A moment with Kasumi…

I recently posted some inspirational videos on my blog, one of which was called Soundboard by Kasumi.

I received a really nice email from this ‘mysterious person’ thanking me for posting the video. I had followed Kasumi for quite a while and have always been interested in the work I saw online. I was totally shocked when I received the email and even more privileged when I asked if I could ask some questions…. Make a cup of tea, get yourselves comfy and let yourself be inspired!

Hi Kasumi, you have worked in many different mediums and with many fantastic people, how would you describe your work?

I would describe my work as a time-based art form, encompassing a wide range of styles and methods, incorporating movement, sound, literary elements, acting, dance, music, installation, painting, sculpture and live-performance. These components are united and woven in a variety of combinations and configurations through a wide array of video technologies.

Art is a way to solve a problem, describe a condition, illustrate a concept or ask a question by using whatever means or materials best suited to the situation.

What I try to accomplish is, on one level, is to mimic human perception: I try to imagine the complex processes of the human brain, synthesizing different methods of expression into a metaphorical language that not only resembles the stream of messages and subconscious connections making up human perception, but also examines the stream’s causes and effects. I do this by taking apart a subject down to the smallest fragments of ideation and structure – breaking, whittling, melting, chopping… and then gluing these bits of our common culture back together in new formations, using logic and craziness in roughly equal proportions.

Some of my work developed out of a need to try to portray our strange times and the issues that trouble me the most: the greed and fear that continue to keep pace with our species’ questionable advances. Some of the tales my works tell – like BREAKDOWN and FREE SPEECH ZONE – are tall, macro tales, urban/suburban pre-apocalyptic lore figured in the warp of media fiction, advertisement, news coverage, and flat-out propaganda, crossing in the greater weave of politics, science, and suffering.

Other work like Soundboard and The Drowning are more abstract: in The Drowning I try to portray the impressions running through a man’s mind in the moments before his death: the sensation of time slowing down, of heightened bodily perceptions, and the simultaneous unreeling of an internal cinema of images that create an unconscious narrative of personal history and emotion. The story in his head changes in the last seconds as the oxygen-deprived brain starts shutting down, speeding faster and faster, turning into a surreal, psychedelic collage of colors and primary symbols, the foundations of learned experience reduced to their individual blocks of information, electrified and dispersing like split atoms or dying stars.

Soundboard is even more formal and abstract: a study of the emotional content of gesture – an investigation of the potential for meaning that adheres in increments of physical movement, and like a lot of my other work, as much about the sound as is it the image. For this work I used only the percussive sounds of the dancers’ bodies hitting the floor and each other.

What is your background, and how did the AV work take off?

My father, himself the child of an inventor, was literally a rocket scientist who was instrumental in putting a man on the moon, My mother was an experimental artist who viewed the world as her studio and supply depot, commandeering otherwise banal household object (toys included) and breaking them up to use in an assemblage works. For both of them, nothing was out-of -bounds, anything could be swept into the process of creation and experimentation. This would explain a lot about me, I suppose.

Using A/V tools sort of evolved out of the desire to explore new ways of making art and saying what I wanted to say. After I bought my first computer in 1999 there was no looking back.

What is it that you feel makes your work different?

Visually, one of my trademarks is the use of motion-masked imagery – most notably, human form. My engineer-father part of my brain allows me to sit for hours on end, painstakingly – sometimes frame by frame – extracting characters, dialogue and all, from long-forgotten public domain movies. With these samples, I create a vividly surreal universe in which moving bodies, shifting times and events coincide within a tightly enclosed, finite space, cross paths and yet never touch. Their reality and meaning are often ambiguous, reflecting our own uncertainty about ourselves and our place in the modern, technological world; they pass in isolated bits of deconstructed time, strangely slow or too electron-quick to be entirely discerned, metastasizing or disappearing seemingly at random.
This synaesthetic confusion engendered as differing neural capacities and biological feedback systems are brought into unconscious play may be my most notably innovative achievement, sewing these fragments of sound and sight like jewels to the pleated and gathered fabric of high baroque structure.

What is the main software and hardware technology that you use?

Final Cut Pro, After Effects, Modul8, Ableton Live, Photoshop plus extraneous apps upon which the survival of my hardware and often my sanity depends. I use a Mac Pro with a Cintiq and just invested in a Drobo Pro to replace the perpetual juggling of 15 or so hard drives. Of course, I also use some old-school techniques like painting on celluloid.

Much of your work seems to be displayed using HD projectors and hi end equipment, yet much of your media (tends) to be older sampled footage… what are your thoughts on all this HD, Blu-Ray and 3DTV technology?

The clean edge of motion-masked material (even when extracted from bad film material), plus a bit of grain reduction and color correction, does very well in hi-end, hi-res situations and holds up incredibly well – given the right equipment – projected onto massive walls and screens. I’ve even done a couple of stereoscopic pieces. AARDVARK, the feature I recently executive produced was shot in HD using old anamorphic lenses. In addition, now that cameras are able to capture such stunning imagery for a reasonable price, I’ve started to incorporate this HD footage without having to work so much to improve the footage. I love the potential of HD footage – with some exceptions: for example, the look of local TV news broadcasting is so ugly I have to avert my eyes. But for the most part, it’s really a pleasure to work with nice, un-artifacted raw material.
For live action movies like Green Hornet, 3D seems to be gimmicky and unnecessary – and just adds to the ticket price. For the present, 3D is best suited for animation.

From your various links on your website to interview and biographies it is clear you have been well traveled around the world, is it fair to say this has had a big impact on your work?

Huge impact. This has been fundamental in my lifelong journey in the arts and has led me to question how different cultures shape interpretations of artistic value and historical truth. Living in different countries has made me shift gears, see the world through a different lens. In addition, when you speak different you understand that there are many ways to express an idea… and conversely to know that sometimes there is only one BEST way to say something. This is a good lesson in art – to find the right medium in which to work and to hone your work, tighten it to such a point that it seems impossible to have said it any other way.
Japanese, particularly, is a pictorial language – an entire concept can be conveyed with a single character. The characters – kanji – like imagery, are not processed in the language center of the brain – instead, they operate much in the same way imagery does. The Japanese written language combines simple symbols to create more complex concepts thereby creating collisions and attractions that unify in the viewer’s mind to create an unexpected emotional or intellectual effect. This conceptual blending plays a crucial role in how we think and live. But it operates largely invisibly to our consciousness.
This is the goal for my work: to illuminate the mysteries of human thought and behavior on their own terms — viscerally, instinctually…and to trigger viewers’ similarly unconscious feelings through their powers of perception and association….
Sorry, I drifted a bit there.

And finally; what advise would you give to somebody wanting to be involved in similar projects such as yours?

For first-time video makers:
• look at and study as much material as humanly possible: films, videos, animation, books, billboards, paintings, music, shadows, etc. etc. Try to understand how each connects to you.
• learn the tools, suffer the ugly business of reading the manuals – or the online equivalent.
• practice like a maniac
• practice more so you don’t have to look wrack your brain to remember which button to push or continually annoy your friends with technical questions: the idea is to get into a flow unconcerned with technical problems. This is akin to the process of learning to ride a bicycle.
• make a strict set of rules for each work and follow them. It’s easier to be creative if you have tight boundaries. Dogma 95 is a good example of this. (http://www.martweiss.com/film/dogma95-thevow.shtml) Another is the (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Five_Obstructions)
On a much lighter side, I made a little group on Vimeo: “Rule-based Remixes” (http://vimeo.com/groups/rbr)
• log and keep track of your footage so you don’t spend time trying to remember what it was and where events occurred. Again, part of the flow.
• try to convey an idea or concept without using words, text or music as a crutch. Those can come later.
• after your rough version, cut the length of the video by ½, and then cut it again. You’ll be surprised at how short a work can be and still retain its original meaning. At first, aim for videos that are about 1 or 2 minutes long.


I have nothing to add, nothing to say and hope this brought as big of a smile to your face as it did mine….

Thanks Kasumi!


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