Oakland filmmaker Bill Domonkos digs into the archives to bring past to life. This is constant experimentation that lays at the heart of his work, where old film footage becomes instrument of time manipulation. Domonkos produces art that is haunting and lush – a capsule of things we’ve never known. Put into a contemporary frame of digital, we’ve never felt so seduced by the past. We speak to the artist to understand his creative formula.
On renewing the past… My very first super 8 film at age 12 was my remake of “Valley of the Dolls” (the 1967 classic starring Patty Duke, Barbara Parkins and directed by Paul Robson). I cast the girls in my neighborhood as drug addicted Hollywood starlets, dressed in my mom’s wigs, overdosing on candy pills and wearing gowns I made out of giant Kleenex. It’s funny to think of this in the context of my current work, but I guess that kind of set me on a path, this idea of creating my own version of something that already exists. My work is all about the manipulation of time. There is a great quote by Jorge Luis Borges that comes to mind, “The past should be altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past.”
On becoming a digital artist… The tools I use are digital, but the archive film footage and photographs I use existed before digital existed. There is an unparalleled beauty in these images that were captured on film—that cannot be replicated digitally. Even though my final product is always digital, I think my work falls somewhere in-between digital and traditional.
On different art mediums… I consider myself first a filmmaker, the gifs and other media are an extension of my film/video work. I use loops in my films to extend or alter time—an animated gif is time, not only repetition but also a continuation of what would otherwise be a very short film. So the basic concept of an animated gif or film loop has always been present in my work.
On experimentation… My process unfolds gradually and spontaneously—using found materials such as archive film footage and public domain photographs. I experiment by combining, altering, editing and reassembling – using digital technology, special effects and animation to create a new experience. Sometimes, I have a preconceived idea of what I want to create, but most of the time the source material works as a springboard towards something new and unexpected.
On expressing what cannot be said… One extraordinary thing about working with the moving image is its ability to suggest the ineffable. It is this elusive, dreamlike quality that draws me in, a sense of suspended time, like a memory.
On getting lost… There is this element of play in my process that is essential. I can get so lost in the technology and mechanics of creating something that it almost feels as if just thinking it makes it happen. There’s a ton of stuff I throw away. The test is to put something I’ve finished aside for a couple days. When I come back to it I’ll either like it, have a better idea—or I’ll trash it. A good sense of humor is also important.
On contemporary art experience… I love art museums. Growing up in Ohio, The Toledo Museum of Art was my sanctuary, a kind of Midwestern equivalent to the Frick Collection that introduced me to this whole other world that existed beyond Toledo. Of course, this was before the internet was accessible to everyone, the museum experience is so different from an online art experience. There is nothing online that compares to seeing a painting, sculpture or installation in person. I think the work I do is best suited to the internet, and I like that it’s a public/private experience available to everyone at any time.
On Duchamp… I would have to say the Étant donnés ((Given: 1 The Waterfall, 2. The Illuminating Gas) is my favourite artwork. Not only because it’s a strange, beautiful, transporting experience, but because of its underlying emotional resonance. It reinforces the fact that life is a series of contradictions.
On thoughts… At the moment, I’m wondering if I should buy this AniMagic Fluffy Go Walking Puppy to go with my outfit for an Elizabeth Taylor themed party I’m going to this weekend?
See the past redefined in animated art of Bill Domonkos on artist’s website.