The multi-disciplinary artist Charles Jimenez talks about their practices including performance art, filmmaking, and photography in conversation with Alice Lipizzi. Spanning through unconscious sides of the brain, they explore the uncanny, painting genderless compositions.
In your works, it is predominant the influence of Surrealism. It almost seems like you are depicting ethereal dreams, where the characters find themselves in a quest to be completed. The movement of Surrealism focuses on the idea of depicting dreams, realities that could only exist in the mind and in the subconscious. Especially in ‘A Fugue’, the creature struggles to find a light, a way of escaping the purgatory. This can be interpreted as a way of escaping reality or, paradoxically, a journey into the discovery of the inner self, the unconscious mind. Do you think that there could be any connection here?
No-one can make an image or a film without dealing with illusions and unconsciousness. The moment you make a decision you are making a subject, and thus universes in image and sound are purely subjective worlds. I am attracted to poetical, sensorial, and paradoxical worlds exclusive to image and sound. A mind reads them primordially, but they are never just purely products of the mind, the physical process outside is as equally nourishing. I resonate with worlds that exist in a mirage between mind and matter, what is invisible but perceived. Both sound and image mediums tell projected realities, I don’t ever feel that reality can ever be objective, which is why I love Surrealism. My influence and love for surrealism needs no explanation, for me it is a timeless expression. Yet, I feel there’s a common misconception that surrealism is just a movement – a mark in history, and while the foundations proposed by Breton remain highly inspiring for my aesthetics and process (even if I find him very problematic), surrealism has existed longer than its name. For me surrealism is a form of life, a form of creation. Surrealism is a liberation through form, matter, and cosmos in paradoxes – which the laws of nature have always been filled with. Through a frame an eye is not only a point of view, but a point of dimension and cosmos. I like to create worlds which engage primarily with places which exist in discrete, often ephemeral moments residing within the metaphysics of spaces. I treat my characters like places, in a frame dimension landscapes are just as lively and personal. In the reality of the frames’ abstractions: a shape or a figure is subject to equal transformation – people who understand themselves through the tools of transformation, which is what I find myself returning to in liminal and surreal contexts, the tools are within every associations, an image is always pregnant with another. In ‘A Fugue’, I wanted to explore an abstract characters’ journey (‘abstract’ because they could be anyone) through the liminality of space and cycles. There is definitely a connection of a desire to reach what is inaccessible in creativity, I think that is at the core of many’s search, something unattainable, which by attempting regardless of failure or success ultimately leads to a transformation by attempting. I think this is the unconscious human quest. My art has a huge element of discovery, when I am making a photo or film I am always going to find outdoor locations, often alone. Although I think that my work tends to be about multiple selves rather than one mind, a collective network of dreamers, a place that can only exist outside of the mind, I would never say that Surrealism is about a purely mindful creation, there is a shared alchemy in a creative landscape which is inherently open to surrealism.
Both in the films ‘Keratin’ and ‘Candle’, the element of motherhood/womanhood is heavily present. ‘Keratin’ revolves around the idea of a lost child who tries to reconnect to two other bodies via a thread of hair that emerges from the mouth. Moreover, ‘Candle’ narrates about a woman trapped in an “infinitely burning waiting room”. In the short film, she embarks on a journey of harmonisation with space and her inescapable destiny through a waltz. Is there any reason why you chose these characters and themes as subjects of these works?
I welcome the reading of womanhood in my art, as you pointed out there’s a lot of associations to draw from in both films. I have been very inspired by artists who consciously explore surrealism from the feminine perspective like Penny Slinger and Jane Arden, but I never consciously think about womanhood, or even gender when making art. I have noticed that I happen to work a lot with female crews in my projects, there is no preference. In most cases, there is an attempt to make a space or world which is genderless, in dreams I feel that gender is a plasticity, which is crucial for me when dealing with the abstraction of experience. We are ultimately a body, this is shared between us, what makes us unique is our experience, which have their own characters and universes, but I think that ultimately in our most abstract form we and art are genderless. I am excited by the body as a shape, it’s an abstraction, a memory, and a landscape in an image. The body is an inherently abstract entity, because it is not an actual body but a memory of one. What you do by framing the body is explore it as an image realm, and so I view my characters and stories like this. This inspired my decision to have featureless or masked characters as my subjects. I think there is a certain abstract engagement one gains when they perceive the body as a metaphysical character – characters who in a way are more realistic than humans, because they exist through all abstract universes of artifice.
How does your process of creating a performance work? What comes into your mind? I feel you could approach the work in different ways if the media changes; could you talk about that?
In the process of making, I generally tend to work with an ambience and image in mind, there’s a lot more trust for the materials than the meaning, because I don’t believe a piece needs to mean anything – an idea in all its abstraction creates through resonance, everything is a process including your life. The process is a nature unto itself that must be respected and let to go its way, many refuse to give explanations to their work because the process always possesses such autonomy. I believe that the narrative of a piece continues with time and process once released from the hands of the maker. The narratives create entirely new responses and associations – which even the maker is susceptible to. I have often found myself returning to an idea that had been left to become an entirely different animal with time and association, like leaving a plant to grow. Ideas and associations nourish within the progression of the intuitive through-line of creation, which can sometimes be very clear from the start or remain as ambiguous as they began. My processes are always about discovering, I always look for a project to take me on a journey, making a film for instance is always a huge commitment, engaging with film always transforms my routine, so I find making films healing. I have learnt the most from film, because the sensibilities of all mediums are tapped into film. For me, film, image, sound, and performance are essentially the same stream of medium. In a film I am often rehearsing movements like I would in a performance, engaging my body as a live tool, as much as I am with documenting and capturing performances into stills. What I find different is that photography and performance have more spontaneity than film, and so I sometimes trial an idea in a performance or photograph, to then refine it in a film. One recent instance was with my recent performance ‘Elegy of Decay’ which has transformed into a photo series. The mediums speak to each other, I am always contemplating ideas and concepts visually and sensorially, because image and ambience always come first. The aspect I concentrate on most is composition – I like to draw on the personality of the frame, to create a sense of world, time, and cosmos. In the specific case of performance, the composition needs to work in real-time, as we are dealing with a physical space which changes depending on where the performance is staged, and so there’s more room for chance and encounter, yet I am excited to work within more controlled environments in the future. In the more stationary performances like ‘Elegy of Decay’, I often treat rehearsals like elaborate statue games, where I ask a performer to remember a shape, and to paint a landscape with their body. The body is your tool, and so the frame of the body becomes a more intense subject in performing, and so you focus more on internalised processes, which liveness allows for. It’s also a medium which is built more into abstraction due to the restrictions of what can be achieved in a live space, which is always good for me, as I love sometimes making the worlds and boundaries entirely abstract or impressionist elements. I find that a good chunk of my process is initiated from self-doubt, my ideas tend to proceed once I have materials or objects in a place, this in itself is my motivation for discovery within the process. When I first started dancing and performing I was in awe of the means of energy sculpting that takes place in rehearsing a choreography, it’s an entirely unique sense of control – there’s a knowingness also that maybe unlike film and photography that I will often not have complete control over light and sound. Perhaps more than most mediums, I and my crew are most vulnerable to the shape of the space we end up performing in. So, there is a lot more release than control, but you use control to guide release. As a performer you have to allow yourself to adapt or be guided by energies, this has been the case for me in my performances due to the small time I have been given to perform. That being said, one element which always frustrates me as a visual-thinker is the scarceness of documentation in performances. I always try to get a videographer or photographer involved, there’s a tendency for theatre to be lost and preserved only as memory by those fortunate enough to see it. As someone who has working-memory, I always like to reflect on how a piece was staged at the period, how it was made, what were our circumstances, and how that performance could be improved, shaped, or continued in future projects. I can appreciate the inherent value an ephemeral moment has locked behind a description or a still, and have experienced some performances that speak more as experiences, but a performance is always a document of its time and needs to be preserved at least for me. I am hoping that for future performances that there is more of a crossing between film and performance, because these are such concrete worlds you create in your body and movements.
Your works, in terms of light, usually revolve around dark tones. Is there a specific reason why you use this colour palette? Your images, instead, are quite different. Why the sudden change of aesthetic?
You cannot have vivid bright palettes without darkness in their dimension. I think the range of a palette depends on where one sees, the sky is as bright as it can be dark, I have always looked at both in the same place, it’s where you set your tone. I have always loved dim and faded palettes, so I don’t think this is a change as it is a return, I think if anything I have become more garish with my monochrome this time around, as much as I hope to be with colour in future pieces. The visual contrast is never something I consciously contemplate, each image is its own world. I think I always respond directly to the themes and tones, I try to find the palette which best translates what I resonate the idea with in tone and emotion. In my recent work there’s more emphasis on void, which I find fittingly translates to dimmer palettes, but ultimately for me it’s the same world which I have always been attracted to. My work is attracted to spaces which connect associations which are inherently melancholic, surreal, and liminal – monochromes and dim palettes happen to work perfectly with the tone of the recent images I have captured. I initially shot in monochrome due to my insecurities of colour, but I think that dim lights and faded palettes grant an image a great textural memory in their dark tones. However, that is not to say I won’t return to garishness, as a matter of fact I am very excited to explore more garish palettes in future films, as I don’t feel my films have tapped into the same spirit and palettes as much as my photography. Lighting and tone are the most important and enabling aspects of image-making for me, because they are responsible for the emotional palette an image can articulate. Lighting has saved so many images as well as equally dampening others, a light and tone sculpt a space. Due to being reliant on tone, there is a lot of sensitivity, especially for me when wanting to tell abstract and metaphysical stories and emotions. I am attracted to how light creates liminality in a subject. Light plays an integral part in the psychology of creating dreamscapes, especially when you allow darkness or a visual grey area. I love images which have space, whether it be the grain, negative space, or shadows, they give an area for people to connect their imagination, fusing the viewers’ psychology with the image. I find that the phosphenes in my eyes generally resemble grain, so I am always viewing my images as mnemonics from my mind. Low lights are more susceptible to this dimension of visual and oneiric resonance. Because darkness is a sort of mirage, inside darkness you can imagine anything – your phosphenes gather mnemonic images in darkness. There is a conscious attempt with my imagery to push for this mnemonical side of light. I am very inspired by the methods of the puppeteers at the Puppet Barge, they deliberately make their puppets featureless to allow the light to sculpt more dynamic expressions in the character, for them the shadows and dark tones are like evocative faces. That being said, I can understand your point of view, there is a statistical tendency I have noticed for many to opt for darker palettes, but on my part I have never felt as if I have separated my world, this is not at all a conscious decision and more of happenchance of what is resonating with me currently in tones and textures.
I know you are working on “Bed & Breakfast”, which you are post-producing at the moment. Your description says: “Four paralysed dreamers accidentally awake while sunken deep into their sleep. Each are reshaped by sleep as their kitchen begins to refract their illnesses and thoughts which trap them in a vicious cycle, purging them deeper into the feverish madness of ill abstractions.” How did you come up with the concept? Could you tell us a bit more about the project?
To prevent the film from being spoiled, I will not delve further into the plot, there’s still a lot of discovering which I am excited to explore in post-production, which for me is like making a second film, who knows what will change, certainly a lot may evolve from what I will say in the time this is published, so I speak with only the shooting complete. I am not sure even if ‘Bed & Breakfast’ may remain as the title, but certainly that is my crew’s favourite title, so it may remain. This title is a reference to the films’ morning and kitchen setting which is not at all what it seems. Shooting and conceiving ‘B&B’ has so far been very shapeful, it’s the first film in which I am working entirely from a script and shot list. My previous films were made without storyboards and worked off loose outlines and process serendipity. As you have read, the film explores sleep, dreams, and beyond which are inspired by my personal experiences with time and inertia. The film is a surreal mirage of experiences, fusing the psychological with the otherworldly. Given the abstract nature of the films’ subject, the films’ form is inherently rooted within a sensorial audio-visual narrative, where ambience speaks more than characters, and in the case of paralysed dreamers, this language is particularly intense. This was my first time working with actors, we shot the film off and on throughout three months in my bedroom which we transformed into a decaying set, this gave me a lot of pleasure in forcing my overly minimalistic bedroom into a desolate room of rot, it was a joy to wake up every morning with the smell of coffee leaking through the walls which we used to paint the walls in. A lot of great findings and nourishing experiences came from the shoot. There have so far been huge learning curves for me, which I feel have matured and made me more disciplined since shooting this short.
All your art is very triggering and disturbing in a sense. I think it touches some parts of the brain that are not usually stimulated by the world that surrounds us on a daily basis. What’s your intent towards the reaction of the audience?
If my work resonates with unusual parts of the brain, that is music for what I like creating and what I enjoy feeling in art. While the process is always my main concern, as it is the first in creation. I do hope that audiences are free to receive what resonates with them, especially when dealing with dreamscapes, we are always creating narratives in where we are attracted. For me, the process is first and foremostly the focus, because that is the most crucial element of creating, being free to receive, question, make, and intuit. There is a second voice for how I feel some may receive my work, but I only set out to create what I feel is truthful to the world of my creation rather than to create for what I think will cause a reaction, because that can never be predicted and limits your range when you think about an invisible audience. I find that when centering on worlds that exist within abstract spaces, there is an inherent trust with the unconsciousness of a space, which an audience accepts in a work of pure sensorial creation, which allows people to receive more internal and metaphysical narratives essential to the material of the forms’ construction which for me is always important in the stories I tell. I do it first and foremostly for what I feel best accentuates the idea. I try to respect the journey of the expression and idea, and accept whatever is organic to the emotion of the piece. That being said, if my work does provoke, that is always a positive for me, because provocation always motivates evolution and change which we need to survive and adapt.
Conversely, what does your work stimulate in you? I feel performance is a way of reconciliation with the body of the performer, a sort of inner journey through movement. Do you resonate with that?
The stimulation of seeing shapes, sounds, and movements aligning when a project materialises is the music which evokes the most magic in me. The ideas tempt you to discover them through the journey of the process.F. Film and performance deal with live elements, which are sometimes only understood in the raw materialisation of the moment you put camera-to-subject, both gesture and movement are sensitive languages for me, so sometimes I never truly know how a piece will come together until the edit, when the materials are altogether. In performance, I am stimulated by the connection in re-vitalising and unlocking new areas of the body through engaging with otherworldly settings. Spaces which are inherently unreal stir my imagination and body – I look for a way to make them real for me. When performing, I try to distance myself as a person, because I am letting the materials and energies create in that space – as my body is a part of the live construction, it too is a material. I believe there is truth to the idea of a performance enabling one to engage with the elemental properties which shape identities in our day-to-day life – one uses elements of their own experience to draw new experiences through abstraction. My body for me is a vessel I want to expand, and I hope that I can inspire that journey in others. I have two recurring modes of performance in the 9 performances I have created. I find myself mixing between spontaneous and staged modes of movement: one is freer, reactive, and the other is more pictorial and precise – I enjoy both. In the more internal and improvised performances, I am responding to and sometimes creating new associations and textures, either from lived experience or from the blind spaces that confront me in performing live in the space. Mnemonics play a large role when sculpting my response, an internal performance is needed for improvisation, the body has many unknown margins. I find that you train your shape through creating, sometimes my body takes on different processes of weight when picturing a different image. You create these as mental tools which help guide your performance and immerse you into otherworlds. It’s like life-drawing. I think performance shapes autonomy and anatomy. It’s one of the most accessible forms of creation, because it is involved in every activity of life. It’s a process which I think is most in touch with translating the raw invisible and the functions of the body.
It is relevant to think about materials that you use such as the cast in Bed and Breakfast or milk in Keratin. What is your relationship with materials?
Materials are equally tools as they are symbols. In ‘Keratin’, we were fascinated by a spiritual setting told through molecules of the body – keratin. We played with the connection between the elements of fluids and flesh, this was our symbolic material, which we used to tell a story of materials, which a film inherently is through the story of the semiotics. I am fascinated by the narrative of what has passed down from the touch and memories of materials, we tried to communicate that in our use of hair, and braiding. When it comes to setting up the shot, the material takes on an intuitive role. My relationship with materials has increased since shooting ‘Bed & Breakfast’, and in the case of my recent film has reshaped how I shot the film due to the added dimension in the material. This was my first time making prosthetics, I used dry flour on wet flour mixed with latex for the skin prosthetics which we combined with Modroc casts, a prosthetic I have also recently used in HMLTD’s ‘Wyrmland’ which I also acted in. Modroc has been prominently used in my art. I love that it’s cheap and flexible in use, you can easily cast onto any surface. Modroc rewarded my interest in the liminality of shapes, you don’t get a complete capture, like you do with silicone, but you do find the emotion of the shape, a capture which reminded me of Pompeii carcasses. The material already has a clinical feel due to its use on broken limbs. I am looking forward to using silicone in future projects, and am excited to explore and expand my experience in prosthetics in future pictures and films. Tactility I think is more pronounced in my later work, I have Jan Svankmajer to thank for that! This interest in tactility is also a retaliation to my earlier work, because I used to primarily create on a computer, I do appreciate the benefit of artificialities, but I find that the tactile process is involving me more as a creator, and in a way are their own micro performances. I started growing more by using my body to create, aesthetically I always feel that texture makes for a more evocative and memorable experience, as texture has memory. I generally look for objects and materials which have a plasticity or manifest an element of memory crucial to the setting and ambience.
In ‘Hydra’ particularly – but in all your other works as well- the costumes play an important role. As well, you are not afraid of nudity. Could you talk about binomial nudity/costume?
Costumes paint a body, they’re as much landscapes as the composition, the naked body has been predominantly viewed as a landscape in images, I see them as vessels. In a purely visual realm bodies are worlds, it’s the skin of the character, and the skin of the frame. In my performances and films, there is an attraction to clothing with a sense of past, more an anemoia than an accurate memory, which is how I generally feel about memory. Costumes and the naked bodies are narratives, because we are always using the body as a vessel for communication. They are often primary semiotics, I am drawn to seeing pareidolia in my life, I am attracted to the face and how a body is created without one. Masks show up a lot in my work due to this, as masks resonate with me sensorially. A mask engages with the body as a shape and spirit, some relations only my mind can make before any word arrives, which in any process always inspires me. A mask is both concealing and revealing, because of its flexibility to function as both a place and a face. When you change a face, you re-work the visual anatomy of a body, in rituals, shamans would wear masks to invoke spirits. Masks are magical, often imbuing secret emotions into visual universes. In Greek Tragedy they are used to invoke the material of emotions, I think that masks manifest a cosmos for the human body. They are artefacts of the face, which reveal the artifice of the human form. I am inspired by the artifice of the body in my art. The abstraction of the body interests me, the body can be a plasticity. I look at the body in the same way that I look at colours and shapes, because the body is also capable of re-shaping based on the identity, perhaps fishes more than humans at this stage, but emotions erupt our form, if one is stressed, they bleed, the body is an emotional entity. There are inherently aesthetical attractions, I am attracted to the naked body as an alchemical force, in middle-century alchemical engravings, which was an inspiration for Hydra. Nudity is essential because the body is a narrative, it is our form. For me there has never been anything unusual due to this. One needs to accept the fact that they are naked, why should many censor what they inherently are encased for life in? Censorship is a big problem for the image of the body, but I am very hopeful that platforms will with time understand the value of the body uncensored. The human body is capable of so much transformation, there are so many secret anatomies to be unlocked in our experience, some of which never get verbalised. I believe the abstraction of the body is already and will become an even more explored subject with time. I have been highly inspired and changed personally and artistically by notions of post-humanism, I am always curious about transformation, and have a desire to hopefully be able to transition at some point in my life to understand more about my body.
Could you tell us about your upcoming projects?
Aside from my short film, I am currently editing a photo series I made with Salvia. On March 31st and April 1st, I am co-organising a film, and live performance event – ‘Mythopoetics – Folk Fauna’ where I will be screening ‘Keratin’ and staging a new performance with Damsel Elysium and Sophie Chinner at the Horse Hospital. On May 7th, I am going to be exhibiting work and performing for ‘L’age D’or’ at the Crypt Gallery, and the rest for the meantime will remain quiet as they grow in the womb of discovery, process and creation! I am very excited to be a part of Ken Nakajima’s upcoming performance ‘I’m Going Away Now’ which will be playing in Slovenia, July 5th – 9th. I have hopes that this year will welcome some exciting process in films and performances. I have plans to hopefully re-stage Hydra into a bigger piece, and the rest for the meantime will remain quiet as they grow in the womb of discovery, process and creation! I want to thank you so much for probing me with these questions, I never get asked to talk about my work. So for me this has been an incredibly insightful and nourishing moment to evaluate and discover my work from a verbal point of view, while I admit it is distant from the process, it’s discussions like these that help creators sometimes understand their work from different levels. But now I shall resume.
Charles Jimenez / Illusions and unconsciousness
Artist: Charles Jimenez / @anetherealbooth
Interview: Alice Lipizzi / @strafiko