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August 18, 2023

FEMMEBIT and the New California

Feral File’s new exhibition celebrates a collective of digital artists upending Hollywood fantasy
Credit: Eve-Lauryn LaFountain, (Still from) Waabanishimo: Miigaazh (She Dances Till Daylight: Fight), 2023. Courtesy of the artist
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FEMMEBIT and the New California
The exhibition, “In Medias Res,” curated by FEMMEBIT, is now open on Feral File.

FEMMEBIT’s exhibition, “In Medias Res,” is our devoted missive to Los Angeles and its Southern California landscape. This exhibition negotiates the City of Angels through artistic praxes, offering an imaginative counter-dialogue to the mainstream media and iconic Hollywood culture. “In Medias Res” reflects today’s digital uprootedness from time-based narratives of Hollywood’s silver screen to invoke liminal spaces of belonging.

The artists showcased on Feral File, four of whom are interviewed here, have rigorous art practices in film, digital art, and internet culture. Among them, Petra Cortright employs consumer and corporate software to create intricate digital landscapes. Her New Landscapes 2023 explore a simulated environment with enigmatic desert vistas. The works parallel Ellie Pritts’s captivating Arid Articulations (2023), which meditate on Joshua Tree’s Martian-like terrain using analog video and AI. 

Eve-Lauryn LaFountain (Chippewa), a multicultural indigenous artist, delves into ruminative, filmic explorations, merging Los Angeles nightscapes with daylight scenes. In Waabanishimo: Miigaazh (She Dances Till Daylight: Fight) (2023), the artist layers time cinematically to transform the urban horizon into a ceremonial space, which echoes the dreamy sequencing of the exhibition as a whole. In turn, JJ Stratford’s work, Television Figures (2023), blends glamorous human forms with electronic signals, offering a transgressive take on Hollywood’s imagery to express cultural resistance. 

JJ Stratford, (Still from) Television Figures #2, 2023. Courtesy of the artist

Each artist has crafted 33 unique pieces, a nod to numerology and the symbolic “angel number” 33, which alludes to Los Angeles. This thread underscores the exhibition, epitomizing the mystical and dreamlike individualized perspectives that capture the home we call Los Angeles. 

These artworks reinterpret Los Angeles from diverse and alternative viewpoints, capturing its essence beyond Hollywood paradigms. 

American culture continues to express an urgent desire for idyllic, sunny escapes (think “Barbie” culture), often in the face of impending catastrophe, including the multiple current entertainment industry strikes. Within this context, “In Medias Res” pursues deeper implications at the heart of American mainstream culture to create alternative spaces of reverie and resistance in both the City of Angels and society at large.

— Kate Parsons and Janna Avner

Petra Cortright, (Still from) New Landscapes 2023, 2023. Courtesy of the artist

Elisabeth Sweet: Few cities are more relevant to film than Los Angeles, which also has a vibrant Web3 community. How does the city of Los Angeles simultaneously play a role in your work and oppose it? 

Petra Cortright: I have a love-hate relationship with Los Angeles as a city, as well as the state of California, but I love the landscapes of California. I live on the edge of the city in the county at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains. Although I consider car culture to be a wider American theme, it’s definitely a large component of living in the Western United States. In the videos I’ve made, there is a bit of “driving”/POV feeling, almost like flying through the landscapes. 

The videos are based on dreams, but as a city Los Angeles is also based on dreams.

Eve-Lauryn LaFountain: Los Angeles was my home for 12 years. My family has a long history there. My grandparents were relocated from our reservation in North Dakota to LA in the 1950s as part of the Indian Relocation Act. My father was born in Compton, and when I moved to Echo Park in 2008 my uncle told me stories about playing with toy boats in the lake as a kid. 

I often think about the uprootedness my family must have felt when they lived in Los Angeles. I felt it too when I moved there. My work often explores the cycles of the city in relation to the cycles of the planets. Everything is swirling — the traffic creates light rivers, the stars and satellites are indistinguishable from one another. The work I have in “In Media Res” is meant to blur the lines between the natural and the man-made, the spirit world and reality. 

Los Angeles is so much more than what is seen on the silver screen. It’s a magical city full of dreams, but it’s also full of struggle. And while it’s drenched in golden sunshine, it’s also the smog that makes the sunsets so gorgeous. My work about the city is both a celebration of its beauty and a meditation on its contradictions.

Ellie Pritts, (Still from) Arid Articulations, 2023. Courtesy of the artist

Ellie Pritts: The landscapes featured in the series I created for this exhibition have been the backdrop of many Hollywood films, music videos, and photo shoots. There is a lot of pop culture tied to Joshua Tree. I feel that these desert parks have been glamorized when, in reality, they are harsh and unforgiving places whose ecosystems are fragile and threatened. I have tremendous respect for the desert and an endless fascination with it. In this series I wanted to juxtapose the vibrant color and splashy aesthetic of LA with the stark desert scenery just outside the city.

Jennifer Juniper Stratford: I was raised in Hollywood, California which is a pretty messed up place to be from.

While Hollywood projected a fantasy image of itself, I grew up in its dingy reality. 

All throughout the 1980s and ’90s I was a latchkey kid who went straight home after school, locked the doors, and watched TV for hours until my mother came home. The result is that my mind is completely mutated by broadcast media. Everything I make draws on the duality of Hollywood grittiness and the work and craft that goes into creating a fantasy. 

Eve-Lauryn LaFountain, Waabanishimo: Miigaazh (She Dances Till Daylight: Fight) #12, 2023. Courtesy of the artist

ES: Describe FEMMEBIT as a collective and how your work fits within its celebratory ethos? In what ways does FEMMEBIT align with the community-driven approach of Web3?

EL: This is my first project with FEMMBIT. I’m thrilled that they reached out and invited me to be a part of this exhibit. The whole process has been very open to what each artist wants to include based on a stellar statement written by those at the helm. Each part of the process has been transparent and all decisions are made as a collective, which I really appreciate. They’ve also made an extra effort to reach out to artists they want to collaborate with and bring into the fold. 

Web3 aspires to feminist ideals of collective power in organization, and the world at large could certainly use more of that kind of thinking. 

PC: I’ve been lucky to work with Kate Parsons over the years and it’s always been a wonderful experience, we have worked on some really nice projects together. I was just happy to be included in this show and to keep working together and to get the chance to meet new artists.

JJS: I don’t know anything about Web3 — this is really my first voyage. I hope I come back alive!

Casey Kauffmann, Drive Time #7, 2023. Courtesy of the artist

ES: What can you tell us about the works you’re exhibiting as part of “In Medias Res”?

EP: Arid Articulations is a series of short-form video artworks using generative AI trained on my extensive catalog of photography shot in Joshua Tree. That video output was run through analog glitch hardware and a video synthesizer and then finished with software. I have been creating art in and inspired by Joshua Tree for years, but this is my video series on the subject.

JJS: Television Figures is 33 versions of the same piece of looping video with its own unique analog process applied to it. I started by photographing a model in the studio and then experimenting with processing and manipulating the footage to discover beautiful video artifacts, colorways, combinations, mistakes, and interpretations.

PC: I’m presenting some video triptychs of new landscapes that are inspired by dreams and by California. They are a bit surrealist — loosely based on superblooms and driving.

EL: The work I’m exhibiting is a new reconstruction of 16mm time-lapse film that I shot over the course of several years in Los Angeles. This kind of methodical filmmaking is a ceremony for me, a ritual of repetition that invokes ghosts and magic. The film was shot using a Bolex Intervalometer. Each frame is a long exposure and each scene is shot over the course of several hours. 

For this iteration I’ve created 33 NFT videos from the original film, which was scanned to digital with sound made by my collaborator Jon Almaraz. Some of these vignettes are exactly as they were shot, while some are slowed down to show individual frames, and others are overlaid or sped up to manipulate time even more. Other versions of this project include gallery installation and film, but this is the first time I’ve done something like this in the NFT sphere.

Tuna Bora, Echoloji #8, 2023. Courtesy of the artist

ES: What stories can you tell uniquely with video, as opposed to other digital approaches? How would you describe the particular kind of video art you make?

JJS: I tend to like video that is somehow rooted in narrative, even if it’s highly experimental. I make telefantasies come true.

EP: Video artwork is unique because the concept of time is an integral and inextricable element of the medium. For me, this enables storytelling and worldbuilding that feels very immersive. As a being who experiences time, it feels natural to me. 

I’d describe my video artwork as hypnotic dreamscapes that are designed to inspire expansive thinking.

EL: My work takes many forms. Video is just one part of a multitude of tools in my practice. An interesting aspect of video and time-based media is that they demand a length of attention from the viewer — duration was one of the biggest revolutions of video when it first came out. Film always had the limitations of the size of the magazine whereas video could seemingly go on and on. 

I mix media from analog to digital and from screen to sculpture. My fluidity in making videos is what stands apart from most video art. It takes many forms and is just one aspect of the stories I tell. In a digital world, attention is the rarest commodity. Video is a fascinating way to explore and manipulate time. 

PC: I don’t include a lot of narrative in my work. If anything, I am more interested in the lack of stories. I like ambient things with a lot of space for interpretation.

Anna Luisa Petrisko, (Still from) Allure of the Poppy, 2023. Courtesy of the artist

ES: How does your work relate to the wider umbrella of video art, and how does it stand apart from it?

EP: My practice is constantly evolving, but at the moment I see my recursive and collaborative creative processes — working between AI, hardware, and software — as something that stands apart from a lot of what I have seen. However, it’s challenging for me to evaluate where my artwork stands in relation to other art or video art as a whole. I try to stay focused on the act of creation and keeping my mind free and open to the possibilities of inspiration.

PC: I didn’t think much about video art when making these [works] but I thought a lot about landscape painting, as I always do. I also thought about presenting a small sketch or scene and then, at times, showing some layers and architecture of the program.

JJS: I let all my knowledge of entertainment and Hollywood influence my video art so that it sits somewhere between entertainment and fine art. 

EL: My video practice is rooted in analog filmmaking. Many of my “video” works are actually shot on film. I’m not a media purist by any means — I love playing with the ways in which different forms take on different meanings. This is exemplified in my work for “In Media Res.” I shot it on 16mm film, scanned the negative, edited it as video, and then created NFTs from the videos. I mix media from analog to digital and from screen to sculpture. [This kind of] fluidity in making videos is what stands apart from most video art. It takes many forms and is just one aspect of the stories I tell. 

Huntrezz Janos, FeralFemme Huntrezz, 2023. Courtesy of the artist

ES: The new exhibition model of Feral File 2.0 means that every set is unique because each work is different. This is normal for generative artists, but not for video artists. Can you describe the process of creating unique iterations of your work for the exhibition? 

PC: It’s actually quite normal for me to think in terms of 1/1s. I make digital paintings and they are always unique with many variations that come from one file. However, it’s not generative — I produce every mark by hand via Wacom Tablet, Photoshop collage, etc., with every mark separated out individually. I have an entire language of paint strokes and pieces to work with to create different versions. 

I produce a lot of work and I am most happy if it is unique. I don’t care if you can “copy” the work, it is possible for digital things to have an aura

It’s not something that can really be defined — things either have an energy or they don’t. But you can inject an aura into a JPEG or an MP4. That being said, you also have to find a specific workflow in order to make a lot of videos that aren’t generative. It was a nice challenge actually. Initially, we thought we might make 100 videos for the show, but once we shifted to 33, I thought it would be nice to present video triptychs, which I’d never done before.

EP: I really enjoyed this process. Normally when I work on a series or a new piece I create many iterations and then struggle to pick the one or two that will be minted. It can be a bit heartbreaking to leave everything else on the cutting-room floor. I didn’t have to compromise for this series and I find that really refreshing.

Wednesday Kim, (Still from) LA Hal-mee-mee #21, 2023. Courtesy of the artist

EL: It was an extremely time-consuming process that involved shooting the video piece on 16mm film with an intervalometer camera, which meant that each shot took several hours to record in the first place. I then scanned the negative and edited the video when it was part of an installation I did at the Weingart Gallery at Occidental College

For this exhibition, each artist was tasked with creating 33 pieces, so I had to create 33 individual videos — 66 when you account for the two different sizes. I re-edited the video, breaking down each scene into a stand-alone video. I then exported each one twice, once as a web preview and once as a high-resolution original that will be sold as the NFT. Each piece was handmade by me.

JJS: I created Television Figures in my videographics lab, which is a broadcast television control room and effects lab or electronic painting studio. I was initially inspired by the Experimental Television Center, the Vasulkas’ video lab, as well as the lab work of Nam June Paik and Shigeko Kubota

Much of my gear was donated to me by friends who worked at commercial production companies and Hollywood studios who were about to take it to the dump. 

Over the years, I’ve amassed a pretty stellar collection of analog and early digital effects tools, especially the Fairlight CVI, the Beck Video Weaver, and Direct Video Synthesizer all of which I have tried to master and preserve.

Ellie Pritts, (Still from) Arid Articulations #26, 2023. Courtesy of the artist

ES: Video art hasn’t really been part of the conversation in Web3 partly because of the small files demanded by the blockchain and the initial dominance of JPEGs, GIFs, short-form animated media. What is the place of video art in Web3 and how do NFTs and the blockchain stand to alter it as an art form?

EL: The art world has always been confused about how to “sell” video art. The blockchain kind of solves that problem as well as the problem of the secondary market, where artists never get anything from resale. I’m not saying that NFTs have fixed the art market, but there is a lot of potential there to support artists in a more egalitarian way than the traditional art market has. I’m also new to the world of the blockchain. I’m excited to learn more about it and explore different ways that I can use it to share my work with a new community. 

JJS: I’m excited that Web3 presents a chance for video to be viewed in an art context online. To be honest, I still don’t understand NFTs but I’m excited to see so many video artists emerge who are producing highly experimental work. I’m also excited to see communities of video artists communicating and collaborating, which is something early video art had a hard time achieving. 

Petra Cortright, (Still from) New Landscapes 2023, 2023. Courtesy of the artist

PC: I’ve always made relatively short videos for the internet. Even when I was starting out around 2007 producing webcam videos in the early days of YouTube, I found that people didn’t have long attention spans. The longer videos that I have made have been for physical and ambient spaces like galleries, where something can play for a longer time. 

If I wish for someone’s full attention I really only expect them to watch for around two minutes maximum. Sometimes it’s unreasonable to ask for longer than that. I [also] don’t mind people in a physical space having conversations and not really giving their full attention to something playing in the background. I try to think about people’s actual behavior and human nature instead of holding them hostage, so I’m actually fine with shorter videos for the internet.

EP: I think all artforms have a place in Web3, and the rise of NFTs has given much needed space for video art to thrive. It feels like a natural “home” for the medium. 

However, the technical restrictions have definitely altered my practice and could impact the video art world as a whole. One might also be dissuaded from working on something of longer form or else with certain aspect ratios. But many of those restrictions have changed and you can mint much larger files now than when I just started. I think it’s a work in progress from a technical standpoint and I’m excited about the future of video art in Web3.

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FEMMEBIT is a grassroots platform and triennial festival of Los Angeles-based artists working in video and new media. As a celebration that includes curated programs, symposiums, screenings, and exhibitions, FEMMEBIT examines today’s society at large as an ever-changing medium. The platform investigates how artists working with and between technologies enable progressive ideas to be born through active creation, and how we, as proponents of these fields, must work together to shape, share, and grow a future receptive to progress. Curators Kate Parsons and Janna Avner integrate their own artistic expertise into these projects, with a passion for uncovering innovation and revolution through mediums such as video, animation, and XR. Janna’s art practice as a California-based Alaska Native explores multiheritage concepts for indigenous futures in video, digital sculpture, and paintings. While Kate’s work focuses on community, connection and our relationships to the biological and environmental systems we inhabit. 

Petra Cortright’s core practice is the creation and distribution of digital and physical images using consumer or corporate software. Her paintings on aluminum, linen, and paper are created in Photoshop, and she is renowned for making self-portrait videos that use her computer’s webcam and default effects tools. Cortright studied Fine Arts at Parsons School of Design at The New School, New York and the California College of the Arts, San Francisco. Her works are included in the permanent collections of MoMA; MOCA; LACMA; the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Kadist Foundation, San Francisco; BAMPFA, Berkeley; the San Jose Museum of Art; MCA Chicago; The Péréz Art Museum Miami; The Bass Museum, Miami; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; MOTI, Breda in collaboration with Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam;  and Rhizome’s Net Art Anthology. She lives and works in Altadena, California.

Eve-Lauryn Little Shell LaFountain is an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. She is a multimedia artist, filmmaker, and educator. Her work explores identity, history, Indigenous Futurism, feminism, ghosts, magic, and her mixed Native American and Jewish heritage through lens-based media and installations. She is a Sundance New Frontier and Indigenous MacArthur Fellow, was a Flaherty Film Seminar Fellow, and has received support for her work from the Mike Kelley Foundation, the Andy Warhol Foundation, Cousin Collective, and more. She has also been an Interactive Storyteller for Tribeca Film Institute. LaFountain was born into a family of artists and raised in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She is a member of the Echo Park Film Center Collective. She teaches experimental film, photography, and portfolio development workshops at the California Institute of the Arts, where she was also the Assistant Director of admissions for the School of Film/Video. She holds a BA from Hampshire College, and a dual MFA in film and video, and photography and media from CalArts. 

Ellie Pritts’s work combines a mixture of AI and analog video to culminate in a meditation-qua-colorscape of Joshua Tree’s Martian-like desertscapes. Utilizing analog video in their explorations of place and identity (California, United States), Arid Articulations is Pritts’s newest series capturing the martian landscapes of the Mojave Desert. Long known for their surrealist photography of Joshua Tree National Park, this is Pritts’s first video series exploring these themes with modular video synthesis, circuit-bent (glitched) video, and AI-collaborative animations. 

Jennifer Juniper Stratford is a director, photographer, and video artist from Hollywood, California. Inspired by a love of video art, outsider cinema, and experimental animation, her work feels like something you might catch on late-night cable or on an obscure video cassette. She has photographed, concepted, and directed photography campaigns, teleplays, music videos, title sequences, and station IDs. She has also designed immersive art installations, live performances, and stage visuals. Her work has been exhibited, broadcast, and screened internationally, including at Palais de Tokyo, Paris; the Whitney Museum of American Art; Museum of the Moving Image, New YorK; the Hammer Museum; MOCA; LACMA, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; CineMarfa; CPH:DOX, New Beverly Cinema, BAM Cinématek. In 2018 she was awarded a grant from the Mike Kelley Foundation.

Elisabeth Sweet is a poet exploring patterns of randomness. Her poetry has been exhibited internationally in New York, Paris, and Tallinn. Elisabeth supports community connection and creativity in crypto art and Web3, serving as both the Community Manager at theVERSEverse and Communications Lead at Feral File. 

The exhibition, “In Medias Res,” curated by FEMMEBIT, is now open on Feral File.