Interview by Katya Yakubov & Julian Chams
The Videoart.net team visit award-winning performance artist and filmmaker Kalup Linzy in his Crown Heights studio, getting an inside scoop on his new work, which is premiering at the 2013 Video Art and Experimental Film Festival. In his film Introducing Kaye: Romantic Loner (The Short), Linzy extends the large cast of characters found in his early video works with a brand new persona, “Kaye,” an artist and ‘romantic loner’ himself.With excerpts from his film, this interview piece shows Linzy expounding on his new work and his thoughts on the 2013 VAEFF where it’s premiering.
On paper, Linzy is an accomplished artist with a long resume of awards, grants, and exhibitions, including a 2007-2008 Guggenheim fellowship. Yet how endearing it was to find him in his studio on a rainy Tuesday morning, slightly late, a little frazzled and unsure of how to proceed with two strangers setting up mics and a camera in the already crowded mess of video gear, lights, paints, brushes, pictures and enormous rack of costumes, all taking over the space. “Where is there the most light?” I ask, and Kalup immediately offers to use his lighting equipment, some diffused fluorescents set up in the corner. “I didn’t realize you would be shooting,” he says.
With his earlier soap-opera-inspired videos such as Melody Set Me Free or All My Churen, the multitude of characters, melodramatic plot points and episodic content he creates, all endow the work with themes of sexuality, family, community, and the role of the church. The low-fi aesthetic that characterizes these films, with re-used sets, non-professional actors, and a limited palette of static medium and close up shots, are simultaneously an inventive use of the limited resources of an independent artist and a reflexive comment on both the shortcomings and expressive power of the soap opera genera. Linzy admits that his interest in evoking this style lies in the central role that soap opera programming played in both his family and community life, growing up in a rural southern town of Stuckey, Florida.
Kalup starts to talk in several directions, but quickly finds his voice; he wants only to talk about the new work, which he is clearly excited about. Whereas in his more well known past films, Linzy often plays several of the characters himself, breaking pre-conceived notions of gender and stereotypes by dressing in drag and manipulating his voice through editing, in his new work, Linzy seems confident in playing only Kaye, a man who in many ways is an autobiographical parallel to his own struggles as an artist and gay man.
Kalup reaches for his old Mac PowerBook, unable to unplug it, he says, because the battery got busted years ago and he hasn’t invested the extra funds needed to fix it yet. He uses it now to show my teammate Julian and I scenes fromRomantic Loner. Unlike earlier works, this piece is much more centered on one artist soul searching, “almost like Prince inPurple Rain or Whitney Houston in The Bodyguard, where they’re playing a character, but they’re not totally lost because the character is based on some of their musical aspirations,” says Linzy, a musician and performer himself.
He notes that with Romantic Loner, he wanted to use video as a tangible object, and so has Kaye physically “scribble onto video,” as part of the character’s art practice. He does this by drawing onto green-screen (green paper) and then keying out as much as he can before overlaying these drawings onto video. This is the kind of hands-on experimentation with the medium itself that avant-grade filmmakers do with celluloid. The effect is very unique, and in many ways is an aesthetic and thematic emblem of Romantic Loner. When these drawings and lovers start to appear in heart shapes on Kaye’s body, it evokes the sloppy and undefined layers of past relationships that make up his character. Things are fuzzy, yet other parts of the frame are crisp. There is an overall raw quality to the piece, even though it’s shot in HD, a combination you don’t often find with many sleek video art pieces today.
Kalup says that he sends his work off to art institutions as well as film festivals, and finds that pieces fit in some contexts but not in others. For All My Churen, the episodic series was well received in the art world, and he was able to move forward because of both collectors who bought the work, and awards that supported his endeavors, yet it didn’t catch on with film festivals. In many ways, Linzy feels the art world gives the experimental short format the kind of respect and attention that might not be found in an industry festival circuit.
An exception, he notes, are curated film websites like Videoart.net and the Video Art and Experimental Film Festival, which provide not only a community of other experimental filmmakers, but also the appropriate historical context and discourse to an audience, something invaluable and beneficial to an artist’s work. Having participated in the panel discussion at the 2011 VAEFF, Kalup admits in his charming southern drawl, “You can forget so easy, when you’re in your studio, that there is a whole world of people out there that are doing similar things to you. Sometimes it’s about having that platform and that visibility.”
Introducing Kaye: Romantic Loner (The Short) will premiere Thursday night, February 7th, at the 2013 Video Art and Experimental Film Festival in Tribeca Cinemas, 54 Varick Street.