Alison O’Daniel is a Los Angeles-based visual artist from Miami, Florida. Her work weaves narratives of aural sensitivity and experience between the mediums of film, object-making, and performance. Through her collaborations with deaf and hearing composers and artists, her work invites sensitivity to loss and abundance of sound and its impact on social situations. View more of her work here.
Kevin Appel is a visual artist from Los Angeles, California. Appel’s work occupies spaces within and between the practices of abstract painting and architecture. He is a Professor and Associate Chair of Graduate Studies at the University of California Irvine. View his work here.
Kevin Appel: I want to start by asking you if you can name a moment or something that you saw that was pivotal in your decision to become an artist.
Roni Horn is an American visual artist and writer living and working in New York. Her work explores the shifting nature of art through sculpture, drawing, photography, language, and site-specific installations. The cyclical relationship between humankind and nature is a continuously present theme throughout her work.
Alison O’Daniel: I have this memory, when I was in fifth or sixth grade – I remember going to a museum and seeing a Roni Horn sculpture – one of her sticks with poetic phrases on them. Do you know what I’m talking about?
KA: Yes, I do.
AO: That was definitely a moment where I thought to myself, “That makes sense.”
KA: Had you had art in your background?
The Integratron is a structure designed by George Van Tassel in Landers, California, near Joshua Tree. Tassel claimed that the structure was capable of rejuvenation, anti-gravity and time travel. In the early 2000’s, Joanne, Nancy, and Patty Karl purchased the Integratron and began promoting it as an “acoustically perfect structure.”
Maverick Concert Hall
The Maverick Concert Hall is a music venue in Hurley, New York, on the outskirts of Woodstock. The Hall was built in 1916 and is a barn-like rectangular building with a gambrel roof. The hall was built entirely with volunteer labor and without an architect.
“They have art everywhere, pots everywhere, a wonderful steel wire mobile hanging in the center, a Japanese garden all around the house with billions of succulents planted in these small pots my uncle has thrown.” — Alison O’Daniel
AO: Yes. My grandmother on my mom’s side was an artist and painter. She was from Sweden and was always painting these sort of vernacular Swedish folk paintings and doing a German craft called scherenschnitte, which are paper cutouts of black silhouettes and intricate symmetrical floral compositions. I have a bunch installed in my kitchen over there. I have vivid memories of her always painting and using her tiny little scissors on the cutouts. Also, my uncle is a potter. My aunt and uncle were my biggest influences as far as the lifestyle of an artist. My first museum experience was their house – I love this house. It’s my absolute favorite architecture I’ve spent time in. They built it themselves in Mayville, NY in the 60’s – it is quite hippie, with a ceramics studio on the ground floor and a spiral staircase in the center that goes up to their bedroom. The floor-plan is entirely open and the kiln radiates up and outward through a central chimney that heats the whole space. I’m sure that my aesthetic attraction (more than my aural attraction) to The Integratron and now the Maverick Concert Hall goes back to this… their house. They have art everywhere, pots everywhere, a wonderful steel wire mobile hanging in the center, a Japanese garden all around the house with billions of succulents planted in these small pots my uncle has thrown. All their friends are artists, and my childhood and teenage observations of the way they thought and moved through the world – it also made a lot of sense to me.
KA: So, you came to it rather naturally?
AO: Yes, I think so. Also, I figure skated competitively… I’ve thought about it so much…
KA: Figure skating?
AO: Yes, in terms of the way it defined art for me – spatial relationships and choreography and storytelling…
KA: I have to say that it sheds a whole different light on the way that I’m seeing your sculpture.
AO: That’s interesting.
KA: Well, that there’s a lot of looping forms and there’s a lot of connecting forms.
KA: So, the current film is stemming from a number of stories and influences. Can you talk about either current influences, or who do you look at or read or listen to now?
Erik Frydenborg is a Los Angeles-based artist from York, Pennsylvania who creates installations, prints, sculptures, and collages. His work is reminiscent of a scientist’s anatomical models or geological models and suggests cryptic narratives.
Claire Denis is a French film director and writer. Her films deal with themes of colonial and post-colonial West Africa, and more contemporary issues in France.
Richard Tuttle is an American post minimalist artist. Tuttle is known for his small, subtle, intimate works which make use of scale and line. His work spans a diverse range of media including sculpture, painting, drawing, printmaking and artist’s books.
AO: [pauses] There are specific visual artists – particular painters and sculptors who navigate a similar realm of choreography and relationship with material and color that certain film makers do with narrative. I see and feel this in lots of different kinds of work – from Erik Frydenborg to Claire Denis, from Richard Tuttle to Andrei Tarkovsky, to name a few. A big part of my current working method concerns a quote that I copied and pasted from the introduction to Tarkovsky’s book, “Sculpting in Time”. There is a quote from a physicist who wrote a letter to Tarkovsky after seeing “The Mirror”. He tried to explain to Tarkovsky what his experience of viewing the film was, his interpretation, even what he thought film could do. I copied and pasted this quote from a PDF and sent it to one of the composers to respond to and when I pasted it, because I copied it from a PDF, the words broke apart – all these extra spaces appeared, creating a musicality to the visual pattern of the letters. Once the words collapsed, the language broke down, the quote became much more significant than what originally attracted me to it.
‘ W h at is this film about? It’s a film about you. It’s about y our father, your grandmother, a b o ut s ome o ne who will live after you and who is still “you”. It’s about a Wom an who lives on the e a r th, is a part of the earth and the earth is a part of h e r; a n d the fact that a m an is answerable for his life both to t he past and to t he future. You have to watch this film simply; watch it as o ne watches t he stars, or t he sea, as o ne admi r es a l ands c ape. T h e re is no ma t h ema t i c al logic he r e, for it c a n n ot explain what man is or what is t he me a n i ng of her life.”
Andrei Tarkovsky (1932-1986) was a Soviet Russian film maker, editor, theorist, and writer as well as a theater and opera director. His films include “Ivan’s Childhood”, “Andrei Rublev”, “Solaris”, “The Mirror”, and “Stalker”.
KA: This is Tarkovsky speaking?
AO: No, this is the physicist who wrote to him.
AO: I changed all the pronouns. This quote is it for me. I respond most to work I feel is enacting something similar to that broken apart quote and that’s what I hope to do eventually.
KA: It sounds in some way like you’re talking about a kind of associative matrix that underlines your work, but maybe it doesn’t explicate things very specifically. Which is something I’ve noticed in your work over the years. I’ve had the privilege of watching you work for some time now and it seems to me, in this current project, that you’re maybe backing into the process or starting from an obtuse angle by starting with music first as opposed to story-boarding the film and then the music or sound comes later – which would be the traditional or standard process. Can you talk about that decision and where it came from?
AO: Lately, I’ve been talking a lot about my process as a form of call and response on every level. I’m constantly trying to tune my ear and listen and pay attention. Details that present themselves become another score or the call that I then respond to. I had just finished premiering “Night Sky” in New York as part of Performa 11 at the Anthology Film Archives and I came back to L.A. and I was listening to the radio and the first story I heard was about tuba thefts in L.A. high schools – did you ever hear about this?
KA: No, I haven’t.
AO: So, I heard this broadcast about these tubas that had been stolen from high schools and it made me pause. And then I heard it again, maybe a week later. And then again. These stories made me realize that my next project would be a film that began with an inverse of the usual process of film-making. I thought of starting with the sound instead of the narrative. It felt important to not be jamming the sound in after the fact. [pauses] I don’t completely understand yet why this intuitive connection rang out like a bell, but it struck me when I heard these stories about the tubas being stolen.
KA: Did it change your own understanding of how your work operates?
AO: I made a decision to start with listening to music. I’ve set up this way of working where I have something to continually respond to and re-evaluate and translate again and again; or attempt to translate. Which is a tricky thing because to translate something abstract is very subjective… I’m tongue tied about it because I feel it operates beside verbal language. And that’s partly what’s really interesting to me about it – that it is elusive and shifting as I’m trying to grab hold of it… It’s just out of reach or beyond my ear.
KA: Take us through the process. So, you’re not making music yourself, you’re getting composers to make that music which then becomes the impetus for the scenes in the film?