In conversation with Karissa Hahn


The visual research of Hahn launches in time, in the experimentations of the superimposed matter, filtered, subtracted, deferred. It does not seem possible to break the wonderful unity of this knowing, the silent and amazed purity of natures that fulfill and live actresses in themselves. A return, a repetition, a propagation, or as Lyotard would say Revenir à, go back to something, achieve something, be equivalent in memory, or in the control of a moving dream.

We exchanged a few words with her …

As a student at the prestigious CalArts (California Institute of the Arts) what was your education, what has brought you to the video?
My education in the arts started as a curiosity for having one that had been presented and quickly snatched. There were budget cuts in my high school and art was the first to go (and a brand new astro turf football field appeared). I wanted to make videos, to make anything really… and started making these weird little narratives in my friends basement. We would construct these sets and emulate what we would see our mothers watching on television, what action movies our siblings were viewing… think ‘James Bond’ meets ‘General Hospital.’ I was fortunate to have an english teacher who would screen my movies in his class, and that became my reason for showing up, for graduating. I was drawn to CalArts for the faculty. I got sucked into the film world there, especially after learning the optical printer from Charlotte Pryce. I made a lot of short works on super 8mm and 16mm, but now have returned to doing more video-art and performative works, post-graduation. My first piece at CalArts, Before the Portrait, was inspired by Mike Kelley’s work, and that is what I have returned to thinking about currently. I picked up a 3-megapixel camera at a Bed Bath & Beyond and can keep a fast workflow without having the resources one would have at an institution. I’ve been thinking a lot about Joan Jonas, Samuel Beckett, and the everyday weirdness of the mundane – frequenting this french dip place in Chinatown where there is 50 cent coffee, and watching people chit chat with mouthfuls of coleslaw. I wish I could list all the people I see there as reference. Making videos is the only response I have for these encounters or fascinations.

Your working tool is a Canon Super8 Camera…
I often work in short-form… manically, obsessively. The super 8 camera allows me to get a thought shot quickly and think about something else before changing my mind about it all or questioning it to death. I often have one roll of film dictate the duration. This gives me a time-frame, a rule or guideline, a starting point so that I could then move on to its conceptual aspects. It’s kind of like this compulsion I have to know all details of something before signing onto it. If meeting with someone – for how long will it last? when can I escape? Perhaps its not so spontaneous of me… but my super 8 camera and projector are both broken, so this gives it leeway in form that I look forward to obstructing or letting it be. Sometimes the camera shoots only when it wants to, and I see this as doing its own thing – I am pleased. The film often gets jammed up in the gate and shows its frames – its teeth. It coughs, hiccups, and gives a temper tantrum. My tape recorder turns off an on, it listens when it wants, constructing its own composition. I am meticulous in planning and want to know every angle of how the idea could be perceived, translated, dissected… and then all this chaos ensues and I am left with remnants that have been formed by the equipment and process itself. Sometimes I put up a fight and implement a series of operations that curls the piece back on itself and surveys its embryo. To try and tame the former that had been thrown to chance, the super 8 format allows all of this mayhem.

How much important is, for you, working on the physical transformation of the film? And how is it integrated with the following digital manipulation?
I am often investigating something in my films and working with celluloid directly allows me to fulfill this fantasy of playing that role. Be it a scientist, an investigator or a surgeon… to be searching or on the brink of something. I keep trying to apply to be a private-eye, though, I keep getting responses that I lack the proper credentials. There was a moment where I wanted to address the screen, to give it a shout-out perhaps, to not just project my ideas and viewpoint onto it.  Working in assembling different formats allows an alchemy to transpire in its own temporality. Hito Steyerl has influenced my process in mutating analog & digital with her writings and works about the ‘poor image.’ I am currently trying to create works on film that are born in the digital world. Or perhaps trying to reverse the telecine.

How would you describe the sound in your work? Substance or narrative?
I carry around this tape recorder that I call “Craig” (its the model name!). I talk to Craig and later construct films around what she decides to hear. I will usually let it run during my shoots and allow it to do its thing. Since this method often produces scratchy and cut-off recordings, it becomes a little bit of both. Substance – in that the mistakes – and the clicks- act as cuts, as fills. Narrative because there is a voice or thought guiding the frames or sentiment wanting to be addressed, along.

1 _ _ _ _ 1 is your last work in series, in which arises themes of will, suspension and tension…
1_ _ _ _1 is the first part of a super 8 series where I investigate cinematic techniques as described from Youtube “How To” videos. I wanted to take these rules and turn them into a performance of sorts, each with the duration of one roll of film. It started with a particular musing of wanting to collaborate, and then determined it might be best to collaborate with the camera..for everyone is doing it. I was not willing to have another pull on the other end, and this translates to my own volition in the film. To subject oneself and be vulnerable to the frame, yet be willing (and trying) to fall. Thus, came the “if I fall, you fall” sentiment. Or perhaps, humor as a relief of tension… I can’t quite articulate why just yet, but I can’t stop thinking about Adolphe William Bouguereau’s “A Young Girl Defending Herself Against Eros.”

Connected to the concept of will, in your work the camera become autonomous and alive. Where is the line between the artist and his tool?
I worry at times we are going to evolve into growing iPhones as extensions of our arms. A black mirror that grows out of ones palm. There is control over the images taken, deleted, filtered. I mounted a super 8 camera on a selfie stick and it collapsed, it bent right in half.  The ‘weight’ of it.. the ‘wait’ing time of the film…. the (turn-around) time, whilst turning around the camera… the selfie. The editing and cutting out frames that aren’t good enough. Subjecting the camera to a certain liberty at the end of the chain, or attached to object from the ‘now,’ and then examining how it plays out. There is a curiosity in creating a certain degree of latitude between the camera and self… between the artist and tool… since we now exist in a time where we are all captains of our images, and can emit a strong degree of control.

Gaia Casagrande

1. preview

Karissa Hahn, Before the Portrait, 2012, 16mm to digital, color, silent, 02:09


Karissa Hahn, 1 _ _ _ _ 1, 2015, Super8 to digital, b&w, sound 03:00


Karissa Hahn, Chestnut Street, 2014, 16mm to digital,  color, sound, 01:00


Karissa Hahn, In Effluence accord; Emulsion, 2013, Super 8 to 16mm to digital, color, silent, 03:00


Karissa Hahn, Escalator


Karissa Hahn

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