We asked Amelia a series of questions about herself and her work.
Cairo Collection: What attracts you to the decorative arts?
Amelia Bauer: I have always been fascinated with intricate and obsessively crafted objects. My mother is a potter and my father is an architect, and growing up my house was filled with traditional crafts and modernist furniture. I remember seeing a Victorian house for the first time. I couldn’t believe all of the ornate details, it just blew my mind. It was like a whole universe opened up to me that seemed so foreign and exotic. One of my father’s favorite dictums was “form follows function”and it was so exciting to find that, regardless of my father’s convictions, examples of embellishment in excess of function go back as far as the Egyptian empire.
One of the most consistent themes in the decorative arts (and to me the most compelling) is to take forms from nature and organize them into strict and sometimes geometric patterns, like the lotus leaf pattern of the Egyptian empire, or the lavish floral and feather-based patterns of the baroque era. I find it so interesting that we build structures to shield us from the chaos of the natural world, and then fill them with the references to the natural world, but in a way that is palatable and safe. It is our way of convincing ourselves that we are separate from, and in control of nature — or maybe an attempt to make some sense of it, while at the same time keeping a safe distance. It allows us to hold a romanticized picture of the wild unknown.
CC: What compelled you to generate film stills/imagery in needlepoint and lace?
AB: I had been working on a lot of pieces in which I explored the themes that I laid out above. I was really examining this tendency in the decorative arts to organize the natural world. Simultaneously I was thinking about this Hawthornian idea of the forest or the unsettled wild as being the site of chaos and evil. With the pieces in STILL I wanted to make something that pushed the chaos side of that equation. I thought that the typical Hollywood movie functions for us today in the way that a baroque wallpaper might have functioned in its time. That is to say that when we watch a movie we are able to experience all its chaos (emotional, physical, etc.) from a safe distance.
Hollywood movies showcase our wealth as an empire. All of the high budget productions are louder, brighter, faster and better, and there is more here than in any other country. Empires past flaunted their wealth and power with the various objects that adorned a monarch’s palace and the in the facades of major buildings. I wanted to link Hollywood movies to those lavish imperial displays by putting movie stills back into the format of an older craft. The explosions and defenestration are shown for what they are-- decorative flourishes, in excess.
I also liked taking something violent and hard and fast and making it into this slow, soft thing. I think of the lace as handkerchiefs that could be used in mourning the loss of a loved one, and the pile of pillows are equally comforting. I’ve always felt that I am exposed to more violence, devastation, and tragedy via movies than in my real life. I think as Americans we have so many emotional
experiences in movies before, if ever, we have them in reality. Yet, the reality is that our country is waging war, and there are all kinds of destruction and violence that I feel very detached from. I wanted to make pieces that mourned fictional deaths as a way of demonstrating that disconnect.
CC: What aspects of film and Hollywood in particular are you attracted to?
AB: Well I’m a bit of a film geek in general, but this project has less to do with “film” as a medium, and more to do with Hollywood as a producer of popular culture. There is so much money that goes into Hollywood. The film industry here is so central to our national identity, so I think it’s helpful to look at it as a text for what we’re interested in as a society. It’s where all of our fantasies and fascinations are indulged, so it seems like a very rich area to explore.
CC: What contemporary artists are of interest to you right now?
AB: I tend to be fascinated by artists that do work that I feel is very far from what I would ever make. Its exciting to see something and have the feeling, “it would never even occur to me to make this, but I LOVE it.” Most recently I’ve decided that I really like Cory Arcangel. He’s got good ideas, I love his general ethos, and I would never ever make anything like it.
CC: What artists, if any, do you consider are currently handling the same issues?
AB: I think in general I try not to look at things that are close to what I’m doing, for fear that I’ll see something too similar and become discouraged. I suppose something vaguely related that comes
to mind is Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Theaters series, wherein he photographs the interior of a movie theater using the length of the movie on screen as his light source. I absolutely love those photographs. They capture the utter romance of the movie theater, and as prints they are exquisitely crafted and deeply seductive. Another piece that I love is Pierre Huyghe’s The Third Memory, a split screen video projection showing footage from Dog Day Afternoon alongside footage of John Wojtowicz, the man on whom the movie was based, retelling his story decades
after the fact on a sound stage. The piece reveals to us that Wojtowicz’s memory of the real life event is heavily affected by the film adaptation. It’s a brilliant piece that speaks so strongly of the way that Hollywood affects the way we view and interpret so many of our life experiences.