a ton out of the fact that this would be out in the city that we don’t really get to do much in anymore. It was more meaningful to me than I realized.

AGP- We approached it from a formal problem first. What will be impactful behind glass all times of day? We knew we wanted to use video. But we began almost from a theater standpoint. It has stage lights, a faux landscape set. Once it was up, it read like a little piece of mini theater. Perhaps because no one can go anywhere or sit in an actual theater, I think it was being received well.

AGP- I knew I wanted to use black light paint because it’s such an easy thrill. We spent a long time trying to find the right black light lighting. But it was very important also that it really read as a living black light painting. There is such a resurgence of interest in psychedelics. I wanted to engage the idea of psychedelia as an avenue and yearning to be one with the universe. Taking psychedelic drugs that give you a window into glimpsing your actual position in the universe for just a short while.

In your artist statement, you share that you two have been collaborating on projects for almost 2 decades. 

IPH- Yes, in one form or another. Often one of us just needs a service from the other one. There have been only a couple collaborations where we worked together equally at this level. 

AGP- This was exciting. I think we both really trusted each other throughout, and it was nice to relinquish control that we’d typically hang onto. Ian edited the 4 hour pond video together. I actually didn’t think it needed to be that long but in the end I think it was a great choice – it really made it so passers by would experience something unique each time they saw it. We both gathered footage together, we were thinking about meditation a lot throughout this piece and the need to slow down. We would film raindrops falling slowly on water for hours. And then to hear Ian talk about the editing process – that was a meditative practice in itself. 

IPH- When we were shooting the eye footage, we had to put our heads in a frame on the wall, and we had to sit perfectly still. That was a meditation too. This idea of trying to keep your eyes open and sit still and seeing all the detail around you. It was a very meaningful way to work through the piece and then present it.

AGP- It really did feel like a true collaboration. That last big project that we worked on in partnership like this was a multimedia art installation for a Phish festival. 

IPH- For the festival goers, it was like immediate candy. We had oscilloscopes there, peoples heads projecting into the next room, it was a fun little planet. The response was really immediate.  We were both really holding that experience in mind trying to come up with an idea for this. How do we get people to be drawn in? When we don’t have all the treats of being able to touch or get close. How do we do this within the boundaries of this moment?

AGP- It has been a long term goal of ours to work more together. This was a treat for us. 

But also has deeper meaning, not all sensory surface pleasures. There is content there too.

AGP- Yes, for sure. The questions we try to answer around what kind of an experience we want viewers to have always come back to an emotional core. That was something we considered throughout the making of Mystery Pond. Even the Phish festival piece had an emotional core to it – a longing for stasis, to stay in a certain moment. It was based off this Adolfo Bioy Casares story The Invention of Morel in which a scientist tries to capture a whole moment of time forever in a four or five dimensional hologram. We built a science lab – a memory lab. There is a strand in all of the work we are following, even if the experience is mostly fun.

Did either of you have models of artist couples who worked collaboratively together that inspired you?

AGP- Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller. They are a Canadian couple. They are so rad- they will build a whole room inside a museum, fill it with all this detritus and memorabilia, and there is this robotic presence to it. Shelves will shake. Things move around. They are incredible. 

AGP- Megan and Murray McMillan just had a show at the ICA. They have these video works based on these immersive environments they would make. Sort of magical, but also construction machine heavy. Really cool. I have them in mind. 

Amelia, you describe your work A Tincture of Time as a psychedelic art film set in a hospital about a mother trying to save her ailing son. Can you tell me about your draw to psychedelia? As an aesthetic and as a genre, how does it serve storytelling for you about something so deeply personal and traumatic?

AGP – Great question. I have really become interested in psychedelia the past few years. I think this project helped elucidate even more that interest. First of all, I love 70s psychedelic films. They are so practical-effects heavy and magical and weird and so risk-taking and beautiful. But they are also very masculine. Jodorowsky is the big name. Really fascinating, beautiful psychedelic films, but when you look at the story it’s such bullshit. I was interested in reclaiming the genre in a feminist way. You know, I mean Holy Mountain ends with him sitting at a table being all “Yes, I told you so”. Total philosophy bros.

AGP- But this work is based on really personal experiences with (our son) Paul. I am still processing those experiences. We had so many really scary, touch and go moments in the hospital.  Which is a totally epic, psychedelic, and bizarre place, so it felt appropriate to use that genre. And I don’t have a lot of clarity yet, and the questions are really open, and I am still figuring out what it means and what it continues to mean. 

AGP- I think that is a really feminine approach to have, to embrace open-ended storytelling and not insist on telling it one specific way. I am excited to use psychedelic film to tell a truly open-ended story that is actually more appropriate to the genre- with a different value set. The experience of being in a hospital for an extended period of time, it does feel like you are in a fantasy epic. It is a whole different caste system and rule system. There are good doctors, bad doctors, good nurses, bad nurses. Psychedelic fantasy felt like a good way to process the experience. We are in early stages to do that. We got a grant to do some pre-production. Next step is writing the script. 

So Ian, you are helping with that project on the production wise?

IPH- Yes, it will be a full production endeavor I imagine.

AGP- I originally imagined an all female crew, but I am going to take all the help I can get. 

Just your life partner, who is very skilled. 

AGP and IPH – (laughter)

Ian, can you talk to me about Superblaster? Some of your recent work in this persona is responding to reality TV. What is your relationship to that genre? 

IPH- Superblaster’s general goal is to intimately explore mundane and unromantic topics, especially in pop culture. The latest iterations have been in response to reality television in this pandemic. I am not particularly interested in reality television, but in those early days, when you are spinning your wheels and the pandemic has hit, you are looking for something to distract your mind, so you watch some shitty reality television. But also if you have looked at something like Love is Blind- it’s insane. There’s so much insular terminology and worldbuilding in there. It ends up being a pretty wild topic.

IPH- Both of the songs that I came out with are emotional in one way or another. The idea of dumping a lot of emotion into something so superficial was a fun exercise. Superblaster ostensibly is supposed to be a live performance project, and I was unsure of how to relate to an audience outside of that context. But I also just wanted to do something relatable during the beginning of the pandemic. A lot of people are looking for meaning in nothing right now.

Like escaping through television.

IPH – Exactly. 

Amelia, you directed the video for Superblaster’s Love is Blind (Ugly Duet)

IPH- Yes. It was so fun. It was very cool to make the song only, and just do whatever Amelia wanted me to do for the video in terms of shots. That was a really nice way to work. I tend to get a chokehold on my creativity when I have too much to worry about. 

AGP- Throughout it, you kept saying, this is so nice. I don’t need to worry about it. I trust you, you know what I like, I can just let go of it. Both of us, we have a tendency, you know (laughs) we are both leaders, we get very focused on our work.

IPH- It may have taken us this long to say, ok you know what you are doing and you know what I like. And I have all this other stuff to do so go for it. (laughter)

You two have two children together, and all of you have been quarantined at home for almost 8 months now since the initial wave of the pandemic. You both also have either stepped back or been furloughed from your primary jobs due to the pandemic. From the outside, it also seems like you have had a very generative time artistically. How did you make room for all of that? 

IPH- It is interesting that it reads that way! We are always thinking about how we could be doing more.

AGP- I just saw this as an opportunity to reimagine. Mortality was in the air. I was getting to a point where I was identifying primarily as a mom and artist was second or third.

IPH- There was a moment that was like a parting of the clouds. Right up until the middle of March, we barely saw each other. We were never in the room at the same time. The whole family had a few hours on the weekend together. All of sudden we had all this time to talk to each other and reevaluate our goals and talk about our priorities. We got a charge out of that – there was all this time we had never gotten before. It was really affirming that we both wanted to be doing something more with our artistic lives. 

AGP- In the beginning I would say we were really patting ourselves on the back for how creative and energized we were as parents. “We are the best parents, we love this, it’s so great blah blah blah”. 

IPH- But then we hit that exhaustion point that everyone hit. There is nowhere for you guys to go. So creating new stuff since that moment has been a new challenge.

AGP- We are so grateful to have the SPACE window in this time because it made deadlines. We needed it. And it created some new opportunities for us after this, which is amazing in this moment to have something on the horizon. 

Is there any advice you would give to artists who are about to become parents?

AGP- Your life will adjust and be ready for that. But, make sure not to sacrifice your art, because that is not fair to your kids. I thought I was doing a sensible thing having the day job and the health insurance. And those are sensible things and essential things. But I also really want my kids to grow up in a house where they see both of their parents activated and still thriving. Continually working on your dreams. I know some parents who are putting things on the back burner, but it’s not fair to your kids to be resentful about how they changed your life. And you know, I heard that it gets easier. (laughter)

IPH- At some point they will go to the bathroom on their own you know. (laughter)

IPH- Very similar advice on my end. Love them for who they are and go to therapy. You can process where you are at, and you have an unbiased person outside of the situation that you can talk to. It is super easy when you have a little person who is depending on you for food and basic needs to just drop everything, but you still have to make space for yourself as a whole person. That is the best I got. 

Image credit: Amelia Garretson-Persans

SPACE Reader

🕯️ This weekend only! The dance show of the summer is Scapegoat Garden’s Liturgy|Order|Bridge. The Hartford-based company calls upon Black church traditions and ideas of faith, nature, fashion, and experimentation in their limited performance run June 20-22. Tickets available now, presented by SPACE at Mechanics’ Hall. 🕯️