Thursday, April 18, 2013

SCREENINGS: T. Foley, Cone of Shamelessness

T. Foley is the artist behind the fourth installment of Screenings here at the Mattress Factory. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to interview Foley about her life, work and inspirations, and of course, her most recent work, Cone of Shamelessness, created specifically for the Mattress Factory.

CAITLIN HARPSTER:  Could you give us a brief history about yourself and how you have come to create the work that you do? 

T. FOLEY:  As long as I can remember, I’ve been an observer—this led me to begin writing short fiction in high school, and to major in English in college. Eventually I found that delivering stories to audiences (through print media and at readings) did not feel satisfying. In filmmaking school, I began to use actions, rather than words, to express my creativity, and that felt good. 

CH:  In Cone of Shamelessness you used your cell phone and a webcam to create the footage we see. Are you using technology as a mediator to connect with your viewers, by bringing it down to a relatable, local, low-tech, social media, texting level? 

TF:  I like home movies, so using the Web camera and iPhone--technology which many people have access to--made sense to me. The movie is very intimate—shot in our home, made with our dog.  It’s also a little love poem to our new dog. Intuitively, I was probably trying to balance my reactions to her being in that cone. Some of her regular gestures appeared hilarious to me, as in the shadow dog walking scene, when she looks like some kind of space monkey. I also sympathized with her frustrations (when she had an itch behind the cone, she was not able to scratch it).  

I have other work that is about accessing technology—specifically my public art/original ringtone creation project, Locally Toned. Through it, I work with others to capture the sounds that are interesting or important to them in a particular environment, and then I share the sounds as ringtones, free of charge, at

CH:  I also feel the ‘low-tech’ quality of the video aids to it being more of a ‘gesture’ as well, which  Screenings is loosely based on. How did you interpret Cone of Shamelessness as a gesture? 

TF:  When figuring out what make for Screenings, I thought about the prompt to do “gestural” or “spontaneous” video sketches. So I wanted to keep things really simple in terms of technology and process. I also worked by myself, like William Wegman did in his early videos with his dogs in the studio. 

CH:  A lot of your works exude a sense of humor—personifying blow-up dolls, animalizing yourself, ventriloquism, etc. Is humor an element that you tend to utilize often in your works? 

TF:  I’m very inspired by comedy. As a tween and teen, I loved Saturday Night Live’s short films, and acts by Albert Brooks and Andy Kaufmann. Later I admired early performance videos by William Wegman and Miranda July. This past year I’ve developed more awareness as a comedic performer. I did a thematic residency last fall (with about 20 other artists) called Experimental Comedy Training Camp at The Banff Centre. We had come up with new, live performances every week, for seven weeks, and although it was really stressful it gave me the chance to try things outside my comfort zone. Before I went to Camp, after moving to Los Angeles last summer, I took a class at the Groundlings School—the West Coast improv program with alumni like Will Ferrell, Kristen Wiig and Paul Reubens.

In licence, the blow-up doll movie, and in Cone of Shamelessness, I improvise scenarios that let me re-imagine the world. A blow-up doll is usually a sex object, but I teach her how to roller skate, sing, and drive a car. A ventriloquist dummy is a puppet meant to speak in public, but mine has selective mutism (he never speaks in public). He messages with others live, on Chatroulette, and re-does famous works of performance art (like Vito Acconci’s Seedbed). 

CH:  I know that one of the stipulations for this series was that the video be silent. How did this help shape your work, if at all? To me, it made for a more direct parallel between you and your dog. Dogs cannot talk, therefore the viewer is left to fill in the silence with their own thoughts of what you/your dog could be thinking. 

TF:  Yes, I thought about the fact that it was going to be silent. I pictured surveillance, live text-chat, or “choreography of motion” scenarios. I love the early films from the late 1800s by the Lumiere Brothers and Edison, so I was thinking in terms of an action simply unfolding before the camera.

About dogs not being able to talk -- that’s true! I often feel frustrated that I cannot tell Cousin Violet [the name of Foley's dog], “We’ll be back,” when she’s experiencing separation anxiety, or that I can’t say anything she’ll understand or be comforted by when she’s frustrated. Something like, “That cone won’t be on forever; it’s helping you to get better.”

T. Foley is an artist living and working in Los Angeles.  She received her BA in English at Duquesne University, and studied film, digital media and video at Pittsburgh Filmmakers as an independent student. Check out T. Foley’s work, Cone of Shamelessness, screening in the lobby through April 25, 2013. 

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