An Interview with Margaret Honda
By J. Louise Makary
Still from Color Correction, 2015, 35mm film, aspect ratio 1.85:1, color, silent, 101 min.
Margaret Honda’s films can’t be watched on a laptop or device. It’s not just that they haven’t been digitized and uploaded, it’s that the viewer’s physical experience of viewing the films is so integral to the work that they must be screened, in 70mm and 35mm, in theaters equipped to project them with technical integrity. A sculptor and object-based artist, Honda brought film into her practice in recent years primarily guided by her interest in celluloid film as material and in the systems designed to work with it in the wider market. Her two camera-less films were created with print stock, timing tapes, printers, and the technicians who work at FotoKem and YCM Labs, both in Burbank, California.
Spectrum Reverse Spectrum (2014, 70mm, 21 min) moves through the light spectrum from violet to red and back again, with the duration of each color calibrated to match the amount of space it takes up in the visible spectrum. The feature-length Color Correction (2015, 35mm, 101 min) was generated through the use of color timing tapes for an unnamed Hollywood film — a kind of readymade. Leaving out the original film negative, Honda’s film was printed directly from the timing tapes, which control light valves in the printer and correct for problems with exposure, white balance, or color effects. What is seen in the theater is a silent wash of color, bold and vibrant in the case of Spectrum Reverse Spectrum, and more muted and unpredictable in Color Correction. Both material and abstract, the films offer little to enter into, other than the self; there’s no pictorial content, no plot, no sound. The projection itself — and by extension the celluloid, the light, and the technology behind it — is the subject, and the experience of viewing is one in which the viewer orients herself in relation to this event.
Honda earned an MA in Early American Culture from the Winterthur Program at the University of Delaware as an alternative to art school. Her training informs her approach to art-making and filmmaking, which hinges on finding new possibilities for the use of production schemes that are already in place, with materials that are readily available, and accepting and identifying the limits and meaning of what they offer.
Honda hosted this interview at her studio in her home in Los Angeles, on July 7, 2016. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
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J. Louise Makary: Do you remember the first time you saw Color Correction? I read that you had no idea what this piece was going to be, and you prepared yourself to accept whatever this project would look like.
Margaret Honda: The idea was to hand the tapes over to the lab, and I wouldn’t know what it was going to look like until after it was printed. So I was totally prepared to accept whatever happened — if it was a bunch of grays, if it was all blue. I had no idea what it was going to be. In that sense, I was really happy because the finished piece is so varied. So many colors, some that I didn’t know existed and didn’t have names for. And I think because I had prepared myself for accepting whatever it looked like, I didn’t have any expectations of how I would respond to it.
Honda unspools a timing tape used in the making of Color Correction.
Photo: J. Louise Makary
I didn’t have an idea for images or a narrative, or anything like that. It was the material and the process — how these rolls of paper timing tapes are used— that I thought were interesting. Both Spectrum Reverse Spectrum and Color Correction involve the simplest materials. It’s just timing tapes — and in the case of Color Correction, it’s found timing tapes — and print stock, a printer, and amazing technicians. But then the process of using the timing tapes can yield different results — in this case, two very different works. For Spectrum Reverse Spectrum, I knew that I wanted a very gradual transition through the visible spectrum. The idea came before the development of the timing tapes; the timing tapes were engineered to reflect what I wanted to do. For Color Correction, I used timing tapes for an unknown Hollywood film. So someone else had already made the decisions about how many shots were going to be in the film, how long each shot was going to be, and also what they needed to do to color-correct each shot. The timing tapes encode these external decisions.
Makary: What was your introduction to the process that made you think this would be good material for you?
Honda: I didn’t know anything about filmmaking when I started to make Spectrum Reverse Spectrum. I found out that a timing tape had to be generated to control the light valves to print the spectrum and reverse spectrum. So as I was working on that film, I realized that any set of timing tapes could produce a film. That’s how the idea for Color Correction came about.
Still from Spectrum Reverse Spectrum, 2014, 70mm film, aspect ratio 2.2:1, color, silent, 21 min.
Makary: How did you learn to articulate the effects you were looking for, and what was it like working with the technicians? It sounds like they got excited about the challenge of working on this project with you.
Honda: For Spectrum Reverse Spectrum, I worked with Vince Roth, who’s the head of large format at FotoKem. He is extremely well-versed and experienced in film color space, but he had never done anything like this before. The question was what effects I wanted, what I wanted the film to be. I found out that one roll of 70mm print stock is 2500 feet long. Okay — let’s make the film 2500 feet. We tried a few tests to see how long the transitions needed to take. The amount of time that a color is on screen corresponds to the space it takes up in the spectrum. So there’s a lot of green, a lot of blue, less violet. It turned out that we could do the spectrum and its reverse on a single roll of print stock.
Makary: Is it mathematically precise?
Honda: It’s precise. Vince works a lot with densitometer readings, which measure color saturation.
I wanted the transitions to be gradual, no obvious jumps — like when you see a rendering of the spectrum in a book. That’s what Vince was able to do. The advantage for me is that Vince has spent his life working with these questions, just never in this way before. The great thing about the print of Spectrum Reverse Spectrum is that there aren’t any frame lines because there’s no camera original — if you unspool it, it’s the full, uninterrupted spectrum.
Excerpt from Spectrum Reverse Spectrum.
Makary: The two films have a different rhythm to them. Spectrum Reverse Spectrum is a gradual shift, where it’s hard to perceive the exact moment that a color “turns over.” And Color Correction has a lot of quick jumps corresponding to the cuts and corrections dialed in for the feature film the tapes came from. It is completely unpredictable. With Spectrum Reverse Spectrum, even though the transitions are not equal, you know that it is going to move through the spectrum and then reverse. You get an internal sense of the time it will take. Whereas with Color Correction, the rhythm is random and it’s very mental, in terms of how you are going to deal with the different thoughts and discomforts and challenges of this unpredictability. It’s a long film, and some people walk out. It becomes very personal, a challenge.
Honda: Right. Your experience is what the film actually is — what’s happening on the screen, what’s happening in the rest of the room, and what your response is to that.
A couple of people said last night, after the screening of Color Correction [at the Wilder Theater at the Hammer Museum]— and I was really happy to hear this — that when there were these long holds of one color, and there wasn’t any dirt on the print that you could see projected on the screen, the film just became still, like it stopped moving. One person said, “I thought the film had gotten stuck, and it was going to start burning.” I hadn’t had that experience before. Last night might have been the first time that I was actually able to watch the second half just as a film, because every other time it’s been screened, I’ve watched it just for technical reasons — to note what condition is the print in. About midway through, I noticed for the first time this sequence of a dark cyan, a medium cyan, and then a lighter cyan. One right after another. I had never seen it before. After that I realized, the print is fine, they cleaned it. I could sit back and think about it as a work instead of a print. I saw so many things. I believe there is a wipe at the beginning of reel four, which I had never noticed before. And there’s a lot of what I’ll call “white” areas, which are not totally white, there’s a little bit of color in it, and there are a lot more of those than I had remembered. Every time I see it, it’s like I’m seeing a new film, because I can’t remember everything. For me, another thing is that trying to remember Color Correction is not like trying to remember a story. Afterwards, I might remember a few colors or a few sequences. Moreso I remember the act of trying to recall previous colors as soon as a new one is on screen. It's as if the action was propelling me backwards because I couldn't anticipate what was to come.
Makary: How many times have you seen it in a theater setting?
Honda: Let me think…seven or eight times.
Makary: Last night I was aware that Color Correction was going to be ending soon, and I didn’t want it to catch me by surprise, I wanted to be aware of what hue or value it ended on, so for the last 10 or 15 minutes, every time a new value would come up, I would name it. “Blue-ish white.” “Yellowish-white.” “Light gray, slightly darker gray.” I think that doing that made me much more aware of the subtle changes in some of the “non-color” and that took me deeper into concentration.
My experience last night at the Hammer screening was really different from the first time I viewed the films. The first time seeing Color Correction, I was really conscious of this being a record of mistakes, or if not mistakes, then the “unwanted” or something that needed to be corrected. That put me in a particular frame of mind. I started playing along with the cuts, at times when concentration was more challenging, I started to fill in narrative images — maybe this is a scene where a car is driving along a road, and when the color changes, it’s to one of the characters talking in the passenger seat, and then shot-reverse shot. Thinking about what kind of film this might be. There are a lot of cuts — is it an action film? Is this where the credits are? The first viewing was very challenging, and the other things I did that day gave me a different sense of my own time because I was travelling back and forth from Philly to New York and felt rushed. The first time I saw it, it felt demanding, requiring endurance.
The second time felt like an invitation. I have been sitting for longer in my meditations lately, and I think that may have influenced my experience. I felt relaxed. I realized I could be in control of my experience and I could make choices about how I would experience it, rather than having a feeling of “you have to be here, and this is happening to you.” It took me by surprise — I had worried I wouldn’t have the endurance to see it a second time. And then it wasn’t about endurance at all.
Honda: That may be also what happened to me last night. For a long time, I gave myself this task of having to assess the condition of the print, but that could also be my excuse. It’s not at all about entertainment, about losing yourself in the story that carries you along for an hour and a half and then lets you go. It’s up to you to determine what you do with this experience. It is a lot like meditation. For me, initially it’s hard, or else it might be easy, and then it gets hard, and then it gets easier again. The film works that way for me. In an odd way, it seems to reflect back at me. It forces me to notice that I’m watching it. That’s a thing that most films don’t ask of you, and, until I saw it, I didn’t know that that’s what this film could do. I just had this idea for how to make the film. But I didn’t really know how it would be received or how people would view it. I didn’t know how I would view it. I just pursued the process.
Makary: You were sitting behind me in the theater and I’m actually glad I had that light obstacle that forced me to engage differently. For a while there was a bit of anxiety or struggle, and I said to myself, “Well, you can leave if you need to.” And then there was another part of me that was saying, “But you are enjoying this, why would you want to leave?” It was this funny encounter with the two voices in my head. The one voice only knows one part of me, the part that is rushing around — I have things to do, I have anxieties. And then there’s the other part of me that’s learning to tap into what my actual experience is, not what I expect it to be or what it has been in the past.
Honda: Like this is your time, and the point is to think about your time right at this very moment.
Makary: I felt like I scraped away at that top layer of wanting to allow myself an “out.” And then I realized it was at cross-purposes with the experience that I was actually having. I realized I could dismiss that one voice. I became very relaxed. The first viewing was different — I was trying to figure it out.
Honda: For me, I find that my body is really uncomfortable in the beginning, and I find that I’m not breathing very much. If I shift in my seat, it makes noise — there’s an extreme self-consciousness that arises when I start watching the film, because it’s so quiet and still in the theater. Suddenly I’m watching a film and yet it’s making me aware of everything my body is doing, which again is something that most films don’t do. And that’s why I say it operates like a reflection, like a mirror in a way.
Makary: It was counter to what I expected of myself. We all go into screenings with unstated, unconscious expectations, a lot of which have to do with your “self,” and your capacity for relaxing into the moment, your anxiety about being around a lot of other silent people. This took me by surprise because it went against what I expected of myself, which was really cool.
Honda: We can’t talk about a narrative, because that’s not there, that’s not available. But what is available and what we can talk about is our own physical and mental response. For me, that is really important. Both films can offer a more embodied experience of viewing because they are not representations of another space, another world. They allow you to respond to the space you're actually in. It’s very much about the here and now and what’s happening to you as you’re sitting in your seat in the theater.
Makary: Before you got into film, this was also something you were investigating through object-based work, an experientially driven way of working with objects. What’s your experience of what the films are doing for your understanding of these long-standing ideas you’re investigating?
Honda: I see the films as part of a continuum. There are certain questions that keep coming up that I find interesting regardless of the medium I use. I think these two films hand something back to the viewer, pointing to the viewer’s experience as being central to what’s going on. Maybe film does that better than any other material I’ve worked with, in a way. In that sense, it’s interesting to see that — the clarity of the expression was a consequence of working with this new material. But there's also another reason these works are in film and not something else. My insistence on using film plays right through from how the works were made in the lab, to how they are transported to the theater, to the specific needs of 70mm and 35mm projection. I'm working with an entire ecosystem — that's what interests me.
Wildflowers (Fleurs Sauvages), 2015, 16mm film, black and white, optical sound, 3 min. Installation view at Triangle France, Marseille. Photo: Aurélien Mole.
Makary: How about your third film, Wildflowers (Fleurs Sauvages) (2015)?
Honda: For that one, I went to the mountains to shoot. This was in the spring of 2014. I was shooting on Kodachrome that had expired in the early 1960’s and expected to get back images of wildflowers exposed on black and white negative. As I was filming, I could hear the film crackling as it was going through the camera. So I knew there was going to be a problem! I think the emulsion was crumbling off. It came back with no images. The lab asked, “Do you want this back?” And I said, “Of course I want it back.” So I just decided to work with what I had. I added a voice-over reciting descriptions of the color and structure of the flowers at the time they would have been on the screen, based on my shooting notes. The film was produced to be played on a loop in a 16mm projector in my show at Triangle France in Marseille, so the voice-over was in French.
Makary: How did you devise the narration?
Honda: The University of California, Davis, has a horticultural website where you can look up descriptions of California wildflowers, but they’re all so specific. If you’re a horticulturist, no problem. But for a layperson, it can be too much. I just pulled from that, if there’s a description of a petal being a certain way — saucer-shaped, for instance. The foliage being gray-green or spiky or velvety. I selected the words that were the most descriptive of the flowers I shot. I did a very truncated description; there’s no Latin name or common name of the flowers given, just a description of them. I had a friend in France help me with the translation, and Morgan [Fisher, Honda’s husband] did the voice-over. It’s so funny because somebody at the opening said, “Where did you get this film?” They thought it was a very old pedagogic film that would have been shown in schools.
Sculpture, 2015, wood, drywall, paint, exhibition space, 9 ft. x 59 ft. x 79 ft. Installation view at Triangle France, Marseille. Photo: Aurélien Mole.
So the film was a blank white projection with a soundtrack, and it was one of three works in the Marseille exhibition. In the exhibition itself, there were these bare white rooms — a large installation representing all 15 studios I’ve kept during my career, making up the piece Sculpture (2015). These 15 rooms formed a kind of ring-shaped structure, and inside this ring was an empty space that was naturally very dark. Wildflowers was installed in the center. The book, Writings (2015), which is the third object in the show, was not actually in the gallery space. It was in the bookstore. It’s descriptions of all of my work that I made in these studios. It describes everything up to and including Wildflowers and Sculpture.
Makary: You generated all the text?
Honda: Yes. A lot of it is older text that I wrote for press releases and things like that. The book is a description of works with no images. It started out where I was thinking of the actual studios as generative spaces — it's where I got my work done. I didn’t want to show anything in the reconstructed spaces. The studios were the thing itself. I didn’t want them to be a backdrop. And the descriptions of the flowers in the film and the descriptions of the works in the book allow you to come up with images of the work yourself. In a weird way it was a kind of retrospective or mid-career survey, but without the actual objects. The show was about the totality of my practice.
Makary: Working with technicians on the films was not your first experience of working with a team to realize the final product — you had a crew put together these to-scale studios for the installation.
Honda: If there’s a budget for a project, then I can work with other people. In fact, I wrote my master’s thesis on Jack Brogan, the man who fabricated some of my sculptures. He’s been in Los Angeles for a long time, and he did a lot of work early on with Robert Irwin, Helen Pashgian — the Light and Space era couldn’t have happened without him. I wrote about his business practice and how he set it up so he could focus on these projects that were interesting to him even though they were essentially all going to be prototypes. Most businesses want to churn out multiples to offset the cost of tooling up. Jack could get interested in an artist’s project, even when he knew it was going to result in only a few objects, at the most. He structured his business so he could support that way of working. So a lot of artists got things done that they wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise, because other businesses wouldn’t have taken on these types of projects.
Makary: It’s so interesting to hear about your tangential connection to the Light and Space artists because their work was on my mind as I watched your films.
Honda: The Light and Space work and structuralist film come up in relation to my films. But I see both as being historical models. I don’t think my work stems from the same impulses that created those particular models. Even though you could say the films are about the post-production process, they really came from my work in sculpture. I wasn’t thinking about making a film about the process of making a film. Instead, the desire was just to use these materials and processes and see what happens. In terms of the Light and Space question, some of those artists are very, very invested in theory in their own way. Irwin did a lot of really heavy reading in Husserl and Merleau-Ponty, and that’s something I have not touched at all.
Makary: But Irwin is also an artist who is interested in observing.
Honda: Yes, there’s definitely a connection there. He’s somebody who has been really important to me. I interviewed him for my work on Brogan. It was really great talking to him. I went to the paint store with him, and he was looking at two paint chips that were virtually identical and he asked me, “Which one do you like better?” And I thought they were barely distinguishable. He also told me, the worst thing that an artist can do is get a huge studio with a lot of equipment, because then you’re stuck with that and you feel like you have to use it, and maybe that isn’t good for the work. It guides you primarily into making use of these things. That was an important thing for me to hear. It’s funny for me to be talking about that after I just showed you my piece of the studios I had over the years. But the studios themselves — there were so many of them, I was moving a lot, and many of them were in domestic spaces, a bedroom or a living room. A space to work. I don’t have any nostalgia for them. They were tools for me.
Makary: Here in L.A. in the past fall, I was reading about Irwin when I started learning to surf. When you surf, you paddle out to beyond where the waves break and you’re sitting out there waiting for the next set of waves to come in. At dawn or sunset, you’re really just watching the light change and how the color of the water changes along with changes in the light in the atmosphere. It’s a really different vantage point to be watching that occur while on the water, versus from the beach. You’re very aware of the horizon line — the changes above the horizon line and below, in the water. Then I was looking at some of Irwin’s scrims and thinking there was so much in common with this experience I just had! A friend of mine at the Hirshhorn, where he has a survey show, sent me a photo from the 1960s hung on the curator’s door of Irwin posing on the beach with a surfboard. I had no idea he was a surfer, but it made sense that he was very attuned to these observable changes.
Honda: You’re in a very dynamic situation.
Makary: That’s another reason your films really appeal to me. They were a kind of parallel to that experience, watching these tonal changes in light. It’s just funny to me that once you become keyed into a certain interest, you start to come across it in so many forms. Which is why you talking about doing your master’s thesis on someone who facilitated all of this Light and Space work — that had to have been a kind of formative exposure, not a direct line. You’re looking at paint chips with Robert Irwin… interests start to join up.
Honda: I hadn’t thought about the paint chips until just now, but it’s true, there were a lot of things we talked about — paint colors, Coca-Cola from different donut shops — where it was all about these razor-thin differences separating what seemed like the same things. But this, of course, is actually an expansive way of interacting with the world. It’s like training your body to pay attention on a very different level. I still remember that day!
Makary: You went to grad school at Winterthur, and you don’t have a background in studio art?
Honda: I don’t. I studied art history as an undergraduate. Winterthur was very good because it was object-based. I studied material culture, how things get made, what it means that things are made in a certain way at a certain time and place. So it was really all about the context of production. I studied 17th- through 19th-century American decorative arts, which you can’t necessarily say is directly related to my work, but it introduced me to thinking about how you look at something or the value of having things in your hands. The way we were taught, you had to go through the museum and pick things up, turn things over, really figure out what somebody had to do to make something, and that was your education. It was great for me at the time because I was coming from a background where I was making things already and it’s been great for me since, because it’s instilled in me this sense that what I do is very much about the material world. It’s about objects in space and how they exist there, and why.
Makary: You were already making work between undergrad and grad school?
Honda: I was. I didn’t have an art degree and I didn’t want to go to an MFA program. I wanted to continue the way I had started my education, in an academic program. I think material culture appealed to me mainly because it was an interdisciplinary program — I had studied art history, and some of my classmates had studied literature and anthropology, and there was also a conservation program there. Developing a sense of how to think about objects and how to think about materials — that was what I was most interested in. I was already making work and felt like I needed time to think about what I was doing.
Makary: What you pursued for your thesis was probably very unconventional for that program.
Honda: Oh, extremely so. First of all, it was a 20th-century topic. But I was taking methodologies we had been using and applying them to a study of somebody working at the present moment. So it was all about business history and materials, seeing how the process of building this business enabled certain objects to be made that changed how we talk about art. My approach was parallel to how someone might deal with a more historical topic — how a woodworker in 18th-century Rhode Island changed the way we think about furniture-making, or consumption. This idea of “American ingenuity” and spontaneity and a more vernacular way of working — you didn’t go to engineering school, but you can figure out how to do things based on the knowledge you gain through experience — that was all there, in what I was writing about.
Makary: I’m really glad we’re talking about this, because it’s all coming together — understanding how your background connects to the film work through your interest in objects and materiality. At the Hammer, the films are being displayed in their cases in the gallery. What went into that decision?
Honda: The films, for me, exist in two forms. One is the projection in the theater, because that involves the space, the machinery, the projectionist. It’s not just the film as you’re seeing it on the screen. It’s everything around it having to be fine-tuned to a certain standard for the experience to register in the way intended. The SMPTE standard of luminance on the screen, all of that has to be met — these conditions helped me to understand the films as material objects, not just images. You can’t look at it on a computer, you have to see it in the theater. So having them in the cases in the gallery was a way to underscore the fact that this is what they are when they’re not being screened. They have a material existence that looks and behaves a certain way. I’m sure a lot of people who visit the museum have never seen 35mm cases, much less 70mm. They don’t have a sense when they walk into a theater, or watch something on their phone, of the kind of space that a film can take up. I really wanted that to be a part of what I was showing in the exhibition, in addition to the scheduled screenings. And there is only one reel of 70mm. If you see the entire print of The Hateful Eight (2015), it’s a lot of cases! Spectrum Reverse Spectrum is a fraction of the material volume that a feature film would be.
Makary: I read somewhere that this project started for you when you held a reel of 70mm film in your hands.
Honda: I hadn’t seen a 70mm projection before I made Spectrum Reverse Spectrum! I didn’t know what 70m looked like — I hadn’t seen Lawrence of Arabia in the theater, or anything.When I went to FotoKem for the first time, Vince handed me a partial roll of 70mm. It was like a doorstop or something! Really big and heavy. I had thought about doing a project with the spectrum but I didn’t have a sense of how long it would be. When I held the piece of 70mm film, I realized it needed to be the entire roll. Holding the film helped me understand the boundaries of what I was doing. I really just started with the idea, with no sense of what it would look like. Why do I have to have a camera to make a film? Why can’t I just make it on a printer, with the lights? What do the lights do? Oh, they can make the entire spectrum. The initial idea happened like that, very fast, but Vince helped me clarify the physical and temporal limits of the project.
Working with fabricators, you’re basically all learning from each other, which is a really nice thing. I’ve had great experiences working with Vince and with Jack — I go to them because they have more experience than I do. And they work with me because I have ideas they are interested in applying their skills to solve. Or, more to the point, expanding their skills to meet certain ideas.
Makary: Color Correction and Spectrum Reverse Spectrum are screened in theaters, while Wildflowers plays on a loop in a gallery installation. Tell me more about how what goes into exhibiting these works.
Honda: A 70mm projector is a giant piece of equipment usually installed in a projection booth, so that alone dictates where Spectrum Reverse Spectrum can be shown and how it can be seen. I also wanted, for both Color Correction and Spectrum Reverse Spectrum, for people to have the experience of watching the film as you would normally watch any other film in a theater — you sit down, it starts at a certain time, it runs until a certain time. You’re free to leave, but you understand that these are the parameters of viewing. I wanted those parameters to be very clear and to be based on something that is familiar, because I think in that way it emphasizes how far these films deviate from the experience you have with a conventional narrative film.
For Wildflowers, in Marseille, it was the first time I’d shown a film in an installation setting with the film on a loop. For me it worked in that situation because it was short enough so that viewers could stand, and even though the audio could be heard in the larger exhibition space, it wasn't a distraction. I saw the whole set-up—the screen and the projection and the viewer’s interaction with it—as being like a sculpture. It just worked out that there was a darkened area in the center of the space in which to screen the film. Initially, we were planning on showing the film on one of the walls in the gallery or right outside the gallery space. But after we completed the construction of the installation, we saw that the interior could be used as a screening room.
Let me show you another sculpture. This is a sculpture called Fish Trap (1989, 2010), and the date of it is 2016. In 1989 I made a sculpture called Fish Trap and it was part of series of sculptures I had made that were based on 19th-century American descriptions of animal traps. Some were for food and some were for killing bears and wolves. I exhibited it and it had been written about and I was happy with it. But it was stored in my garage and was taking up a lot of space. I had a sense that it wouldn’t be shown again. I thought, if it’s going to be invisible, maybe I want a more active role in its invisibility. It was a bronze wire sculpture, about 5 feet in length and 3 feet high, and I had the idea to melt it down and reform the sculpture from the material. Same sculpture, in a different format. No material would be added or taken away. I contacted foundries and I finally found an artist named Kristan Marvell who understood the project. That was in 2010. So Kristan melted Fish Trap down in his foundry, where he had one large mold and two smaller ones to pour the metal into. Those three ingots were exhibited in 2011 and in April of this year, the gallery Freedman Fitzpatrick in Hollywood asked to show it. I agreed but said I intended to remelt it for each public display. The original foundry had closed, so I found another. The new foundry had two molds that were the right size for the amount of metal. Both times I asked the foundry to use whatever molds they had, and I would accept however many it was going to be. So each time the work is shown publicly, it gets melted down and reformed using the foundry’s industrial molds, and I change the date.
Makary: I’m noticing a through-line in your work around the idea of acceptance.
Honda: It’s less about me as a person and more about working within whatever production systems are already in place, and highlighting how they work. The way I think about it is, to use the example of Color Correction — these are the timing tapes I was given, and this is what they look like when they’re printed. If I’d been given different timing tapes, it would have looked different, but it would have been the same film, to me, because it would have been the same idea and procedure. In a way that’s a connection between Color Correction and this work [Fish Trap (1989, 2010)]: it could be different based on someone else’s decisions but at this moment we are working with this situation, and so this is what it looks like. There is an acceptance, but I guess the way I would put it is that it’s a way of pointing to a certain situation in production at this moment. Some of what I do involves rearranging the order in which things are normally done, or maybe bypassing certain steps of a procedure. This is where acceptance of certain situations does come in. People do things for me that they normally don't do, and they do their absolute best within whatever constraints they face. This is an interesting thing for me, to see what things look like when the process is guided by multiple limitations.
Makary: But the fact that you see value in highlighting the systems that are in place does point toward a certain orientation to the world. A lot of people making work just cannot abide by chance. Yours is a different engagement with practice — to just go with it.
Film (Künstlerhaus Bremen), 323 Rosco E-Colour+ lighting filters, exhibition space, 14 weeks. Installation view of reel 3, 31 May to 13 June 2016. Photo: Marcus Meyer.
Honda: Why agonize? You can actually get so much done when you don’t agonize. For me, the question is, “Okay, what is already there that I can work with, and what can I do with it?” It’s about taking the things that already exist, and putting them together and seeing what happens. Not knowing what’s going to happen. That’s the nice part, because it doesn’t feel forced. I’m not going to make it do something. For my recent show in Bremen, I got an entire set of Rosco light gels. We used 324 gels. I started working on this piece at this site, which has a lot of paned windows. There are 56 panes of glass. The exhibition is up for 14 weeks. So I did some basic arithmetic — 324 divided by 56 gives us six groupings of the gels. Over a 14-week span of time, each set is up for 16 days. I worked with them according to Rosco's ordering system. The names are really quite beautiful — rosy amber, half-minus green. This is just another example of where I use what is given — the materials, the timeframe, the architecture — and see what is possible with those givens. It is a way of accepting what is given, but manipulating within the bounds of what is given.
Makary: I like it because there’s a different sense of will to making this work.
Honda: Yeah, I think so. I accept that the external things are there. I see my job as just working with those, not making them do anything that they can’t do. It’s a different kind of assertion. I’m not demanding more weeks for the show for a different division of the filters. I’m not demanding a new filter from Rosco. It’s about expanding the range within what’s already there. When I first made the traps in 1989, I manipulated materials. I got bronze wire, wood, nails, I made sketches. Now it’s that the process is a material. The architecture is a material. It’s nice because it feels like there are more possibilities if you open it up to everything that’s there. It does feel like accepting that this is what we have. But it also is liberating. This is so much already! We can do so much with it. If you start with, for lack of a better word, a kind of narrative, any kind — “making an object,” “making a film” — if you start with that from the beginning, sometimes you’re so invested in it, you lose sight of other opportunities. I'm trying to find ways not to lose sight of those opportunities.
Film (Künstlerhaus Bremen), 323 Rosco E-Colour+ lighting filters, exhibition space, 14 weeks. Installation view of reel 1, 28 April to 16 May 2016. Photo: Marcus Meyer.
Makary: In the notes you sent me, you wrote that as the screening technology changes and the physical print may change, “my films move closer to being unviewable, unmakeable, and unreproducible.” Talking about change as an element in your work, I’m wondering if there is emotional content to that reality — that it’s going to change. These films one day might not be able to be shown. Is there something appealing to you about that?
Honda: That’s an interesting way of asking it, if it’s appealing. I hadn’t thought of it in those terms. But certainly looking at my work and aspects of invisibility or working with accepted realities of things, there is a certain appeal in saying “this is what it is.” When I first started working with film, I knew filmmakers were struggling with the fact that certain print stocks were no longer being made. I was aware that things were changing and film itself was being phased out. But that’s not why I started working in film. It wasn’t a statement about film. It was simply that this was a material from which my ideas came. The thing that’s sad is that as these technologies phase out, everybody has fewer options. For my own work, a kind of disappearance doesn’t seem like an oddity, doesn’t seem incongruous.
I will continue working with the films when they are worn or if the day ever comes when they can’t be properly projected, but I haven’t yet been faced with this so I don't know what it will entail. As with all my work, the identity of a film lies in its material fact. The sculptures I melted down remain the same work regardless of what form they take. I will likely use different method when working in the future with my films that can no longer be projected, but the main idea is that I treat all my work as materials, not just things made of materials.
Makary: The reason I asked that question is that built into your practice is a comfort with obscuring some things or leaving things to the imagination or to history. You won’t show documentation of the sculptures that were melted down. So even with the possible disappearance of the materials you are using, along with the ability to show them, your practice has already grown around the idea that change can be absorbed.
Honda: The fact that it can be absorbed is the best way of putting it. It is possible for my work to absorb these situations. This is a way to push the work forward.
Published December 14, 2016
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
J. Louise Makary is an experimental filmmaker and writer based in Los Angeles. She runs Mother Ditch, a critique group and skills-sharing community for experimental media artists. www.jmakary.com