Material Witness: An Interview with Margaret Honda by J. Makary

Margaret Honda’s films can’t be watched on a laptop or device. It’s not just that they haven’t been digitized and uploaded, it’s that the viewer’s physical experience of viewing the films is so integral to the work that they must be screened, in 70mm and 35mm, in theaters equipped to project them with technical integrity. A sculptor and object-based artist, Honda brought film into her practice in recent years primarily guided by her interest in celluloid film as material and in the systems designed to work with it in the wider market. Her two camera-less films were created with print stock, timing tapes, printers, and the technicians who work at FotoKem and YCM Labs, both in Burbank, California. 

Still from  Spectrum Reverse Spectrum , 2014, 70mm film, aspect ratio 2.2:1, color, silent, 21 min.

Still from Spectrum Reverse Spectrum, 2014, 70mm film, aspect ratio 2.2:1, color, silent, 21 min.

Spectrum Reverse Spectrum (2014, 70mm, 21 min) moves through the light spectrum from violet to red and back again, with the duration of each color calibrated to match the amount of space it takes up in the visible spectrum. The feature-length Color Correction (2015, 35mm, 101 min) was generated through the use of color timing tapes for an unnamed Hollywood film — a kind of readymade. Leaving out the original film negative, Honda’s film was printed directly from the timing tapes, which control light valves in the printer and correct for problems with exposure, white balance, or color effects. What is seen in the theater is a silent wash of color, bold and vibrant in the case of Spectrum Reverse Spectrum, and more muted and unpredictable in Color Correction. Both material and abstract, the films offer little to enter into, other than the self; there’s no pictorial content, no plot, no sound. The projection itself — and by extension the celluloid, the light, and the technology behind it — is the subject, and the experience of viewing is one in which the viewer orients herself in relation to this event. 

Honda earned an MA in Early American Culture from the Winterthur Program at the University of Delaware as an alternative to art school. Her training informs her approach to art-making and filmmaking, which hinges on finding new possibilities for the use of production schemes that are already in place, with materials that are readily available, and accepting and identifying the limits and meaning of what they offer.

Honda hosted this interview at her studio in her home in Los Angeles, on July 7, 2016. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

*   *   *

J. Louise Makary: Do you remember the first time you saw Color Correction? I read that you had no idea what this piece was going to be, and you prepared yourself to accept whatever this project would look like. 

Margaret Honda: The idea was to hand the tapes over to the lab, and I wouldn’t know what it was going to look like until after it was printed. So I was totally prepared to accept whatever happened — if it was a bunch of grays, if it was all blue. I had no idea what it was going to be. In that sense, I was really happy because the finished piece is so varied. So many colors, some that I didn’t know existed and didn’t have names for. And I think because I had prepared myself for accepting whatever it looked like, I didn’t have any expectations of how I would respond to it.

I didn’t have an idea for images or a narrative, or anything like that. It was the material and the process — how these rolls of paper timing tapes are used— that I thought were interesting. Both Spectrum Reverse Spectrum and Color Correction involve the simplest materials. It’s just timing tapes — and in the case of Color Correction, it’s found timing tapes — and print stock, a printer, and amazing technicians. But then the process of using the timing tapes can yield different results — in this case, two very different works. For Spectrum Reverse Spectrum, I knew that I wanted a very gradual transition through the visible spectrum. The idea came before the development of the timing tapes; the timing tapes were engineered to reflect what I wanted to do. For Color Correction, I used timing tapes for an unknown Hollywood film. So someone else had already made the decisions about how many shots were going to be in the film, how long each shot was going to be, and also what they needed to do to color-correct each shot. The timing tapes encode these external decisions. 

Honda unspools a timing tape used in the making of  Color Correction .  Photo: J. Louise Makary

Honda unspools a timing tape used in the making of Color Correction
Photo: J. Louise Makary

Makary: What was your introduction to the process that made you think this would be good material for you? 

Honda: I didn’t know anything about filmmaking when I started to make Spectrum Reverse Spectrum. I found out that a timing tape had to be generated to control the light valves to print the spectrum and reverse spectrum. So as I was working on that film, I realized that any set of timing tapes could produce a film. That’s how the idea for Color Correction came about.

Interview continues at INCITE.

Conversation: Matt Neff and J. Louise Makary on RAIR [Recycled Artist in Residence] (Title Magazine) by J. Makary

Matt Neff and J. Louise Makary are alumni of the RAIR (Recycled Artist in Residence) program, an art residency based at a facility in Northeast Philadelphia that recycles construction and industrial materials. The two met in February at Neff’s studio to talk about the work they made at the site and to reflect on the life and career of Terry Adkins, who advised them when they were graduate students at Penn and whose close mentorship brought eventual changes to Neff’s philosophy toward materials. Trained as a painter and established as a printmaker, Neff now engages in an object-based process that reflects a desire to allow materials to assert their purpose within a piece without manipulation or force on his part. His is a practice of intuition, patience, and improvisation in the studio. Makary is a filmmaker whose work employs improvisation, dance, and movement in an exploration of control and letting go, and is especially responsive to location.

Matt Neff in his Elkins Park studio.

J. Louise Makary: You mentioned to me that your process changed around the time you started working at RAIR. Could you tell me about the disassembling and repurposing strategies you use, and how an object might be used in several different pieces?

Matt Neff: In the past few years I started moving away from printmaking exclusively and began printing on objects. I was getting into the zone of reusing things, collecting, and archiving. My residency at RAIR was in 2014, the first year of their program. I would get to RAIR early in the morning to be in the yard during working hours, before I would go to work. At first, I made things quickly in the yard; this was followed by a long process of working with materials in the studio. There weren’t walls to work off in their studio space, which is oriented more toward making sculpture, so I adapted to that by using the floor predominantly and pulling in objects. Some days I would make 10 to 15 pieces, set them up in orchestrations, and photograph them. At the end of the day I would disassemble them and put all the materials away, and start again the next time.

Matt Neff, Lambent, 40" x 48", glass, plexiglass, mylar, tape, graphite, marker ink, fluorescent light.

JLM: RAIR is sited at Revolution Recovery, an industrial/commercial recycling plant. This isn’t a bottles-and-cans facility—the materials are from construction sites, building demolitions, and estate clean-outs, and there’s an unpredictability to the materials coming through. Did that lead you to working quickly and intuitively, as a response to the chaos and speed of the environment?

MN: Yes. For the most part, as I accumulated materials I would incorporate them as soon as possible, and I would try not to manipulate them much. It was a matter of waiting for relationships to take shape, waiting for the right time to pull materials in. This was an approach I learned from studying with and assisting Terry Adkins at Penn. Some of the objects that I’ve been using and incorporating in various pieces, I got from Terry—some he gave me over the years, and some I got when he died. I just keep recycling them in and out of works. For years Terry had been a huge influence on me, because I was making work for him and with him in those years. I think it seeped in—his way. I watched him care for the objects he would acquire.

JLM: How would you characterize his way of working?

MN: His approach was to defy the medium or what was expected of the medium—he’d talk about “composing sculpture” and “sculpting sound.” He had a very elegant way of bringing objects with different histories together to make a comment on history or rewrite history, often underrepresented history. It was poetic, and it was slow.

JLM: How would Terry “care” for objects? Would he cultivate a relationship with an object before it became a part of the work?

MN: It’s more that he was specific about relationships that are created among materials. He’d accumulate things and tuck them away in countless places, just waiting for a time to use them. We’re still finding things he hid! These things would be lying around—overlooked, unnoticed—in his office, my office, or the print shop. But when he pulled them into a piece, it was magic.

Keep reading at Title Magazine, an online publication promoting discussion and critical analysis of the arts in Philadelphia.


Interview with Phillip Adams (Title Magazine) by J. Makary

Painter and muralist Phillip Adams took me to lunch at Ray’s Café on a cold February afternoon. Afterwards, we walked to his top-story studio in a Chinatown building that also houses active factory floors, where we had the following discussion—a continuation of an earlier conversation in which I discovered that Adams’s work is influenced by his pursuit of sublime and physically challenging experiences in nature as a rock-climber, surfer, and general adventurer. I was looking for a little advice on surfing, in a roundabout way, by talking with him about what contending with nature can offer the artist, personally and creatively.

Phillip Adams, Forever Young (2011), charcoal and oil on wood panel, 48" x 48"

J. Louise Makary: You say that your work reflects your experience of looking at and responding to the world. Do you stumble upon something, when you’re not in artist mode, find that you’re interested in it, and then bring it back into the studio? Or do you go on a mission to look for something?

Phillip Adams: There’s a little bit of both. Curiosity spawns both of those things—seeking but also finding.

As a figurative artist I am dealing with abstract ideas but also explaining them in a very realistic way. When something makes me curious, sometimes I just want to understand it, or want to explain it, to myself or on a surface. My work relates to the medium I choose, conceptually. Like this current
series—I wouldn’t have ever thought of drawing with charcoal, but I slowly realized that I love the nature of charcoal. Carbon is elemental. It’s so simple and fragile a medium that I can manipulate it to make it precise, even though it feels abstract up close. It started to get deeper for me, where I am using the medium itself to express and explore. But while I’m making it, it’s just a bunch of smudges and marks.

JLM: How do you work with charcoal and acrylic for this series?

PA: I prepare wood panel with gesso and sand it down until it’s almost like an egg tempera panel, just a really smooth surface. Then I use a stick of compressed charcoal with little smudge sticks. The mountains are a composite of different places—beautiful landscapes devoid of anything besides rock, ice, and snow. There’s a heavy dose of the sublime but there’s also the feeling of what we try to do to it. That’s when I started to paint on top of it. The furthest thing from nature is something plastic, like acrylic paint.

There’s a constant impulse to control, especially when you realize you can’t. I’m controlling that landscape, that scene, that feeling, but there’s a tension. I always loved doing charcoal drawings but I was filled with worry – like, “Don’t get too close, it’s gonna smudge!” It’s an internal feeling, like being in a glass shop with a big bag on your shoulder. Within the work, there was tension, and some of it is purely physical.

Full interview at Title Magazine, an online publication promoting discussion and critical analysis of the arts in Philadelphia.

Interview with Darklord Disco (Title Magazine) by J. Makary

Ryan M. Todd (aka Darklord Disco) records his Il Suono Scuro mixes using snippets of synthesizer-based soundtracks from as wide a range of films as Halloween, Suspiria, A Clockwork Orange and Crocodile Dundee. On October 29, 2014, he’ll lead a live podcast as part of Universal Cave’s ongoing “Cave Cast” series, seasonally sited at the Hamilton Mansion at Woodlands Cemetery. This Cave Cast will cover the rapid evolution of electronic music in film of the late 20th century, with a focus on horror soundtracks. 


JLM: In terms of tone and mood, what are the sonic advantages of using synthesizer music? In your opinion, do these instruments offer something unique (or even better) than traditional soundtrack instrumentation for horror and suspense films?

RMT: The biggest advantage is that composers were able to write, perform, and record the music themselves. Instead of having to conduct hired musicians, the composers could just plop in front of an ARP Omni or a Roland RS-09 and do it on their own. John Carpenter, who directed Halloween (1978) and Christine (1983), among other films, also composed many of his soundtracks. He and engineer and programmer Alan Howarth could crank out exactly what kind of music he had in mind for a particular scene. The score for Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) was completed in just three days this way. In terms of tone or mood, the synthesizers’ limitations were both their biggest advantage and their biggest drawback.

JLM: What are some of their limitations?

RMT: The synthesizers of that era could not accurately replicate real-life acoustic instruments. The sounds were a cold, harsh, and distant simulacrum. So there was a quality to the music, a certain rawness that made it stand out in stark contrast against traditional film scores that featured philharmonic orchestras.

Full interview at Title Magazine, an online publication promoting discussion and critical analysis of the arts in Philadelphia.

Interview with Jonathan VanDyke (Critical Correspondence) by J. Makary

Although his practice incorporates performance, sculpture, and video, artist Jonathan VanDyke 
is often labelled a painter. He works outward from the medium of painting to explore how
personal relationships affect the form and creation of works of art. Mark-making is executed upon canvases by two dancers, Bradley Teal Ellis and David Rafael Botana, in an ongoing live performance, Cordoned Area, and in non-public studio sessions during which they make canvases that are later cut to pieces and sewn back together. Earlier this year, I sat in on a studio session with VanDyke and his dancers and then conducted interviews with the three of them. As a dancemaker and film director, I was interested in discussing VanDyke’s directorial role as an artist outside of the dance field and the impact of this difference of experience on the dancers, the psychology of mark-making, and the definition of this work as a process, a document of process, and also a physical piece of art.

In the painting studio, a large canvas is laid on the floor. VanDyke prepares packets of paint that are inserted into the dancers’ costumes or thrown on the canvas to be popped and smeared during the course of the dancers’ improvised movement work. Alternately, VanDyke provides a device, such as a long pole held horizontally between the two performers; paint packets are hung from the pole and punctured, releasing a spray. As Ellis and Botana move, VanDyke provides direction: “Move as if one is taking care of the other, giving and receiving — low to high, fast to slow, use the pole as a way to ‘find’ each other.”

The first session in the studio was an adaptation of the performance that the collaborators mount live; now VanDyke is seeing potential for different kinds of mark-making. Ellis and Botana are life partners, and their relationship outside of the studio comes to bear on this work. The long-term nature of their collaboration with VanDyke lends itself to developing a movement and directorial vocabulary through which VanDyke intends to create a safe space to go to more extreme emotional and physical territory.


JLM: The pieces I got to see being made explore mark-making through the body – how do you like to define it: a process, a document of process, a piece of art?

JVD: In the live performances, the traces of paint build through the duration of the piece. Literally from clean to dirty. This affects the psychology of the dancers and of the audience, too. In the studio, I was very interested in taking the parts of the choreography and seeing how different forms of movement – and, perhaps even more importantly, different moods – create different types of marks. But ultimately, the most interesting thing to me is that their relationship, the way they move and touch each other, the specificity of their intimacy – this is all embedded in the surface of the painting.

There is a significance to the types of marks they make, and how these reference the history of “expressive” abstract painting – works that are meant to reveal the emotional life and inner state of the artist. I am actively playing with all of those notions.

Studio visit with (L-R) Bradley Teal Ellis, Jonathan VanDyke, and David Rafael Botana.

Studio visit with (L-R) Bradley Teal Ellis, Jonathan VanDyke, and David Rafael Botana.

JLM: I wonder what judgments are aroused by the revelation that it is bodies, and not a brush, that are making the marks. And not your body, but those of “third parties.” I think it goes up against a couple of prejudices. One being “the artist as sole creator” and the other being that visceral, messy experience of the body — versus the brush or other mark-making device that can be held at a remove, and wielded.

JVD: The works hover around notions we have of the autonomous, painted canvas object. The work is deeply connected to the bodies of the dancers and to the labor of the person sewing them back together. My labor involves choosing patterns, colors, cutting. I explore the subconscious of the art object, how that object has its own history and memories. The lack of an identifiable painterly authorship – you can’t point easily to the maker – is still a major challenge for the marketplace, even in a post-Warhol era. For me, this disorientation of authorship is very exciting … so to answer your question, the works are process, object, document, all of these things at once.

Full interview at Critical Correspondence, an on-line publication of Movement Research that engages critical discourse on dance and movement-based performance work.


Interview with Jennifer Bolande (INCITE Journal) by J. Makary

Though predominantly active in photography and sculpture, the multimedia artist Jennifer Bolande has generated a substantial body of work that engages with the “objecthood” and cultural experience of cinema. Both funny and elegiac, Bolande’s art explores how movies make us feel, and how the form and the phenomena of film work on us in ways that are altogether separate from film’s narrative content. Bolande uses complex strategies of remediation and signification to comment on our changing relationship to popular media and its attendant technologies, many of which are on the verge of disappearance.

I met Bolande in Philadelphia at the opening of her retrospective at the Institute of Contemporary Art (January 11 – March 11, 2012). The recurring tropes and the objects of her fascination – from stage curtains and marquees to projection screens and film stills – made me curious about the influence of cinema on her work. She met with me in her Los Angeles studio, where she was careful to point out that, for her, Hollywood feels as far away as New York.

Side Show   (Jennifer Bolande, 1991). Courtesy of the artist.

Side Show (Jennifer Bolande, 1991). Courtesy of the artist.

Jennifer Bolande: Side Show (1991) was the first staged photograph I made. Prior to that I had mostly worked with found images. The scene, a kind of micro-spectacle, alludes to something happening off-screen, which seems like a cinematic idea. You can almost hear the sounds of the circus at a distance.  

Side Show is from a body of work that was oriented around a circus-y theme. Another is One Day (1991),which features a Fotomat, a one-day photo processing drop-off location.   This was before one-hour photos; one-day was the fastest processing you could get. It’s hard to see, but there are arrows to drop your film off on one side of the Fotomat and arrows to go to the other side to pick it up. I was standing on the top of a hill and looking down on the Fotomat, which is very similar to the point of view of Side Show. You can see directional arrows on the pavement, and all of the little photographs inside. Like, if you were coming from another planet and wanted to know what humans thought was beautiful or worthy of documentation, it was all there in a condensed form, any day. I wanted to have that sense that you are coming from afar, looking down on it, a slight aerial view. Like a lot of my work, these pieces hover around things that are on the periphery of attention or on the brink of extinction.

J. Louise Makary: I found Side Show to be oddly moving. Because you’re using some cinematic devices – lighting, staging, off-screen space­ – which produce a sense of heightened emotion. You’re almost making a character out of that little stake. 

Your titles often add another layer to the work: “sideshow” is a circus term, but it also seems to refer to a little figure to the side that is holding the apparatus up.

JB: The stake is a small but crucial element supporting the entire tent — so this little “sideshow” is of central importance.  It’s not just an alternate center though.  The stake was hammered right at the place where the two cones of light intersect. I am really interested in where things meet, in seeing or articulating the precise point where one thing intersects with or turns into, another.  

JLM: There’s potential for something to happen, for you or the viewer to do something. It’s a pregnant moment, but not a decisive moment — it’s been staged, like in a narrative film. 

JB: There’s a kind of framing of gestures and movements in my work, which may have something to do with my roots in dance.  My works are like frozen movies.

Tower of Movie Marquees   (Jennifer Bolande, 2010). Photo credit: Maegan Hill-Carroll.

Tower of Movie Marquees (Jennifer Bolande, 2010). Photo credit: Maegan Hill-Carroll.