Marco Brambilla’s work often deals with the cultural dislocation associated with contemporary society’s obsession with media. As the mainstream has become more relevant than ever as a result of exposure, distribution and saturation, content has been pushed to the margins of the equation and style triumphs over substance. Brambilla’s subjects have embodied this new paradigm and his works have explored video games, pornography, consumerism and the cult of self-empowerment as their subject matter.
This evening, to coincide with Gallery Weekend Berlin, Brambilla unveils his latest exhibition at the Michael Fuchs gallery. To mark his first solo show in Berlin, we caught up with the artist and Kanye West collaborator to talk Instagram, King Kong and hyper-saturation in the media.
What can the audience expect with your new show at the Michael Fuchs gallery?
Marco Brambilla: They'll see the three videos from my Megaplex trilogy, Creation (2012), Evolution (2010) and Civilization (2008). Each of those pieces deal with the idea of hyper-saturation in media and the idea of film itself – as they’re all made from film imagery, and film has become largely only a spectacle today. The content of major, Hollywood films is largely interchangeable now, and we’re left with this incredible sense of over-simulation and spectacle. I thought it’d be interesting to use this kind of video collage technique to convey these classical human themes. So Civilization is, Dante’s Inferno rising up into the heavens, Revolution is a chronological journeying through men at conflict inspired by the murals at the Museum of Natural History in New York. Creation, the most recent of the three, is inspired by Charles and Ray Eames’ film The Powers of Ten, and the idea of pulling back from this original moment of conception and creation into these phases of civilization, and its collapse. So, now Megaplex has nine different sections, and it kind of re-invents itself, depicting a circle of life, all made from the same raw material of film clips and characters from Hollywood films.
Do you want the audience to come away from viewing your works as if dazzled by a sense of the sublime? Or almost that they’re exhausted from this sensory overload?
Marco Brambilla: I think a little bit of both. Even when I made the first one, Civilization, I decided to populate it with basically too much imagery to digest on the first viewing, so it would be slightly overwhelming. The main idea of using these kind of grandiose, universal human themes was to create a fracture between the concept itself and the way it’s expressed in the most pop, most banal imagery of a Hollywood film; you’re dealing with something that has a real underpinning historically and has been interpreted in many very serious ways. I think that that fracture and re-contextualization of pop imagery into video collage format is hopefully a comment on how superficial things have become in general – in filmmaking specifically – and the way we interpret imagery today.
If Megaplex deals with the sensory overload of the internet era – and is created using digital editing techniques – can Celluloid, the new series of works you’ve created for the show be considered the trilogy’s counterpoint?
Marco Brambilla: Yes, that’s correct. So while the Megaplex series can be considered a comment on my Hollywood filmmaking like Demolition Man, on how that style of spectacle can be an empty experience, Celluloid is much more contemplative. I’m showing scenes from four films; The Searchers (1956), Dorothy and The Wizard of Oz, 2001 and An American In Paris – in which I’ve distressing the film with acids and corrosives and actually physically twisting it to create a kind of texture, in a slow kind of entropic process. These are some of the films that are a part of my childhood, and influenced me to become a filmmaker, and the new work has come about from revisiting a lot of these films when I was creating the collages for Megaplex, and noticing that I remembered them differently. My memories instead are impressions of these scenes, which are actually quite different from the images in the scenes, yet the tone has somehow carried over.
Like there being a seed of truth within the myth?
Marco Brambilla: Exactly. We’re now regurgitating, re-processing and referencing so much other information so quickly that now, where does the memory let go of the reality? What is a carbon copy of a carbon copy of a photocopy? So in the Celluloid pieces, I transferred these scenes back onto film, which then underwent a photochemical process where they decayed as if left alone for fifty years. This kind of analogue recording of the film becomes quite abstract; it becomes quite impressionistic, as if it were a personal surrogate memory of that film. And it took a lot of work – I started with about twelve pieces and then I ended up showing four here in Berlin.
I understand that the original Superman and King Kong films were some of the eight that didn’t make the final cut. In choosing such big budget films, are you trying to draw comparison with the Michael Bay type summer blockbusters of today?
Marco Brambilla: I feel even those blockbusters had a sense of optimism which is not really present today. King Kong in 1977 had these crazy animatronics and it was all kind of very artisanal, and it was kind of a B movie. But it had this kind of innocence to it, which I think we have now lost.
So in the show, there’s a meditation on analogue memory with Celluloid, countered with the digitally rendered overload of the Megaplex series. Yet did your vision changed in the four years it took to make Megaplex – were there new editing and rendering techniques in that time that tempted you into taking a different approach?
Marco Brambilla: Yes it definitely, you couldn’t have made Creation in 3D back when I made Civilization, because the tools weren’t really there. Well, you could have, but the cost would have been so prohibitive that it wouldn’t have been made. The technology has informed the idea of how immersive it can be and how the journey can take shape. So for instance, Creation has this format of pulling back, allowing every single film scene to always be within the frame, so they’re always present. Since the scene is of a spiritual beginning, and end, I chose a DNA helix as a structure to place these images within, so the sense of spectacle is automatically exponentially greater than on a scroll where you’re travelling upwards or sideways. At the time I had no idea how I would be able to do this pull back, especially in 3D. And a paradox to that is, that as I was working through the different pieces, more films were being released in 3D and in high-definition, which I could sample. So that phenomenon informed the process – if I wanted to speak to this satire of spectacle, then the form of communication, the language of it, should also be in 3D.
Talking of infinite scrolls – I notice you’re not on Instagram. Would you find it to be a contradiction with how your works comment on how we digest imagery today? There’s the idea that more photographs were taken on smartphones and digital cameras in 2013 than in the history of humanity combined…
Marco Brambilla: Exactly right. I think all these things, Instagram, Facebook, are amazing. They allow people to communicate in ways that are completely frictionless and perfect. But I think they also change your impulse – you have a slightly more self-conscious view in how you look at things. I prefer to work in a more hermetic, a more isolated environment. I don’t know how many millions of images are uploaded to Instagram everyday, but say if you’re a journalist and you have to be a part of that, I’m sure it’s very overwhelming. I’m sure it changes the way you reflect on things how you absorb images themselves, and so this kind of hyper-saturation is part of everything, not just film.
What are your plans for the rest of the year?
Marco Brambilla: I’m working on an interesting project with NASA, a thirteen channel video installation which will show in Times Square at the start of next year. It deals with this idea of space travel’s golden age, and this idea of physical exploration instead of just virtual exploration. I suppose you could say it’s also a comment on this idea of acceleration.
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