Croatian film critic and curator Ejla Kovačević did an interview with me for UltraDogme, and I felt very grateful for her interest in matters of gender equality and women's representation. I was also very happy that we got to speak about my latest films Oh, Butterfly! and In the Beginning, Woman Was the Sun. Here is an excerpt:
Hiratsuka’s poem alludes to religious mythology as well as historical facts that women, indeed, used to have autonomy and power. In the beginning of my film, we predominantly see images of the moon—this also directly quotes Hiratsuka’s poem, that women today were like the moon, “living dependent on others, reflecting their brilliance.” According to the Global Gender Gap Report, conducted by the World Economic Forum, Japan has been fluctuating somewhere between the 120th and 130th places in the past decade or so, out of 146 countries surveyed. While more women than ever before have entered the workplace, Japan has one of the lowest levels of gender equality among industrialized countries, and business opportunities remain geared toward men. Over the first half of the film, images of the moon dominate that of the sun, but over the course of the second half, the sun comes out more strongly, and the film ends with shots of solar flares. With the intensity of the fierce flicker between the sun and the moon, I wanted to metaphorically translate the struggle for social progress and gender parity.
Here's an excerpt of the interview with Ivčo Ružić for kulturpunkt.hr, in Croatian. Click on the link below for the English version.
I moved to Germany when I was about 20 years old - and one of the first things I noticed is how the light was different. It took me forever, possibly even decades, to get used to the fact that there is less sunlight in Germany and that the light looks more yellowish. For many years, even now, I still miss the Pacific light - it’s very bright, very white in the summer, and it makes everything look different - the way you look at nature, landscapes, or even a city. When I moved to Berlin I felt I also really missed mountains and the ocean and various landscapes from Japan. Berlin has its own charm, its plain and flat landscape, and so I realized that nature and landscapes are another aspect of how you relate to time and especially a place. It's not just culture, it's not just identity, it's not just the people, the food and the way you live, but it's also the larger landscape that surrounds you, how you feel at home in it, how you feel connected to it and how you take pleasure from nature. And it took me a long time to appreciate the German colors, I mean they are also beautiful, just entirely different. That was another aspect in trying to deal with these questions of being in a place and identity, identifying.
I liked the title, Labor of Love, because it acknowledges love as work — and the work love does. I was aware of its historical references to the socio-political campaigns from the second wave feminist movement(s) that discussed the invisible and unpaid labor that women had performed historically; labor that, to this day, remains unpaid, underappreciated, and undervalued. There was something that resonated with my practice as an experimental filmmaker, and with my personal struggles to keep going for over a decade and a half after graduating from art school. My films didn’t make money, and the financial support was so intermittent, rare and unreliable, it was by no means easy to keep going.Click here to read a version of the text.
Here is an excerpt from an interview in English, by Enes Serenli, Mert Mustafa Babacan of Othon Cinema. Translation into Turkish by Dilara Şengül.
Over the course of years, from film to film, I moved away from the flicker in its strictest form. I tried to create complexity by adding multiple layers of images, various zooms, fades, superimpositions, a lapping effect (images seem to lick and roll across the screen like liquid), a vortex effect (the images slowly seem to swirl in and around themselves) and simultaneities (the viewer may feel like they being drawn into the image and at the same time being pushed out of the image). I’ve used various frequencies and over time, I’ve slowed down the rhythm so much that I’d say my recent films aren’t strictly flicker films anymore: the effect is closer to a throbbing or pulsating of the images rather than the clear-cut strobe that is so well known and associated with the art form.Click here to read the full interview.
The 'title' of this video is taken from the name of the eponymous apartments we stayed in: Jayalakshmi Apartmemts 102 and (later) 301, in Malleshwaram, Bangalore. Little did we know upon arriving in India that Katrin, Himanshi and I would get along so well – and that we'd spend almost every free minute together. The unexpectedly intense and amazing beginning of new friendships and coming collaborations!Click here to see a video series
Here is an excerpt from Ayisha Abraham's introduction to our Q&A at Experimenta 2023:
Sylvia’s films seem to span a taut canvas of the accessible and the difficult. In a simple, straight forward narrative, she chronicles the journey across oceans, and a maelstrom of emotions, as her parents break the boundaries of love and work, to venture across cultures, to trail blaze new paths. In the difficult films, strobe lights refuse to settle on image or story, defying any logic of montage and meaning-making, revisiting found footage in its original form of fragments, and momentary slices and splices. Her body of work, evokes the body politic of people, and natural ecosystems, bringing us closer to what is found and what is lost, not just in film and memory, but in life and in existence itself. Be it in the felling of forest trees, and my favourite by the way, is the abstraction just before the ominous last image of a saw before it fells the tree, that crashes to the ground. It no longer remains ‘abstract’ or ‘anti-narrative’, or ‘experimental’ in its non-meaning mode, but it clinches an ethical outlook to the ways of the world and says it all, simply, in essence - the rapacious colonization of the human upon natural worlds.Click here to see read Ayisha's full introductory text and documentation photos
Teaching the Interim Class at Srishti has been one of the most humbling and rewarding experience I have had, with highly receptive, curious, generous and very talented young students. There was laughter, some tears, some fears—every single student pushed their own limits and transcended boundaries to create something entirely idiosyncratic, finding their very own cinematic language and personal expression. It is so rare and precious to open up a highly conducive exchange and conversation, and I am very curious to see what the students will be up to in the future!
With thanks to the Goethe Institute Bangalore for bringing me to India; Ayisha Abraham, Payal Kapadia and Sohrab Hura who generously made time to speak with/in our class; and special thanks Priya Sen who acted as assisting professor at Srishti and was with us throughout the journey.Click here for an interview and videos
I am part of the exhibition Growing Like a Tree: Sent a Letter at the Sunaparanta Goa Centre for the Arts, curated by Bunu Dhungana and Sadia Marium Rupa. Here is an excerpt from the exhibition announcement:
The title of the exhibition draws from Dayanita Singh’s work Sent A Letter (2007) that was exhibited as a citation in the first iteration of the show. Expanding on the idea that an unopened photo-book can enfold within it diaries, exhibitions and correspondences, Growing Like A Tree: Sent A Letter returns to this source to evoke the tactile act of composing letters. It gathers images and sounds as dispatches from artistic journeys across different contexts, highlighting the shared moments of nurture, growth, decay, pollination and memory-making.Click here to see read the full program text and documentation of the exhibition
I made an oral history with Birgit Hein and Ute Aurand. This is an excerpt from my concluding remarks:
In 2001, when I went back to University, approximately 70% of students at the University of Arts Berlin were female. Gender equality was far from acceptable: 38% women had jobs in lower positions, 26% in middle teaching positions, and only 15% of master classes were led by women (Haase, 2007). From my perspective, part of the problem was rooted in the fact that there were not enough female role models, and that, as Ute Aurand mentioned in our discussion, women didn’t have the same networks and support systems to tap into as their male counterparts.Click here to read the oral history
I wrote an imaginary letter to Paul Clipson for Light Cone's 40th anniversary. Here is an excerpt:
You know that I never like to reveal much about what I’m working on, I used to say that if I speak about it, I won’t do it…almost to a superstitious degree. You could relate, even though our films were so different. And we laughed when we realized that we had influenced each other…after watching our films together, usually at the NYFF, or at ATA. I know that I’ve used shots of a mantis, a moth, and a butterfly because I saw so many spiders and flies in your films. So every time I introduce an insect, I consider it my “Paul moment.” Remember when you suddenly realized that you were shooting extreme close-ups of eyes after watching my work? We were happy about these more obvious impacts, and thought it was healthy to admit the influences that directly or indirectly shape us. That it’s a beautiful thing, a kind of self-awareness of the own process and development.Click here to read the letter
how does the Filmmaker’s Imagination
release the use of the frames? the number
of frames used
how do the frames black and white lengths
reach the spectator’s imagination?
Home movie shot collectively with Aily Nash, Fern Silva, Jackie Wang, Sky Hopinka and I in Cape Cod, 10/2019.
Super 8 handprocessed at AgX Film Collective, Boston, with kind help of Stefan Grabowski.
Raw film footage is paired here with a song written, performed and recorded by Jackie Wang.
I'm featured in a video-essay that "approaches ideas of postmigrant feeling and be/longing in Berlin," made by Omar Kasmani.
Home Movie made together with fellow Radcliffe Fellows 2019/20.
My photo is featured in the photo section of the event The Stories We Tell and the Objects We Keep: Asian American Women and the Archives. Harvard Radcliffe Institute, Friday March 5, 2021. Click here to link to the website.Photo caption: I only ever met my Japanese grandmother once, for about an hour. This is the only photo ever taken of us together – it shows three generations. I was born and raised in Japan, yet I never met my Japanese family. When I was 25, I invited my mother to go on a trip to the Tohoku region, with the intention of passing by her hometown, a place she had never returned to since she left it at 17. According to her, she was disowned from her family when she married her German husband, my father. On one hand, this photo depicts my maternal lineage, but on the other, to me, it also represents the irreparable family rift that so deeply marked my experience.
Aily Nash and I made a contribution to this book together. Here is an exceprt from the letter I wrote:
The first short film I made, Memories (2004), was an attempt at constructing my family history. My German father moved to Japan in 1958 and lived there for 36 years. I don’t know where or how he met my Japanese mother. The mystery and secrecy around my parents’ lives before I was born—combined with the fact that neither of them ever wanted to speak about their respective childhood experiences during WWII in Germany and Japan—just made me more curious. But at some point, I realized that the family secrets would always remain secrets, so I began thinking about history and memory in more general terms. Maybe I was looking beyond my own family history for a transnational history that pertained to my own identity. I found that history was usually narrated through a monocultural and national lens, and it seemed full of erasures and exclusions. I feel the desire to look beyond some of these gaps, to connect my experience with those that came before.
Aily Nash and I made a contribution to this book together. Here is an exceprt from the letter I wrote:
The first short film I made, Memories (2004), was an attempt at constructing my family history. My German father moved to Japan in 1958 and lived there for 36 years. I don’t know where or how he met my Japanese mother. The mystery and secrecy around my parents’ lives before I was born—combined with the fact that neither of them ever wanted to speak about their respective childhood experiences during WWII in Germany and Japan—just made me more curious. But at some point, I realized that the family secrets would always remain secrets, so I began thinking about history and memory in more general terms. Maybe I was looking beyond my own family history for a transnational history that pertained to my own identity. I found that history was usually narrated through a monocultural and national lens, and it seemed full of erasures and exclusions. I feel the desire to look beyond some of these gaps, to connect my experience with those that came before.Click here to read both Aily's and my letters
nownownow – On the works of Sylvia Schedelbauer
Excerpt from a text by Alice Butler for the exhibition booklet at Grazer Kunstverein.
Spring 2019, curated by Kate Strain.
Schedelbauer tells of how she adopts the flicker in some cases as a means of facilitating what she would like to do with footage that she finds in a compromised state. The flicker enables her to extend out the duration of a scene for example – it means she can impose her will over the material rather than the other way around. Schedelbauer says however that she is also driven to find ways of making this so-called found material ‘speak more’, a phrase that reveals a desire to uncover hidden or latent significance in largely discarded footage. This connects strongly to the idea that images which are no longer, or in fact were never, in the public consciousness have particular worth because of what Bruce Conner describes as, ‘a philosophical premise that’s been around for a long time: if you want to know what’s going on in a culture look at the things that everybody takes for granted, and put a lot of emphasis on that rather than what they want to show you.’Click here to read the full text and see documentation photos of the exhibition