Aesthetica Art Prize Interview: Sara Brannan

An international celebration of innovation and brilliance, the Aesthetica Art Prize is an opportunity for emerging artists across the globe to showcase their work to a wider audience. Going on to great success, previous finalists have included Julia Vogl (Winner of the Catlin Art Prize 2012 and shortlisted for Saatchi Gallery and Channel 4′s New Sensations), Marcus Jansen (leading modern expressionist who joined a legacy of artists by featuring in Absolut Vodka’s artistic campaigns) and Bernat Millet (shortlisted for the National Portrait Gallery’s Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize.) We spend some time speaking to the short-listed video artist Sara Brannan, whose submitted piece is based around the appropriation and manipulation of films in the public domain. Using the films as found objects, they are re-edited into short videos focusing on the female lead character.

A: You work with video, how do you find this medium is suitable in expressing your artistic vision?
SB: Working with video is not something I actively chose to do; there has just been a natural development towards it. I always considered myself a sculptor and all my previous work, which included drawings, animation, & photography all had a sculptural element. I always have the ethos of making work, which costs little or nothing to make and would make sculptures using cheap materials alongside found objects. There were a few sculptors in the 1960’s who explored the use of video and performative action, artists like Richard Serra and Bruce Nauman. These artists used video to document actions and I think that the act of re-editing still resonates with sculpture. By using the downloaded film as a found object, and setting it out in editing software, the gesture of cutting, echo’s with an action on Serra’s verb list.

This work fits in with aspects of feminist film theory where the concerns are of the women in film being passive and on display, to be looked at and to provoke rather than represent. Issues of representation and spectatorship are central to feminist film theory and criticism. Cinema constructs a particular ideological view of reality and classical cinema never shows its means of production. By re-editing and making visible the usually invisible editing, my work interrupts the patriarchal narrative structure that is demanded by realism.

A: You mentioned also working with sculpture, drawings, animation and photography- do you intend to continue working with video for the moment?
SB: I feel very comfortable working with video and don’t have any current plans to work in other media. I make work at home and this suits me on a practical level as it fits around family and work commitments. Working from home means that I work when I can and I don’t have to worry about materials, storage, transportation and studio costs. I would like to return to sculpture though in the future! I do miss the hands-on making of objects. I’m particularly interested in sculptors such as Eva Hesse and Phyllida Barlow, where the act of making is as important as the finished work.

A: How does it feel to be part of the Aesthetica Art Prize?
SB: It feels fantastic to be part of the Aesthetica Art Prize and I’m really excited & honored that my work has been shortlisted. It seems such a prestigious prize that I’m still getting a bit giddy when thinking about it! I hope that this helps to take my work forward and gives me and my work opportunities that I wouldn’t otherwise have had.

A: Are there any video artists or directors that have particularly inspired you?
SB: I tend to watch films more than see art exhibitions so there’s plenty. I think watching Mark Cousins’ epic The History of Film: An Odyssey was a seminal moment for the development of this body of work, particularly the first two which talk about the starting points of film & the development of editing. There’s also two other films which had a major influence: Kieslowski’s Three Colours: Blue where editing is used as an interruption in the narrative and Blue Valentine. In this film the director, Derek Cianfrance used a definite method of filming to underline the togetherness and the separateness of the character’s relationship.
I’m also a massive fan of Michael Haneke but find some his films very difficult to watch! I’ve not been able to watch Benny’s Video or the remake of Funny Games just because they’re so horrific and uncomfortable!
I’d also seen Christian Marclay’s The Clock at the British Art Show in early 2011 and although I was blown away by it (and kept on seeing clocks every where for a few days afterwards!), I didn’t consciously feel inspired by it. It was the concept and the logistics that I was impressed by.

A: What do you have planned for the future?
SB: I just want to develop on this type of work. When I watch a film I’m really interested in specific characters; how they are portrayed, their dialogue, the way the director has shot them, and their interactions with other characters. And how characters are sustained in sequels. I’m also interested in actors and how they themselves change over a variety of roles, particularly the subtleties. I want to develop the work by focusing on these aspects and creating videos that work alongside one another, a bit like separating elements from a film or a gesture from a character or an actor then bring them back together and reconnect them.

A: Where do you get your inspiration from to begin producing a film?
SB: Research plays a large part in the making of the work. I have to find a film that is suitable to work on and this can take time. So basically it’s whenever I find a good film I start work. And the re-editing process can be quite time consuming. I made quite a few last year and am currently working on a couple more.

Brannan’s work will be exhibited at the Aesthetica Art Prize Exhibition, 8 March until 28 April, York St Mary’s, York.

Images courtesy of Aesthetica and Sara Brannan.