While digitizing ExTV’s VHS archive of student work, we find pieces that leave us wanting more. Our archive has work from 1997-2006, and we want to know where these people are today. This segment features an interview with an alumni.
ExTV: With low key lighting, melodramatic dialogue, and spy tropes, mashed up with animated collage interludes, I see “The Search for the Great Owl” as a surreal deconstruction of the spy thriller genre. What was the inspiration behind it?
Austin Meredith: “The Search for the Great Owl” is a time–based video collage that attempts to create a unique, temporal, psychological landscape. By including quintessential themes from spy thriller, sci-fi, and the hero myth narratives, I saw the project as a deconstruction of traditional narrative film making . I wanted to experiment with the environment, architecture, and people around me and to somehow transform and transmute these elements. At the time I made “The Search for the Great Owl,” I was watching all the Godard films for the first time, including his great sci-fi, Alphavil.
ExTV: Your use of collage is fantastic. Cut between dramatic scenes, these abstract moments feel like clues to solve the mystery, red herrings, and glimpses into the world the Great Owl seems to send its users. Where do you collect your images from? What is your method for assembling and animating these
AM: The animations were meant to be like puzzles or clues. I collected the imagery for the animated collages from educational books printed in the sixties and seventies as well as from the internet. Scouring the thrift stores in Chicago for materials to repurpose was always inspiring. The amount of images readily available online was much smaller than today—and the resolution was also much more limited—so it was definitely a treasure hunt. The animation segments were created with after effects and final cut pro.
ExTV: I noticed that it isn’t until six minutes into the movie that your characters actually speak their dialogue out loud. Until then, Agent 19 and Constantin use telepathy– why telepathy?
AM: The production style was based on improvisation and the piece was really made and built as it was filmed. Adding the dialogue after filming allowed the scenes to be spontaneously created without any scripting. The telepathy dialogue was also a way of experimenting with additional dialogue recording and learning how to edit sound and image together. This was very much a student film and one of my first attempts at cinematography and video editing.
ExTV: There are no crew credit listed. This leads me to believe you filled all of those positions. Were you working solo, or did you have any collaborators? How did you create the soundscapes in “The Search for the Great Owl”? Can you talk a little about your current art practice?
AM: I shot, edited, and recorded all of the sound and music. I am very grateful to my peers who were featured in the film, wore scary masks, and collaborated to record the voiceover. The soundscapes were all created with samples, sound loops, and fragments pulled from old records and my own instruments. Since graduation, I have worked a great deal with moving image and sound design.
ExTV: Making books, collage, photography, video, sounds; your work is very interdisciplinary. Do you have any guiding themes or ideologies threading through the pieces, or is it more of an intuitive process deciding the content and form of your work?
AM: I like to start with an idea and then find the medium and material that can build a frame for that concept. Interdisciplinary processes seem much more suited to our current ecosystem than having one narrow focus of practice. The democratization of the tools for production are really astounding. When I was at SAIC in the early 2000s, we were just starting to use digital video and digital photography. Now we are all taking photos and videos on our phones with much higher resolution and sharing them through the social network instantaneously and with a community of millions.
ExTV: You moved to Los Angeles after your time at SAIC, right? What have you been doing there? Can you talk a little about a project or two you’ve made or worked on since SAIC?
AM: I moved to Los Angeles after graduating SAIC and have been working in the art world and in film production. I have continued creating books, images, short videos, and music. I was in London last summer for a special 30 Day exhibition at the Barbican entitled Station to Station. It was a wonderful project that afforded me the opportunity to work with great artists and musicians including Suicide, Terry Riley, Beck, and the Savages. I recently edited two moving image works that made their debut at The Sundance Film Festival. The Source which was a video installation within an architectural pavilion and Station To Station was a feature film. Both of these projects were directed by the artist Doug Aitken, whose studio I am working at as an editor, sound designer, and creative director.
ExTV: Do you have any general tips or advice for current students?
AM: My advice for students would be to stay curious and to constantly pull in inspiration from other artists, musicians, and great minds to help inform your practice. The most talented and special people I have worked with have an incredible and diverse knowledge of the all the creative fields. They are aware of what has happened, what is happening, and what might happen in our future.
ExTV: Any upcoming projects of yours we should look out for?
AM: This summer, I am helping to produce and organize a large scale Doug Aitken retrospective at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA). I am proud to have edited and contributed to sound design on many of the video installations included in the exhibition and am excited that the exhibition will give many of the works their North American premiere. A highlight of the show for me is the sonic fountain. This installation creates an audio composition from the sequenced dripping of water as it falls from the ceiling and is then processed through hydrophones in a pool of water.
For more of Austin’s work, you can find him here: