La Conchita N=amour
Single channel HD version
HD video 1920 x 1080 pixels. Audio 48 khz
34 minute loop
This film is an installation-animation work which combines footage and sound from 16 months in the aftermath of a mudslide at the village of La Conchita, north of LA along California's Hwy One. In 2005, El Nino brought intense rains to the winter season along the coast-- intensified possibly by global climate change and rising marine temperatures. The mudslide hit without warning and buried a portion of the town-- ten people lost their lives.
I wanted to pay close attention to the memorials that the folk of La Conchita put up on the site of the mudslide-- in defiance of legal orders to keep off. They have maintained shrines ever since-- made of everything from tipis to votives, stuffed animal toys to dolls, Buddhas to Sacred Hearts. As the weather breaks down the assemblage, over time, the residents build it up again. This process of continuous sublation (going under) and rebirth (rebuilding the shrines) interests me. I want to understand how this is a performance of the landscape-- as a site of terrible loss and longing-- and refusal to give into the environmental impasse at the site-- since there is no known remedy to prevent landslides (debris flow) like this from happening again. This condition is much like other sites in coastal California where the mountains plunge into the ocean at very close range, and are made up of soft rocks that easily dissolve into mud. Often, mudslides occur in the winter after the fires in the summer and fall have cleared away chapparal. This self renewing cycle in nature is echoed, too, in the sounds of the tides and the timetables of the Union Pacific train tracks along the coast, together with the rush of constant traffic along the beaches at La Conchita. Because it is dangerous, no building occurs at La Conchita- leaving the village alone-- so the residents live somewhat off grid, live to surf....
Following Alain Resnais and Marguerite Duras in Hiroshima mon amour, I wish to explore the way that forgetting and memory circle around a site of emptiness and loss. Moving close to the shrines, I shot around the mudslide for over a year at regular one month intervals. When asked by townspeople why I was doing this, i told them the truth- that I found the shrine very beautiful and moving. They did not want to be photographed or interviewed but were happy to let me shoot their handiwork of vernacular architecture and sculptural assemblage. I think it is important to try to develop a formal system for exploring the recyclical nature of the landscape, and how, in a way, La Conchita continues to turn around, like the little conch shell of its name, in an endless spiral around its memorial structures,as if to deny time, as if, even, to gain heaven through the repeat.
La Conchita N=amour reflects on the debris site as a place of N. The place of N is the place of love. N is a placeholder. The video image implies a space below or outside the image. The video is a metonym for presence below the level of the mudslide. The video and microsound montage 'breathe' in repeating cycles, that slowly persevere. The sound montage is aphasic. For this HD version, I used the animation footage that I had created at Experimental Television Center in late 2005. The Jones Sequencer, a linear destructive editing tool from the late seventies, gave its own semi-random sequencing to 10 hours of tape, from which I selected one and a half hours of video footage in which the machine-montage had an especially psychotic tinge. The strangeness of this tape was that it had an airless quality, a claustrophobia. I felt it could be a metaphor for the relentlessness of the debris flow threat at La Conchita: you can’t get away from it, and it will come again. So the animation/composition challenge was to edit the ‘airless’ psycho footage so that it would both carry the sense of recurrence, nightmare visitation, and airlessness; but also that I as the human editor could cut into this footage and make a kind of
air or breathing space. So I designed a grid of the psycho animation footage, to map a topography of the N-place (nowhere). Over this I layered paint-like transparent masks that derive from the ETC footage. As a structural strategy, the grid refers to the cyclical coordinates of the site (inevitable return of the debris flow). The masks import amnesia into the montage, as partial erasures. The gaps between these elements are the breath-spaces or volumes of aphasic, perseverant ‘speech’. Or almost-speech, breathing on the outside of the space of N.
Shot at La Conchita, California, October 2005 to August 2006. Animations created using 4 channels of video inside the Jones Sequencer (analog destructive editing tool) during a residency at the Experimental Television Center, New York, November-December 2005. HD montage in Final Cut Pro Micro-soundscape from cyclical sounds at the site, include surfsounds, motorcycles, cars on Highway One, trains, conversations with residents). Additional sound from voices on footage shot during the mudslide on January 10, 2005 (web based found footage). Musical elements from TAO, by Kyong Mee Choi (2005). Additional videography by Lawrence Mahadoo and Terry Hargrave. Video and sound animation/composition by Christina McPhee.
Artist interview: "Bare Life and the Traumatic Landscape" documenta 12 magazine project for –empyre- , 2007; first published by Miguel Leal, editor, VIROSE, 2006.