My work always seems to deal with memory,” explains LA-based contemporary artist Brandon Herman. He continues, “sometimes trying to suppress it, sometimes to revive it, sometimes to replace it.” The artist manipulates photography, film, live performance and other media to explore psychology, pop culture and various representations of self, tapping into the collective memory of his audience even as he opens up the intimate memories of his own life.
His “Opening Sequence” video taps into some very personal memories, having been filmed at his childhood home in the last moments before it was sold by his parents. For an artist who discovered his passion directing friends and family in elaborate homemade films as a child, returning to the source was utterly appropriate. Today, explains Herman, “I make artwork by continuing to direct friends and family members in these semi-scripted, semi-improvised narratives in which I also participate as a performer. I’ve basically engineered an art practice in which I am still operating as my eleven-year-old actor/write/director self.”
Brandon Herman’s “House of Leaves” is on view at Envoy Enterprises through June 17.
Tell us about the process of bringing this video to life.
My parents are moving out of my childhood home this year, so I invited a friend—an Alvin Ailey company member—to do a project with me there: one last playdate in that house. This particular girl made the perfect playmate because I’m interested in making dance a part of the work. One of my many career aspirations as a kid was to be a professional dancer. I took a hip hop class in 5th grade but got picked on about it at school so I quit. I suppose you could say I’m using my art practice to try to reclaim that lost experience. So I wrote a script for a short film I wanted to make with this girl but a day or so into shooting I scrapped the script in confusion and desperation and started improvising. I realized later that beginning with some sort of structure and then freaking out and going off script is something that I always do, in every project. I think it’s funny how we are unconsciously consistent with following our patterns.
In leaving the script, there also emerged this emphasis on the non-moments because we weren’t obligated to the arc of a story. What we ended up with was reduced to the point of being highly incomplete and anticlimactic—a movie with all the plot points removed. I was thinking a lot about the opening sequence of a film—hence the name of the piece—and how it can be so full of anticipation and foreboding and yet inherently underdeveloped, only a part of something larger but not complete in itself. Each moment in this piece is either an antecedent or an aftermath—the rest is missing—and they become these empty containers which are then filled with–and given meaning by–the events that they either precede or follow.
A home is like that. It’s this repository for the emotion attached to the events which unfold within it, but otherwise it is just a structure. It stands before the occurrence, and after it, but looked at with consideration for the opening sequence in mind, is always laden with either the forewarning of what’s to come or the slow dissipation that which has unfolded.
Have there been any reactions to the clip that were surprising? What do you hope viewers take away from the clip?
I’m never surprised at a reaction, just pleased to have one. And I would never say what I hope viewers would take away. I’ve probably already said too much.
Why choose film as the medium for this piece, particularly in relation to the themes of home?
This was about having one last hurrah of being my kid self, directing movies in that house, that backyard.
The funny thing is that even though it was my home for so many years, in ten years of not living there it has lost its familiarity. And I don’t necessarily feel any sense of endearment towards it either. It’s overcomplicated, overburdened with history. Using it as a location for a movie again seemed to have an effect of stripping it of its encumbrance of emotion and restoring a simpler meaning to it as just a location for my movie-making. Of course the attempted alteration of the significance of this place was only partially successful; my subconscious is only half convinced. But such is the nature of the past: we think we have dealt with it and filed it away in an orderly fashion and then it crops up again unexpectedly, flaunting new visages we haven’t even encountered yet consciously.