Monday, June 28, 2010

A Space in Time with Chani Becker (Part I)

I met Chani Becker through the collaborative project 3N6D in which John Heino assembled a dancer, film maker, musician and himself with photography in an orchestrated, experimental three-sequence free-for-all of expression. Chani contributed film and video. Some of her paintings were also on display there at the Venue, and several drew me in.

Her self-introduction on her website begins like this:

Chani Becker is a filmmaker, graphic designer and owner of HotHouse Design & Post in Duluth, Minnesota. She grew up in and around Madison, Wisconsin - including many years on a small farm in Blue Mounds. Her family's decision to sell the farm and move to a cul-de-sac on Madison's west side prompted her first documentary video "Out the Window" in 1998.

I like the spirit with which she seemed open to life and her commitment to pursuing the creative movements within her. Earlier this month she agreed to have lunch with me at Pizza Luce in Downtown Duluth. This is the first part of that interview.

Ennyman: So, how long have you lived in Duluth, and tell us about your life journey that led you to this point in time?

Chani: Well, I've lived here in Duluth for about 3 ½ years. It will be 4 years September 1st. I moved here from my home town of Madison, WI. I quit a really good job that I loved very much, that was paying me very well, and offered me a raise right before I left to move here without any job lined up, and without knowing anyone here in this town whatsoever. But I moved here out of a sense of adventure. I knew that Madison wasn't where I wanted to stay and settle, because I grew up there, and I was feeling very restless and I never wanted to live there as an adult. I had already lived there for 6 years as an adult and it was time to go, time to move on.

E: Do you think a lot of people get stifled by living in their home towns? They grow up, they never move out of who they were?

Chani: Who they used to be? I think some people are very comfortable with that, and that's fine. But for me, I was living with ghosts of my past every day. There were ghosts on every street corner and it's not like there was anything I had to escape or any violent or tragic past, but if you're constantly reminded of your past and who you used to be, it is hard to grow. Madison is built on marshland, and I just feel the energy of the place sucks me down, sucks me there and keeps me there. And so in part it’s that my psycho-geographic map was populated with all these events from my past that made it kind of uninteresting to be there. But it was also just the energy. I wasn't feeling like it was the place for me. I had been having all these dreams, and even before visiting Duluth ever I decided to move here. I did realize when I moved here, that I had been having dreams about Duluth, Duluth/Superior. Going over the bridge had been something that was a part of my nightmares in my childhood. So there was this feeling that coming to Duluth, I was supposed to be here and it was a place of my dreams and my nightmares very literally. So it was definitely the right place for me, sort of a doom mixed with fate. Maybe they're the same thing.

Ed: So what is HotHouse Designs?

Chani: The full name is HotHouse Design and Post, which means video post production. So the company does graphic design for marketing, advertising and video post production. When I started the business I didn't start it to become a video production company and do the full range of services for commercial video production, which is why post is in the name because it’s editing, editing motion graphics, post production works commercially.

Ed: Is that what you were doing in Madison?

Chani: Yeah, exactly. And my degree is in film, Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film. And then because I'm a filmmaker, even though my business isn't commercial video production, I also make documentary films on the side and other fun film projects just for the heck of it, just for fun.

Ed: So what is it about film as a medium that you like so much?

Chani: It involves every other medium. It can involve the same dynamics as a painting or a photograph, or a performance, or a piece of music.

E: And good writing.

Chani: One of my professors in college called it 4-dimensional design. It’s so free; it's just incredibly free as a medium.

E: How many films have you made?

Chani: Well, I've made... 3 right now, but they are films. They're documentaries but they're work for hire, from Universities or non-profit organizations. So the definition of what a film is is kind of gray and (is the question) just for my personal expression or intellectual adventure, or is it for pay? So for pay, I've made probably 5 various film projects over the past 5 years or so, but I wouldn't consider them films, per se. And in terms of purely artistic or noncommercial interest I've worked on about 7 in the past 10 years or so. But the more lately they've been collaborative, like I worked as film editor on a 48 hour film project for the past 3 years and we made 3 films in the past 3 years and I was the editor not the director. And right now I'm working on a surrealistic experimental film project with a collaborator, too, We're both collaborating equally on it but it's just for play.

NOTE: The paintings on this page are by Chani, who will talk a little about surrealism in film and painting in part II. Click image to enlarge.

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