3. Erica Magrey: A Green Screen Alter Ego Vision in a Moonage Daydream World

When I was first introduced to Erica Magrey’s alter ego, Metalmags, I felt like I was meeting a vision of artistic creativity in green screen video form. How to describe Metalmags/Erica Magrey? Well, she is a musical traveller creating metaphysical costumes, sweetly rich addictive synth pop songs, and exploring other planes of existence through a sci-fi film universe all her own- a manufactured surrealist minimalist cosmos where you are never sure which way is up or down or what lies within the next portal. Her blog, Tag Sale Cosmology, is a great journal of her life documenting her adventures as an artist, building her visions into a reality…whether those realities become abstract dance troupe costumes or re-imaginings of pop songs as placid alien monologues or even creating her own fully functional shoes, Magrey is a new era digital artist whose work is a contemplation of sound, movement and image in a video art world that tends to want the green screen to over stimulate, clutter and crash. We are just little specks in the big cosmic picture and Erica Magrey is looking to add to the madness in a way that I think is both thoughtful and constructive while capturing a feeling of possibility, wonder and purpose in this world and beyond!

 1. How did you discover the green screen? I know it is such a standard film practice at this point, I think it even comes as a normal computer function now (!), but I feel like the first time I learned about it as a child it was completely mind blowing, and it is still mind blowing…did you have a moment of green screen recognition? 

Hmm, that’s a good question. I’ve gone so far down the green screen wormhole that it’s hard to recall where it all started. I certainly liked fantastical movies growing up, but I’m not sure when I became aware of the use of green screens. I like to really settle into the fictional world of a movie or TV show and suspend my disbelief, so I don’t naturally look for tears in the seams. As a kid I wanted to believe that it was all real, and I think that’s still true to an extent now. Except that now when I see the process reveal itself due to low-budget execution, I find it really charming.

I often don’t have an a-ha moment with something until I’m seeing it at a point where I understand how I can directly use it for my own ends. For me, that point coincided with the emergence of the physical image of Metalmags, which previously had simply been the name of my long-term music project. Once I started to use her in videos, I quickly realized that she was not of this world, and that the real world wouldn’t cut it any longer as far as settings go. After experimenting with the green screen, I became obsessed, totally blown away by all the possibilities that it presented. It still amazes me to this day, and I get so much satisfaction from the whole process: miming interactions with imagined objects in an environment, placing myself in impossible or artificial spaces, and figuring out how each part fits together to provide some semblance of believability. I hope it never loses its charm.

2. I was reading about a project you did called “Costume-Object Workshop” [pic directly below] where you went about making these things that might be sculptures, or costumes, or murals, the endpoint not being the focus. I really love this idea of forming something without expectation and letting it interact with it’s environment and even yourself…what led to this idea? Where did you end up with it? Do you think our society is too focused on product as opposed to process?

When I was in Switzerland last year on an artist residency, I spent the first month finishing a video I’d been working on for the past year. During that time, I had tons of little sparks of ideas of what I wanted to do next, but it was unclear whether they would materialize as costumes, sculptures, stage props, or wall hangings. I was finding fabrics at the local thrift stores that were mostly bedding and curtains, so that drew me to their decorative potential. Also – the costumes I had been making at home were primarily spandex-based, and that kind of colorful, kitschy material was harder to come by in this medieval city, where novelty fabrics were really only used for Basler Fasnacht (spring carnival in Basel). I had wanted to experiment with fabric outside of costuming for some time but hadn’t somehow gotten around to it, so that was one of the goals of my residency. I was also inspired by the Bauhaus costumes of Oskar Schlemmer to make costumes that took on different forms and obscured the shape of the body, rather than emphasizing it, so that brought potential costumes and objects into the same category.

This experiment of not focusing on the end result was pretty interesting. I ended up making several costumes out of sheets, duvet covers, pillow cases, and curtains, but also stretching sheets onto stretchers and painting on them, stuffing and hanging small sculptural objects, creating large panels, and hand-knotting nets. A few of the items served as either costumes or objects, depending on how they were presented. Many became part of the set that I performed in at the end of my residency. This practice of investigating multipurpose objects has become more of a staple for me now. It feels liberating but also provides me with something more solid to add to my performances, which typically include the more ephemeral video/music/costume combo.

I think more attention is paid now, in the art world at least, to process, but of course it’s still primarily the product that sells. I’ve tried to think about how I can become more product-oriented, but I think my brain doesn’t really work that way. And I’ve been lucky to have some support for my performances, due to audiences opening up to non-product oriented artworks. But yeah, it often feels to me like the process is just as important as the end result, if not more so, but it’s harder to communicate that. I like to try to use a performance or video as a way to confront a particular fear, and the process of navigating that can be very therapeutic, but I don’t know if really comes through in the end.

3. There is this sort of weird 70s, sci-fi superheroine in Metalmags. She inhabits this ultra-modern futuristic space world while at the same time there is a connection to these kitchsy feeling fabric prints/70s poly-fakeness that once meant progress but has such a different connotation now…even the sound of your (amazing!) songs are these soulful sweet meditations but with the most synthetic of backing instruments. Metalmags could go anywhere but she is rooted in this awkward materiality, what drew you to these styles in your work? To me it seems partly a design decision but it also feels like there is a little angst about the state of humanity in there…?

I think of Metalmags as a mutable alterego whose image, surroundings, and investigations can be adapted to parallel my own, so I think there is some variety there, but yes – ultimately she is usually depicted as belonging to a “future of the past” aesthetic. In Ode on a Terran Urn, she uses elements of classical Greece via 60s/70s sci-fi rebirth; in An Opportunity for Social Engagement, she’s riding more of a 70s/80s sci-fi wave; and in Troubadour, she’s employing a sort of 21st century psychedelia. All of those depictions deal with how we have considered and incorporated futuristic visions in our fantasies as well as our actual lives in the last half-century. In most of the world’s cultures today we have mythologized technology, and we pin our hopes and dreams for the future on its promises of potential. And it makes perfect sense because it’s a primary force that drives us onward and upward. But we see through a lot of sci-fi works from our recent past that we also hope it will help unite us on a greater level, achieving more of a global identity so we can come together to deal with (or against) other forces in the universe. Despite the political bent of the space race, the impact of that initial broadcast from the moon must have been monumentally moving for everyone who was able to witness it. That’s why I have this fantasy of being an astronaut or space explorer – I want to experience humbling and beautiful visions that confirm that there is hope for us. And this character allows me to approximate those experiences. She also allows me to engage with identity in times of burgeoning feminism, which greatly informs how I perceive and present myself now. But that’s a whole ‘nother story…

So I actually feel optimistic about humanity, honestly because I have to. I’ve had darker times when I often felt worried and depressed about the state of the world, but I felt helpless to do anything about it. So this is my solution. If I can make work that makes me feel hopeful and excited about the future, that’s a start; if it can rub off on others a little too – even better.

(More on Metalmags, music and movie distribution after the jump!)

It’s interesting that you mention the music here too – I never really thought about the synthetic nature of the instrumentation. It wasn’t a conscious decision as I have always just used what was available to me. But I do think it’s relevant to consider that technology freed us from the classical constraints of musicianship – the definition of a musician as an expert in the technique and artistry of his or her instrument. Though that of course still exists and is respected as such, we also now see dabblers making impressive projects. I love that I can write and record my own music without formal training in any instrument or in any software for that matter. It’s very empowering. And as for the synthetic-soulful combo, I think it’s a fitting analogy – no matter how technologically advanced and in a sense artificial we become, we’re still the same base material. There really isn’t a distinction anymore.

4. Where do you see your films fitting in in the underground film landscape? You do art residencies and have had screenings at galleries but you also seem to hit the homegrown distribution too, including a bootleg series of Awesome Music Video dvds where you show vintage music videos interspersed with your space age skits & accompanying written pieces on these videos as cultural artifacts and you also have been on straight up public access tv…I know there are a lot of film people out there who are seeking new models of distribution or new venues for their work and I wonder where you see yourself in that rocky landscape?

It’s been very confusing for me to figure out where my work fits best. I haven’t had success in the film festival circuit, perhaps because my videos don’t seem serious enough or have a high enough production value to those communities. I’ve shown my videos in galleries, and I like having access to that audience, but it’s sometimes hard to accept that many people will breeze in and out and see only a small fraction of a larger work that’s 20-30 minutes long. And there are technical and environmental complications there too in terms of ensuring proper presentation and comfort for lingering viewers. I do like the idea of the viewer seeing the whole piece, whether that be at a screening in a darkened space or in the viewer’s own living room. I think about the conditions under which I viewed a lot of influential films and videos and would like the delivery of my own work to be just as powerful. Awesome Music Videos, Vol. 1 was developed as a gift to friends during a year when I had very little money, but it served the dual purpose of forcing me to quickly make short-form content with zero exhibition pressure. So while it was hand distributed on DVD, this distribution model was more incidental than intentional. (And to my surprise, some of the bumpers I created for it have stood on their own in screenings.)

Ideally I’d like my work to be able to operate on multiple levels: to sell special editions of my videos housed in handmade art objects; to have my work distributed by organizations like EAI and Video Data Bank; and to have an affordable commercial distribution option for home consumers. I don’t know whether it’s really possible to do all three of the above and while the first sounds potentially the most profitable, it would expose the work to the fewest amount of people. Ultimately I really want people to be able to see my work – and not just collectors or even just art audiences. So I guess it’s all about figuring out the best way to hit multiple audiences. That’s why cable access interests me. I love getting an email from someone who randomly came across my video on TV at 2 a.m. and was unexpectedly inspired by it. And it feels empowering to be on equal ground, surf-wise, with a multitude of corporate content providers.

I have also performed on cable access TV, on both Chic-a-go-go [performance pictured directly above] and ESP-TV, and I think there is a lot of potential there for performative distribution. It’s very difficult to ensure proper documentation of a performance, whether in a gallery or music venue, so when you perform specifically for the creators and technicians of a cable access show, you have a better exchange system in place: you provide content for the show, and the show provides documentation of your work, packaged to be seen by the show’s built-in TV and Internet audiences. Not to mention the fact that there is an incredibly rich history of innovative and also odd local talent that has seen the light of day thanks to this amazing civically sponsored medium.

(pssssst...check out Erica's latest project here! It is a strange collaboration composed of an archive of outdated computer graphics compiled by Eilis Mcdonald- a new form of digital collage, the future in art from the coding of the past!)



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