Another Experiment By Women: A Conversation with Lili White

Still from MIRROR MOVES for PRIVATE EYES by Alice Cohen, Courtesy of the Artist

Lili White is an internationally exhibited experimental painter and filmmaker whose work has been described  as “a magical act.”  Known for pieces such as The Dreaming: A Sleepover Research Project at Shofuso – the Japanese garden in Philadelphia – where she slept overnight recording her dreams, she describes her own work as exploring power, repression, and the ramifications of inaction.  She aspires to create a form which is like that of experiencing a dream.

Throughout her career White has curated alongside her artistic practice, and her current curatorial projects seem to be almost an extension of the explorations she undertakes in her artistic work.  For the past year she has been programming the monthly Women’s Nights at Anthology Film Archives’ New Filmmakers Series, showing short work ranging from Diane Kitchen’s subtle and sublime Ecstatic Vessels to Alice Cohen’s playful cut-out animations as seen in Mirror Moves for Private Eyes. The work is diverse, abundant, sometimes imperfect, consistently thought-provoking, and occasionally mind-blowing. You aren’t likely to have seen it before, but you may want to see it again.

Last November, emerging out of a collaboration with Victoria Kereszi’s Eye-Am: Women Behind the Lens, White curated the first Another Experiment By Women Film Festival (AXWFF).  She challenged participants to present their own vision of movie making and rethink what experimental means.  As anyone who has been to one of the Anthology screenings lately can attest, it’s a project that’s growing into something quite magical indeed.

The next program takes place at Anthology Film Archives on June 15th and centers around themes of love and sex.  Screenings at Anthology in July and September will lead up to the Another Experiment By Women Film Festival this October at Media Noche Gallery and November at Millennium Film Workshop.

Still from Ecstatic Vessels by Diane Kitchen, Courtesy of the Artist

KW: Tell me about the Another Experiment by Women Film Festival?

LW:  I think we’re in an interesting time of change.  Remember that quote about how no art can be truly democratic unless the materials are as cheap as a pencil and a piece of paper?  So many people have a computer and probably an editing program: video is accessible.  With the YouTube phenomenon we’re immersed in an age where anyone can use these tools to try to communicate.  So this is a festival that’s experimental in nature and uses work made by women seeing what they can come up with as their own unique vision.  How do I put that?  I want people to be experimenting.  I want to see something fresh, not necessarily some kind of form that they learned at school or somewhere else.  I’m curious to see these things together: a new experimental form and a woman showing it to me.

KW: So what does experimental mean to you?

LW:  Experimental means you don’t know how it’s going to come out when you first start to make it. And although I talked about the computer and video, we’re also accepting other media forms including film.

KW: Can you talk more about the idea of a unique women’s vision and how you contextualize that?

LW:  Someone needs to see the work an artist makes.  There needs to be an audience.  This is New York, everything is here. Why not, since there isn’t anything like that here?  Women may have different issues and concerns, want to be able to put that into some kind of artistic form, and AXWFF gives them their own space and time to have their work seen.  That’s the starting level.  It will go wherever they’re going to take it.

KW:  There is sometimes an idea that we’re supposed to be past that, that it’s in some some way no longer needed or is even passé.

LW:  The women who made it in the 1970’s are in the museums– but we need a new starting block for us, others.

KW:  I wanted to ask you about that, because you used the term democratic

LW:  Maybe some see the world as just a high and low:  there’s YouTube, there’s the museums, and there’s a lot of film festivals that use name players to draw people through the doors.  Maybe that’s a marketing thing.

Still from Ecstatic Vessels by Diane Kitchen, Courtesy of the Artist

KW:  So what makes Another Experiment By Women different?

LW:  I want to show the best, the newest, and I’m not going to be concerned about how one person’s movie will look next to another’s movie.  If we want to see it  over and over again, that’s a measuring stick.  That’s a different thing than having a theme curated around something like landscape, light, or gender.  I want work that shows there’s a brain behind it.

KW:  One of things that I was taken with when we were having our initial conversations was when you said you, “weren’t interested in promoting art celebrity.”

LW:  I’m interested in people showing their own personal mind. The work needs to be strong.  The fact that these are shorts gives exposure to a greater number of artists.

After the screenings at Anthology we’re going to a nearby inexpensive bar, White Rabbit,  to see if this will grow into  some kind of community: discuss the films—  as a painter we’d  critique our work: people talked about what worked what didn’t.  At White Rabbit, supportive discussion can take place.  Perhaps women will start helping each other— either making things or thinking about things in a different way.

KW: Tell me about the work, who is applying?

LW:  I’m getting a lot of stuff from Europe and Asia— international filmmkers like Liliana Resnick from Croatia, and Italy’s Cinzia Sarto. We’ve screened work by Alysse Stepanian, Caroline Bernard,  Cecilia Araneda,  Muriel Montini.

KW:  You said you weren’t interested in promoting art celebrities, but then the next thing you said was a lot of the stuff coming in from Europe is from art celebrities over there.

LW:  The women I just mentioned are heavy hitters.

KW:  Are you getting more internationally than from here?

LW:  Maybe half are European.  I’ve gotten a lot of from the states as well.  We’ve screened people like Sasha Waters Freyer with You Can See The Sun In Late December that presents issues around maternity; and Noe Kidder with Paradise about the loss of her father.  But I’d like to see even more from New York, since part of what I’m interested in is fostering a community– one right here that is in internationl dialogue.

KW:  Are there themes or qualitative differences in what you’re getting from the States and from Europe?

LW:  The European stuff may be a little more personal, but I’d have to think about it.

Still from Ecstatic Vessels by Diane Kitchen, Courtesy of the Artist

KW:  You said you’re not interested in seeing what people learned in school.  I wanted to follow up on that, because I know many people feel like you have to have gone to certain schools to make it in certain New York art scenes.

LW:  I think a lot of things are programmed in our society.  That game is one game, but can we make another one?  Usually serious work dialogues with the past.  That’s OK, but are there other people out there who want to make meaningful work and are willing to put it out there? AXWFF could be a place for them. If people support it, then there is a need for it.  People have to be there investing their time, and their energy, and probably a little bit of their money, too. We will probably fundraise because the The Manhattan Community Arts Fund grant that I received to do this festival was less than what I requested.

KW:  I like that you said, “willing to put it out there,” because it really is a risk everytime-

LW:  Yeah, it is a risk!

KW:  It sometimes feels like you should always already feel comfortable doing that if you’re making work as an artist, but every time you decide to really go for it and put it out there it can be scary.

LW:  Yeah it is.  And I don’t necessarily want things that are perfect.  A mundane example is, “Oh my tripod, I should’ve used a tripod….” That’s not what I’m talking about.  I’m talking about having some kind of fresh view on things that you’re making, more than anything else.  So let’s see if that can actually happen!?

KW:  Your philosophy about the work has been very visible in the screenings I’ve seen: not all of it was perfect, but it all had a very strong voice.  Some of it was absolutely mindblowing, while some of it made me wonder how a particular voice could develop under the right circumstances. I like that you’re starting with the work but also talking about making connections and forming community. It’s working in the right direction.

LW:   Maybe it’s too idealistic?

KW:  It’s the world–we have to invent it.

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About Kerrie Welsh

Kerrie Welsh is an experimental filmmaker whose work has been presented in galleries, festivals, and international conferences. She teaches in Tisch School of the Arts’ Undergraduate Film & Television program.
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One Response to Another Experiment By Women: A Conversation with Lili White

  1. Pingback: New York curator Lili White on “Another Experiment by Women” | CECILIA ARANEDA

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