Caryn Coleman interviews artist Marnie Weber

Image: Marnie Weber, from Eternity Forever (2010)

Curator Caryn Coleman talks with artist Marnie Weber about her recent commission for West of Rome in Los Angeles. Part of Caryn Coleman series of blogs on the relationship between horror and artists’ film and video – read her piece on the horror film and contemporary art and her interview with artist Darren Banks

Marnie Weber creates fantastical worlds that, quite frankly, I want to live in or at the very least pay a visit. Her atmospheres are an aesthetic mash up of Victorian, 1970s commune, and gritty punk filled with the kind of unsettling creatures that would scare the pants off you if they weren’t somehow totally endearing. Indeed, there is something very magical and intangible about her film, collages, and installations. Weber expresses the theatricality of old Hollywood, bringing forth our own nostalgic tendencies through the expression of death and dreamscapes. Her images are touching, luscious, and melancholic; reflecting another world placed firmly within our own.

For the past six years, Marnie Weber has woven together fictional narratives about the post-mortem adventures of the Spirit Girls, taking us on their bizarre and uncanny journey through the afterlife. Earlier this month at the Mountain View Cemetery & Mausoleum in Altadena, California, Weber put an end to their perpetual mourning and opened up a new avenue for exploration. Eternity Forever, presented by West of Rome Public Art, was inaugurated with a funeral processional and the debut screening of Weber’s film The Eternal Heart where the Spirit Girls, in their last performance, played the live score. This exhibition, which also features a new series of collages, represents the death and re-birth of Weber’s ongoing relationship with her monstrous characters.

Weber’s relationship with horror is an implicit and romantic nod to the Gothic tradition, a mix of dreamlike fantasy blurred with touches of the recognizable. She creates her characters in a vivid array of animal and human forms, clearly springing from imagination and set forth into our consciousness. Her employment of empowered female leads (often as the survivors), the uncanny, inconclusive story lines, and music place her structurally within the genre. Despite this depiction of death and the general bizarre, Weber’s artwork is full of love. She loves her monsters, ghosts, and demons and we love them too for they are also a part of us, manifestations of our dreams and vehicles for our imagination. She reminds us that life, love, death, madness, monsters, and humans are only separated by a thin layer of reality and that this duality of a part of our existence.

Caryn Coleman: Your collages and films are the culmination of your performative acts. In a way, you stage theatrical devices to produce something that exists outside of a temporal act. Can you talk about how you go about weaving elements of your performance into photography, collage, sculptures, and installations? And how does this transference retain the communication with the audience as, say, a live act does?

Marnie Weber: The characters in my films inhabit my collages and I think of the sculptures as large props in a way. Sometimes the character’s costumes are put on mannequins and turned into sculpture. I like to blur the boundaries of a given medium. I try to create a moment of psychological tension when the audience enters a “scene” of a collage or confronts a costume. It is a particular uncanny moment I strive for. It is easier with performance or film because I can manipulate the scene with my music and the pacing and editing but my intentions are the same. I try to create a strange, surreal, unexpected moment or series of moments. I like the unsettling feeling when I come across something unexpected and I think other people do too. It can be transforming and beautiful.

CC: You debuted your new film The Eternal Heart in the exhibition Eternity Forever at the Mountain View Cemetery and Mausoleum. To me, hosting your exhibition here embodies the dark, creative, and performative characteristics that make Los Angeles unexpectedly unique. How much does L.A. – the landscape, history, music, film – factor into your work?

MW: I am forever inspired by the state of fantasy and fiction this town constantly lives in. Supplies, costumes, makeup, props; everything is available year-round. The Mountain View Cemetery is used both as a movie set and a place of internment on most days. Sometimes you don’t know if you are seeing a real funeral or one created for a movie. I love it when reality is flipped over and turned into a surreal situation. The fact that the owners of Mountain View were open to having the performance, which was basically the equivalent of a rock concert, in their mausoleum along with fake grave diggers and monsters in their cemetery speaks a lot for the people in this town. Los Angeles tends to be a very open minded place. Everywhere you go fantasy is intertwined with reality to the point where they are one and the same.

CC: How did the opportunity to film there and present it with West of Rome come about?

MW: I had been walking to the mausoleum for several years to get a break from work and I always saw the art gallery sitting locked and closed. I thought that would be such a great place to show some Spirit Girls collages. Then when Emi Fontana from West of Rome asked me where my “dream” show would be I knew immediately that would be the place. I had no idea the show would grow to include a screening, graveyard walk through and musical performance. That was the workings of the people at West of Rome who like to think big.

CC: What inspired you to approach The Eternal Heart like a silent film?

MW: I am always inspired by the melodramatic acting, flowery language, and the excess of emotion which pours forth from silent films. I thought it would be a good framework to talk about really heavy subjects in a dramatic and gothic manner.

CC: Since 2005 you have taken the Spirit Girls on an ongoing, unresolved journey through the afterlife. With The Eternal Heart marking the end for them and you removing the mask to reveal yourself as the lead role, can you discuss how you knew it was time for them to finally rest in peace?

MW: I knew that I had said enough with the Spirit Girls after five years, four movies, a CD, numerous performances, dozens of collages and sculptures. It felt I was giving them the ending they deserved out of respect because the more time passed, the more human the Spirit Girls became to me. If I had just moved on to a new body of work without finalizing the series or their story, it would be like holding onto someone’s ashes forever. I really felt they needed to be honored and then set free.

To appear unmasked as a new character in the film seemed to me as if I was venturing forth away from them. They are in the graveyard scene of the movie, waving goodbye. I really don’t know who they were or where they came from but they were like good friends to me. So I had to say goodbye properly. I’m sure I’ll miss them.

CC: Speaking of your relationship to your characters, in your ‘Artist’s Museum’ video for the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles you say that these monsters are your friends and that you’re exorcising demons from your psyche. I find that your work is empowering in this respect. Do you feel that embracing these creatures by bringing them to life is in some way emotionally cathartic for both yourself and the viewer?

MW: Well for me to give them identities means they don’t live inside myself where they could make me feel perhaps regretful. Regret itself is a big demon. I have a few demons of over indulgence that hangs around and I can summon at will, or not. For others watching the video I guess just introducing the idea that one’s inner demons can live outside their body and not consume them could be a revelation. Modern society is so full of labels for peoples’ problems. I’d rather personify the afflictions. I think the idea of the representation of evil spirits is quite Asian as many of the temples in Asia have guardian spirits that look evil and menacing standing on either side of the entrance doors and gates. The evil spirits are supposed to be frightened away by the physical representation of evil spirits.

CC: How do these characters evolve from following you around to becoming ‘alive’ (i.e. physical beings and objects)?

MW: They are looking for a leader but they have their own lives too. Much like animals.

CC: And what new direction can we expect with your new band Fäuxmish where you’re exploring ‘simplicity through noise’? Will this become a new band of outsiders featured in an upcoming film series?

MW: It seemed like good jumping off point. I like noise and industrial music, it doesn’t require melody and therefore it embodies simplicity. Noise is also very forgiving, instruments don’t have to be tuned and you don’t need to know how to even play an instrument. You just need to have the spirit. It seemed like there was something to explore there.

I like the term outsiders; that is good. Yes we will do a cameo in my next film.

CC: Without explicitly reference horror cinema, you seem to cull from some of its structural characteristics like masks, dreamlike ambiguity, the uncanny, inconclusive endings, and psychological tensions. Can you talk a bit about how the horror genre or specifically how horror film has impacted you?

MW: It started with seeing images of the photographer Weegee as a child. My parents had a couple Weegee books and us kids would pour over the imagery of bloody figures, transvestites, women of the night, his crime and street scene photography. The image of the Central Park mugger specifically stuck in my mind. He wore this outlandish clothing with a helmet and goggles and he tied wooden blocks to his feet to frighten his victims. The idea that a costume could really terrify someone so greatly stuck in my mind. It carried a lot of power, as if it were a demon come to life or an external manifestation of one’s inner fears. The darkness from inside brought into to the light.

Later, I was inspired by the strange creatures of Bosch, Bruegel, and Grandville. Through their work I discovered the expression of the dark depths of the subconscious presented as art. I like the extreme psychology of old fashioned horror movies, when human characters go off the deep end in a highly stylized manner like in The Night Hunter or any Alfred Hitchcock movie. It becomes more about theater than reality and therefore more dreamlike. The build up of anticipation and the portrayal of what isn’t there is much more frightening than a blood and guts depiction.

CC: You prominently feature women as the main protagonists in your narratives. How has the tradition of the female role in Gothic and Horror influenced you?

MW: I like it when the female character goes through a transformation and becomes more powerful, like Tippi Hedren’s character in The Birds. She is a single, rich, beautiful and sexy woman the townspeople think is a witch who has brought the wrath of the birds. It’s as if the birds symbolize her wild sexuality unleashed and set in rage upon the town. Then in the end when she takes control of the situation, she harnesses her power and saves the children. She is transformed. It is almost like a Greek myth. The female figure in Gothic literature generally starts out as victim and then becomes empowered. I like change.

The Eternal Heart (2010) is 28 minutes long, shot on super 8 film and 16 mm. The film is produced by West of Rome Public Art, California State Summer School for the Arts Foundation (CSSSA), a grant by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and the Surdna Foundation Distinguished Visiting Artist in Residence at California Institute of the Arts (CalArts).

Marnie Weber‘s Eternity Forever continues at Mountain View Cemetery & Mausoleum with West of Rome Public Art through 20 December 2010. There will be a presentation of film excerpts from The Eternal Heart at Art Basel Miami Beach on 2 December. Weber’s new band Fäuxmish will play at a West of Rome sponsored event in January most likely (Location tbd).

Show permalink:

Caryn Coleman is an American curator and writer living in London. Recent projects include The Real Horror Symposium, Darren Banks’ Palace Collection, and Heather Cantrell’s A Study in Portraiture: Act I in Los Angeles and A Study in Portraiture: Act II in London. With a curatorial practice involving exploring the intersection of film and visual art, her main area of research is horror cinema’s influence on contemporary artists for an upcoming exhibition and film programme titled Contagious Allegories. Previously Coleman owned the art gallery sixspace in Los Angeles (2002-2007) and in Chicago (1998-2000). She has also worked at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. In addition to founding the seminal, she has written for The Modernist, Art Review online, Beautiful Decay, and the LA Weekly. She recently received her MFA in Curating with distinction from Goldsmiths College.



Skip to content