10 Questions: Eli Cortiñas

By Aina Pomar - Monday, February 27, 2017
10 Questions: Eli Cortiñas

It’s hard to find artists who talk as passionately about montage and film editing as Eli Cortiñas (Las Palmas, Canary Islands, 1979). You can see her dreamy expression running through all the potential stories she has in her hands, but with a theoretical and rational goal that emanates from years of seeing and working with films. She uses a similar modus operandi when creating her sculptures and collages, often independent from her video pieces, but at times establishing parallelisms with them.

10 questions: Eli Cortiñas

It’s hard to find artists who talk as passionately about montage and film editing as Eli Cortiñas (Las Palmas, Canary Islands, 1979). You can see her dreamy expression running through all the potential stories she has in her hands, but with a theoretical and rational goal that emanates from years of seeing and working with films. She uses a similar modus operandi when creating her sculptures and collages, often independent from her video pieces, but at times establishing parallelisms with them.

Right after the closure of her last show in Brussels and shortly before a series of trips to Frankfurt for a screening and talk, a field research position in Argentina and an artist residency in Switzerland, Eli Cortiñas makes some time to open the doors of her studio in Berlin and talk about her work to Artdependence.

1.     When did you decide to become an artist?

I wish I had the genius of Marcel Broodthaers to mark my birth as an artist as he marvelously did when he decided to stop being a poet and announced his beginning as an artist. Or like Tomaso Binga when she decided to become a male artist instead of the female one she had been. I can’t pinpoint a specific time or moment when I decided to be an artist. I’ve been very connected to film since a very early age. I ended up getting a grant to study cinema in Denmark and afterwards I became, almost by chance, a film editor. I worked as an editor for documentary and experimental film and studied later art at the Academy of Media Arts in Cologne, Germany.

I fell in love with montage and considered it a further writing tool, so from there on it all just came naturally to me. I wasn’t interested in classical forms of story telling and the hierarchy of production in film didn’t appeal to me so I studied art and began to help myself with everything around me as a source from which I could begin to work with, any material, generated by myself or coming from somewhere else would be integrated into collages of moving images, sculptures or paper arrangements.

The most given of givens, 2016, 3 channel video, 9 min., video stills 

2.     Some of your references are filmmakers like Cassavetes (and let’s not forget Gena Rowlands!), Godard and Truffaut. How do you integrate their influence in your work?

Instead of saying I am influenced by them I would rather say that I was socialized with cinema. I left home very young and grew up surrounded by a bunch of very interesting theater dramaturges, actors and musicians. They brought me to author cinema and that kind of built a sort of cinematic memory in me, which of course I have enhanced over the years working with the appropriation of films.

3.     Your main medium to create your video works is appropriation and re-edition. Does your use of these techniques define the work itself or are they a vehicle to tell a story?

Found footage can seldom deny its provenience and I never intend it to. As a matter of fact I like to expose the tools I’m working with but of course it always serves a narration and the need to tell a story. How many lives can one and the same picture have depending on the context you place it in? For me, appropriation is about not trusting the images for what they stand for, about revisiting an image over an over again, or using one and the same scene to express an endless number of thoughts and create various scenarios. That’s how I started creating my images, not only by filming but using the imagery that surrounded me, from popular culture, to fictional films or home movies acquired on eBay.

Dial M for Mother, 2008, 2 channel video, 11'30'', video still

4.     One of your most iconic works is Dial M for Mother. What does this work mean to you?

There is a reconstitutive reason to re-make myself and this may be the thread that weaves many of my plots. It is a very intuitive process in which using my own biography in the search for answers, I re-think the memory, first the individual one and then the collective with the help of cinematic memory. It is complex to enter an area like the one in Dial M for Mother, which is obviously so personal, and to handle it in such a way that it does not become something merely "private" but rather something that can reach a point of universal reflection. I use those elements, let's call them autobiographical, as a tool, a vehicle that allows me to treat the subject closer at first sight but revealing later the many layers of the case being staged. The expectation of the viewer changes as a result of this treatment and allows me to delve into a deeper and much wider field, which envolves to complex social constructions I want to reflect on. In this work I wanted to create a kaleidoscopic image of the maternal figure, a sort of alma mater as a container for any kind of re-signification. It is not always clear if it is about a mother-daughter relationship. The double screen of the two channel video that plays with the figure of Gena Rowlands speaking to its own reflection and the omnipresent voice without the proper body of a film figure that never appears are intended to physically create a sense of uneasiness and discomfort that goes against any constructed norm defining what a mother figure ought to be.

 

The most given of givens, 2016, 3 channel video, HD/ found footage, 9 min., installation view Waldburger Wouters, Brussels (PHOTO CREDIT: Isabelle Arthuis)

The most given of givens, 2016, 3 channel video, HD/ found footage, 9 min., installation view Waldburger Wouters, Brussels (PHOTO CREDIT: Isabelle Arthuis)

The most given of givens, 2016, 3 channel video, 9 min., video stills 

5.     Tell us about your most recent work/ exhibition?

I just screened and exhibited a new three channel video work, The Most Given of Givens, at the Centre Pompidou in Paris and at Waldburger Wouters in Brussels. While examining the first Tarzan movies produced in Hollywood I came across some imagery that unsettled me profoundly.  In ‘Tarzan, the Ape Man’, there is a central sequence that gets repeated throughout the film in which the population of a particular unmentioned area in Africa is shown in an ethnographical style and through a rear projection brought into the Hollywood studios, where the well lightened white actors would then interact with the projection of the African people.

I read later about that material being recorded by a second unit crew who flew to the African continent in order to bring the real ‘Africa’ to the studios. The clash between these two very different visual approaches; the ethnographical one, where the camera is openly studying a subject, showing group scenes engaged most of the time in some sort of mystical endeavor that would appear to be mysterious, if not dangerous to the western eye, and the well rehearsed and perfectly lightened and framed studio shots that would demonstrate the elaborated visual range of the Hollywood machinery, was one of the aspects that caught my attention. I must add that the openly racist point of view on the subject, which had already started with western literature, is hardly bearable to watch or read, but studying more recent approaches within the genre of adventure films you can clearly see how this type of narration still hasn’t been seriously reconsidered today. Examples like James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’, even the just released new Tarzan movie and the Disney production are just a few examples of how these particular genres haven’t been decolonized at all.

Another aspect I was interested in was the representation of nature in the western sense - as animalistic and savage. In the myth of Tarzan, both origins flow together; he is white and simultaneously a wild animal. He is the white, sculptural body of Classicism or the Renaissance who grew up in the midst of the jungle but remains bizarrely enough remote from millennial cultures, which have a place in this nature.

6.     What do you need to have in your studio or working space to work the way you need?

It depends very much on the type of work I’m doing. When I work on the video pieces I need mostly just a good monitor, my computer and some hard drives. But I do build stages and objects as well. Some of these sculptural pieces are conceived for the video work and some purely as installations. I appreciate having a space wide enough to be able to switch from one modus of production to the other, but to be quite honest, I travel so much that sometimes my working cosmos is reduced to books, a camera and a laptop. I like being able to produce with almost nothing, just by myself and on the road. It’s freeing. The deficits of this mode of production add an autonomous and rough quality to the work that I highly appreciate.

7.     How does the city where you live, Berlin, influence your work and practice?

I’ve been a traveler and a nomad ever since I can remember, so I make places my home very quickly and then again I can leave without feeling rootless.

Berlin is very chilled and it’s also a big city but still manageable. Life here follows the motto “live and let live”, although things are rapidly changing in Germany and in fact the world, destroying all the hard-won openness. These are very dark times we are living in and it reflects on the city and us.

Quella che cammina (The one who walks), 2014, single channel video, video still

Quella che cammina (The one who walks), 2014, single channel video, video still

8.     What are your current interests in relation to your artistic practice?

I’m developing a long essay film about the history and actual consequences of the use of natural resources by humans. Although the research procedure is quite close to a documentary film process, the film will develop an experimental approach to this very important and wide issue. I’m also currently in the production of a middle length video work that deals with the ‘face-less’ representation of military conflicts and migration. I’m also developing an installation and collage series called 'From An Ethnographical Museum Revisited', which refers to a collage series from the 20’s by the German artist Hannah Höch.

9.     What do you dislike about the art world?

The art world is quite an enormous term to grasp and it sounds at times like an empty container to me. What I do dislike about the system I’m working in though is the way art history and parts of this system have been treating and keep treating female artists. The fashionable so called ‘discoveries’ of female positions in the last years, most of them being ‘discovered’ in older ages or already dead are for me a form of neo-colonialism. I would rather like to see a system that supports women artists while they are alive and kicking and produces content and thoughts that matter.

From an ethnographic museum revisited #6, 2016, collage on paper, 29 x 23 cm 

 

From an ethnographic museum revisited #7, 2016, collage on paper, 29 x 23 cm

10.  What living artist do you admire?

I admire so many, I deeply love artists and art, that’s why being an art professor the last years has been so rewarding for me, but if I have to name one I would say Lynn Hershman. I think her body of work is always challenging the media and its time over and over again. I’m quite amazed with that quality that emanates from everything she does: film, video, interactive installation or sculpture and photography. She always seems to be ahead of her time and already moving on into the next possibility that any particular medium might offer. There is so much tension to it. I admire her audacity and ongoing hunger.

Aina Pomar graduated in Sociology and Photography before completing a Master in New Media Art Curatorship. She has collaborated with Fundació Pilar i Joan Miró in Majorca and with CCCBLab and Fundació Foto Colectania in Barcelona. She moved to London to work at the Cultural Office of the Embassy of Spain, where she coordinated visual arts and exhibition projects with the aim of promoting Spanish culture and artists across the United Kingdom. She currently collaborates with various galleries and art projects in London.

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Museo Jumex (a private art collection based in Mexico City, Mexico) / David Chipperfield. Image © Simon Menges

Museo Jumex (a private art collection based in Mexico City, Mexico) / David Chipperfield. Image © Simon Menges

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