Weaving with Different Media: Storytelling as a Tool for an Engaging Present and a more Exciting Future
From 28–30 October FIBER Festival 2021 presented a three-day programme combining audiovisual performances, films, talks, workshops and installations. Fuelled by the now critical quest for human adaptation to a radically changing world — both technologically, ecologically, and culturally — the festival compiled a wide selection of immersive experiences and conversations in line with our theme Mutation; which when explored and practiced as the blurring of separations, could provide us with both speculative and actionable modes of moving towards a new existence.
Nelly Dragon closed the festival with a set accompanied by live visuals from Leeza Prytichenko. In an interview we spoke to both the artists in order to explore the role of storytelling in their practices. The increased interest in using new media as storytelling devices is not surprising at all. Not only does the worldbuilding process permit the creation of realms embedded in immediate temporalities but also in doing so, storytelling manages to transcend the present. The past, as well, seems to play a relevant role in such processes.
Diana Petcov: Your closing set at the festival was quite an immersive experience. Could you tell us about your artistic practices?
Nelly Dragon: I studied photography in an art school and I graduated one and a half years ago. During my studies I already found out in the first years that I am not a photographer, but I see myself as an image user in order to tell stories. So, audio visual storyteller came up later, that is something I’d rather call myself than a photographer. The reason why I call myself a storyteller is because in art school you have to think about your practice in a way that you have to call yourself something. My teachers always told me that if you are not a photographer — then what are you? They told me that I always tell stories and then I saw this pattern in my work, that I always start with emotion or a memory and in order to deal with an emotional memory I tell a story about it. Every time I did a project I did it as books — I am a book binder as well. I see a book as a story that you read from page one to the end page, …you are going from A to C, so you really have a ride in a book, you can give it a certain shape where you can have a blank page and it says something. You can go to the new page with a new image and the combination with the new image on the page after it really tells a story.[..]
I started DJ-ing quite recently and I always said that DJ-ing and my artworks are two separate things. I said it until one and a half years ago and then I discovered that it really is one thing, because I did the very same thing with music as I did with my work with images. When I make a storytelling set, it takes months, because I listen to every track and I will put it in a specific order. These are sets that are not made on the spot. I really select it track by track. [..] It is really precisely made up together. Most of the stories I say in music are about hikes I do, walking in the forests and there are different kinds of emotions popping up that I will later write down. It always goes up and down, there is no linear line in the mix. It was really nice to do it at the festival and with Leeza’s images it really became one.
DP: I was surprised to learn that this wasn’t planned; Leeza could tell us more about how you interwove your visuals so organically with Nelly’s audio. and how does this relate with being a storyteller?
Leeza Prytichenko: It was a very special set because it was very atmospheric. It was very immersive in a way that you could feel that it takes you to a different world. In terms of VJ-ing, I normally create visuals throughout the years. In the rest of my practice I do indeed take the role of storytelling with a more conceptual approach. VJ-ing I use to have more fun and do experiments. It is rewarding to do something that gets in sync with the music, because I do these animations in advance. If I have a specific dream or idea and I want to visualize it, I enjoy creating different characters that could lead the crowd because it is nice to have an image of a creature that is having fun in an abstract space which is not the dance floor, inviting others to join. It is all very intuitive, I am really focused on the music. In the case of audiovisual shows, I however prefer to really sit down with the musician in advance and then we come up with the story and the concept we want to tell.
I studied graphic design before, but towards the end I realised that I am more interested in 3D graphics and digital image-making techniques but also interactive media like virtual reality and motion tracking. I am interested in exploring the potential of immersive experiences as storytelling devices. I recently realised that I am interested in common aspects of the human condition and certain experiences to which people can relate regardless of race, age, gender or nationality. These experiences should not necessarily be comfortable, so I am aiming to talk about these in an engaging way because it makes it easier to start a conversation. When I graduated I made a virtual reality project based on Baudrillard’s ideas on hyperreality. The project was challenging our perceptions of reality and things that we consider true or false. Now I am also developing a project about nightmares, approaching it from a psychological perspective. Our subconscious can be considered as something frightening, but if you actually look deeper into it, it can be very useful for your own healing process or self-development.
DP: In case we can see sound and/or visuals as the guiding vessels to explore certain realms, what realms do you enjoy exploring or inhabit?
LP: I am interested in exploring the ideas of Carl Jung. To me it is interesting to look both at my own subconscious but also look into the more general societal unconscious and explore the different archetypes that exist in different cultures and civilizations. [..]
With VJ-ing you can help people on going onto this voyage, where they can project their inner worlds. To me, this is what makes it magical — the combination of your output and of what the audience is feeling in the moment.
DP: Indeed, certain experiences that seem very personal are actually universal and very collective. There are certain realms that permit their co-existence. With your performance I experienced an intimate ‘space’, but also when I looked around everyone was in some sort of trance. Talking about being hypnotised and inhabiting realms, Mei, you mentioned that a lot of your ideas start from hiking — where do these take you?
ND: I am really amazed by mountains and forests. These landscapes are dreamy, out of this word experiences, quite dark, sometimes they are out of my dreams. The natural sounds like the cracking of a branch or frog noises and it is these kinds of sounds that come back in my sets. Nature is a big inspiration and also the feelings that come with me being within.
DP: How does your cultural background inform your work?
ND: I am half Indonesian and half Dutch. I was raised as a Dutch person, myher parents are from Indonesia. They have been in a war prison and they came to Holland for a better life. They have always tried to act ‘as Dutch as possible’ to be accepted here, throwing their culture away. Finding this out was really hard for me because I am in search of my identity, I want to feel Indonesian again and connect with my roots.
If I do not do it then the culture gets lost. I have a goal in my life to make more people aware of our colonial past and it helps in accepting darker emotions.
Why is there no space for this? Why is it bad to feel ‘sad’ feelings? This is why in my sets, I let these feelings exist…
It is very powerful that our generation is questioning these things. I came up with a sentence: The fight for the freedom of the past and I do see it as an obligation of our generation to tell the stories of their past ancestors because they couldn’t but I think we can do it now. Also, with my graduation project ‘The Excavation of our Grief’, I was digging out the past, as it is important to not pass on this intergenerational trauma. If we want to stop it we need to face the pain.
DP: It is important to hear about this because I believe that stories should be able to translate things from the past for better futures. Leeza, does your background have any influence on your work?
LP: There is no clear story that would contextualise my practice. I am from Russia, the culture of which is quite different from the western one. In the Netherlands, people are quite pragmatic, but in Russia from when you are in school you read Dostoevsky and that is quite heavy and dark stuff, the culture is more emotionally grounded. The process of moving to another country and the specific impact it has on you, my international friends and I, we all deal with specific struggles that impact our artistic culture because you need to have a certain flexibility and prove yourself really hard. For many years, survival was my main priority, studying and working to get a visa. You need to prove that you deserve being here. It’s not only your artistic career that you have to think about but also your whole life. I got a permanent residency permit two years ago and that’s when I felt that I can fully focus on conceptualising my practice. [..] It makes me happy to hear that more and more people are discussing these topics and more people become more empathetic towards such struggles
DP: Thank you for sharing these stories from your lives. Sharing helps us expand our knowledge on issues around us and grow and indeed be more connected. I think these stories can help us to find new ways of thinking about where we are, who we are, how we deal with each other and what art and technology can do.
While works and performances that explore emotions and struggles permit a better understanding of those, such endeavours also ultimately lead to a process of acceptance and overcoming past traumas. By acknowledging the underlying emotional baggage on a personal level, one can contribute to building a more empathetic and exciting future for all. Ibelisse Guardia Ferragutti, who also gave a performance during FIBER 2021, embodies this process in her sonic performances. As a Bolivian raised in Brazil, now living in the Netherlands, she uses her own presence as well as her voice as an endeavour to decolonize her ‘fugitive body’. Through her embodied practices, she attempts not only to re-consider certain cultural preconceptions but also normalise transformative processes through allowing pain in. With her performances, the internalised processes are then let out; to be seen, heard and felt.
To read more about Ibelisse’s explorations stay tuned for the next article about embodiment, where we look at ways to heal, de-colonize and view the body and the mind as a whole.
Diana Petcov holds a BA in Art History from Univeristy of Groningen, and MA in Comparative Arts & Media Studies from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, with the specialization of intermediality in film. She is interested in the phenomenological aspects of contemporary art practices as well as in the intersection between emotions, the human and non-human and relationality.
Written by: Diana Petcov
Edited by: Rhian Morris