“I purposefully leave questions unanswered. I understand that this can feel uncomfortable, but I think there is merit in complexity and dissonance. I believe that art should be challenging. Unfortunately, the film industry is still heavily male-dominated and I feel, at times, that sexism negatively affects opportunities for my work to be seen.”
My favorite kind of film is interdisciplinary and is inspired by questions, where the narrative is non-linear, lives within a surreal in-between tension, and struggles to be defined by a genre. That is partly why I love the handmade films from artist Kiera Faber. I connect with the intricate, meticulous and dreamlike nature of her films. I am also in awe of her aesthetic abilities and the themes she explores in her work. Her films are haunting, raw, and complex. It’s hard to categorize her work which I think is exciting and compelling.
Kiera Faber is an artist working in animated film, photography, and drawing. Her work explores the repercussions of loss and trauma through enigmatic abstract narratives. Faber creates the entire world and experience of a film; from concept and design to image and sound. Her auteur, award-winning films are entirely crafted by hand and are internationally screened and exhibited at film festivals, galleries, and museums, most notably the Museum of Contemporary Photography, George Eastman Museum, and the Walker Art Center. Faber received her MFA from the Visual Studies Workshop after completing a BA in Psychology from the University of Rochester. In 2018, Faber received a McKnight Fellowship in Media Arts. She has received numerous regional grants and a film production grant from the Jerome Foundation. Faber currently is in pre-production on THE GARDEN SEES FIRE, creating the surreal and fanciful characters and sets for her next animated film. She is a dual national of Luxembourg and the United States and resides in Minnesota.
T FOR TURNIP was the first film I had seen of Kiera's and I was immediately enamored. In this film, 3,467 hand painted 16mm frames metaphorically explore three siblings’ collective childhood trauma. It took Kiera 1,000 hours to hand paint the film, using the smallest paintbrush available to apply silk dyes to the film’s emulsion, while looking through a stereoscopic microscope to see the tiny objects on the film. After I watched T FOR TURNIP, I saw her film LIVING ORGANICS, and I was like, yessssss, Kiera, thank you. You can say that I am a big fan of her work!
I am delighted that she let me ask her some questions. I always want to know more about Kiera and, as the years have passed, I am glad that our paths continue to cross! In this interview, she discusses her hand-crafted film, her path as an artist, and the new film she is working on. She also touches on what challenges she faces as an artist.
Enjoy! Admire on!
Jes: I have been enjoying your hand-crafted film, animation, and photography for quite a few years now. Your style is unique. How do you describe your creative approach and how do you make your work?
Kiera: Foremost, I consider myself to be a traditional fine artist; where materiality and texture are essential components of my work. I want my films to look visually complex and richly textured, referencing the emotional complexity embedded in the work. Creating films by hand, evinces the makers mark, and produces imagery that is raw and imperfect, rather than overly clean or slick. My films involve extensive drawing, sculpture, and painting for sets, puppet stop motion animations, and other forms of frame-by-frame animation. Before I was introduced to artistic, experimental film, I would envision completed paintings in my mind, now I do this within the medium of film. I think of my films as surreal paintings that animate in the viewers unconscious through the transitory intermingling of image, sound, and meaning.
My cinematic process starts organically by snippets of a shot or a portrait of a character presenting itself to me. The remainder of my process is more deliberate, laborious and organized. I spend a lot of time writing; beginning with an initial investigation into what a film feels like and who and what the characters are. I research and experiment with a sundry of materials for character and set constructions. I create detailed drawings of the film’s characters, sets, and write a linear script describing scenes, shots, and characters’ interactions. I love designing and creating a whole world and spending hours working alone on drawings for characters and animations.
I have only one assistant on my films, my partner Ben. The intimacy of working with my partner suits my creative needs and personal expression in my work. My left hand is paralyzed, making two handed activities impossible for me. Ben constructs and animates the armatured puppets for my films, while I create the two-dimensional animations. The valence of sound is important to me, how it emotes and complicates a film: Designing the soundscape for a film is an integral component to my work. Since I work with only one assistant, my films take a significant amount of time to produce, but I find the direct engagement, creative agency, and intensity very rewarding.
What is it that you are most interested in expressing with your art?
My work addresses themes of loss, isolation, and trauma. I am interested in deeply seeing; creating work that is disturbing and validates traumatic experiences by drawing viewers attention to aspects of human behavior we would rather ignore. I create enigmatic abstract narratives; entrusting the viewer to bring their own perspective to their reading of my films. I ask the viewer to watch, listen, and have an experience. This is an interaction; a combination of the world I create, referencing my own psyche, and how it affects the viewer’s affect. The viewer and I meet in a middle space of a shared emotion.
Tell me about your latest film project, Obscurer. What is that film about and where did its inspiration come from? Where can folks see the film right now?
OBSCURER (2018, 19:00, DCP, 4K) explores the fragile microcosm of a reclusive children’s author and her figmental companions where reality, illusion, and madness intermingle. Stop motion animation seamlessly interweaves with live motion to create an abstract narrative where themes of isolation, mental illness, and loss are enacted through characters that evade trust. Obscurer questions agency, power, and vulnerability within a framework of dysfunction and ambiguity.
Two women were the inspirational roots for OBSCURER; the children’s author Sylvia Cassedy (Behind the Attic Wall, 1983) and a curious individual I observed trimming a tree in her front yard with scissors while wearing welding goggles and red coveralls. I molded these women into a fictional depiction of a solitary writer who lives a constrained existence that blurs the line between reality and delusion. She hypnotically writes in an indiscernible script. The language appears linguistically plausible but is semantically meaningless. Her animated companions are psychological manifestations of innocence and malevolence, disparate traits also present in the main character herself.
OBSCURER took three years to complete, was supported by a grant from the Jerome Foundation, and currently is being submitted to film festivals, galleries, and museums worldwide for screening opportunities. It will be screening at MassArt on October 3rd with the Black Maria Film Festival, at Alfred State College on October 7th and then traveling to the Gwen Frostic School of Art in Michigan on November 5 as part of an exhibition titled 17 days curated by Adriane Little. OBSCURER’s trailer can be viewed here: https://vimeo.com/244418412
I am very curious about your path as an artist. What helped start your career and what has sustained it?
I have made art since childhood, drawing at the kitchen table, while my mother, a ceramist, worked close by. I remember visiting her studio; light streaming through the windows, illuminating the aromatic clay dust hovering in the air. It was a place of autonomy, possibility, and exploration. My early experiences with art fostered the value of being an artist. After surviving a deadly car accident, but suffering a stroke, I studied Psychology to understand the mind, brain, and cognitive effects of emotional and physical trauma. I returned to art after meeting my partner Ben, who took an interest in my artistic ideas and offered the use of his hands to help me make my work. A pivotal movement in my career was seeing the hand crafted animations of Stacey Steers and the animated worlds of The Brothers Quay while in graduate school: I knew I wanted to make films that incorporated fine art materials to construct an abstract narrative.
I sustain my career intrinsically by believing that to create is to be fully human. Art celebrates our intelligence and apical cognitions that realize creativity. Art is a collective signifier; exercising personal expression and simultaneously impacting audiences profoundly by challenging perceptions and convictions. I am an artist to honor our unique humanity.
Extrinsically I sustain my career by receiving support and recognition through exhibitions, screenings, grants, and most recently The McKnight Fellowship in Media Arts to validate the merit of my practice. I reach out to other artists and curators to share my progress on projects, discuss ideas, and stay connected. A past mentor of mine once said, “take care of the work and the work will take care of you.” This phrase sustains me after rejections and reinforces me to keep working.
Can you tell me more about your McKnight Fellowship in Media Arts? What was that experience like for you? What type of commitment is a fellowship like that?
It has been a great honor to be awarded a McKnight Fellowship; to have my work recognized by the Foundation and curatorial panel. Through the Fellowship, I have loved working with FilmNorth and meeting current and past Fellows for connections. FilmNorth is a wonderful resource in Minnesota and genuinely wants filmmakers of all genres to succeed by having their work seen and celebrated. For me, the most lasting effect of being awarded a Fellowship has been the validation it grants. This helped me reach out to well known artists around the world for conversations, something that I normally would not have done, as I am an introvert. Since the Fellowship is a recognition of artistic accomplishments, and not a production grant, its scope and meaning extends beyond a specific project and advocates continual exploration, development as an artist, and encouragement to keep creating your work. A short artist profile film created by FilmNorth’s students about my practice can be viewed here: https://vimeo.com/315714095
Are there challenges that you face as an artist? What do you feel you need more of as an artist?
I feel the biggest challenge I face as an artist is that my work is not easily classified, making it difficult to program for film festivals. My films are not advocacy and have a loose narrative structure rather than telling a direct or clear story; they span across the genres of Experimental, Animation, and Avant-garde. I purposefully leave questions unanswered. I understand that this can feel uncomfortable, but I think there is merit in complexity and dissonance. I believe that art should be challenging. Unfortunately, the film industry is still heavily male-dominated and I feel, at times, that sexism negatively affects opportunities for my work to be seen.
I would love for there to be a broader acceptance of artistic film and more venues to share these productions with the public. For me, an audience concludes the artistic process, by sharing in the experience.
Do you have any new projects you are working on?
I am concluding pre-production on a new film, THE GARDEN SEES FIRE. Conrad Richter’s novel, The Trees (1940) and my family’s hereditary struggle with bipolar disorder are catalytic inspirations for the imagery that will inform the film. THE GARDEN SEES FIRE is the second installment in a trilogy exploring mental pathologies and loosely inspired by specific literary works. It will be an armatured puppet and drawing stop motion animation incorporating hand manipulated 16mm film frame-by-frame. The film will explore the untamed wildness of the land and mind and a burning desire to besiege and control both. I hope to release the film in early 2021. Original character drawings and plasticine sculptures for mold making can be seen here: http://www.kierafaber.com/The_Garden_Sees_Fire
Would you like to share anything else?
Thank you Jes for your enthusiasm and support of my work. It is meaningful to me to have my practice recognized and appreciated.
Thanks for answering my questions, Kiera! You’re amazing!
All images courtesy of the artist.
Artists I Admire is a series of interviews with artists I think highly of.