Words and images by Inga Schunn
Christina Acevedo is a Los Angeles based artist who focuses on video and installation, with a strong nod towards performance, costuming, and cinema. Her most recent projects include working on a music video for Geneva Jacuzzi and creating installations for gallery events. We met with her at her new Silver Lake apartment to talk about the love of nostalgic voyeurism, the freedom of isolated creation, and the beauty in pain.
How did you get into film?
Well, I’ve always been around video cameras. My mom was obsessed with documenting things, so I always had access to Hi-8 and VHS cameras. I was always making movies and taking photographs. I remember in third grade I went away to a camp and was processing prints in the darkroom so I was always into photography.
I went to college and was still really confused, I had no idea what I wanted to do as a grownup. At one point I started interning for a company that did PR for New York Women in Film and TV. I got to go to one of the events and be around all of these women who were filmmakers and worked in TV, and that was like the first time that I was like, “Oh my gosh, women are making FILM!” Because it was like, “Oh, Steven Spielberg... Francis Ford Coppola!” I remember watching The Shining growing up, and my mom would take me to see video art and I would be like, “Ok, Bill Viola....Ok, Paul McCarthy!” all these big males that were dominating the film industry and I just couldn’t relate to it. I was like “That’s what they do and I’m this girl and I don’t know where I fit into this so I’m just going to do PR.” (laughs) You know? But then I was around all these women and so I made my minor Production. I was like, “I want to be a film producer!” Then I interned with Vox Films who produced small indie films with big names in them so I got to see how things worked. I also interned for Focus Features. I was just like on my grind in New York, I was just like I want to learn how to make films! I started producing short films for my friends and I got really frustrated because I was like, “I see what you’re doing, and I want to be directing! I want to start making my own content!” So, when the actress I was working for at the time would go back to LA I would start creating my own films. I started writing my own scripts. I made my first short film called Wild Idle. It was really weird and long and I had no idea what I was doing. Half of the crew was from Philadelphia, half of the crew were friends of mine from New York. I had my friend edit it and then I just ended up editing it even more. At first it was like 40 minutes, I think it might be like 20 some minutes now? I submitted it to a ton of film festivals, and it didn’t get into any of them, except for the Cannes film festival to the short film corner which is more like art house films. So I went to Cannes with that which was really dope. Then it got into the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, which was my favorite museum growing up. It was where my mother always got a lot of her art from when I was younger. We would go there a lot!
Would you say you’re more autonomous now than you used to be? Relying on a film crew can be very shaky, but it can also be grueling to work on something alone sometimes.
Yeah, I think both pose challenges, but that’s kind of like the fun of it! It sucks when I have to film alone, but sometimes I’ll have people film stuff for me. I’ll get people who aren’t usually filmmakers, people who just want to hang out. Artists that aren’t familiar with a camera, because it’s actually better. I’ve found that people who aren’t conscious of framing actually do a really, really good job.
Yeah! When I moved to L.A. I became friends with more artists, and so I was asked to participate in more art events and do more video artwork. Whereas in New York I was working on film sets all the time, so I was really inspired by that. Then you come here and all your friends are artists...
So, the most recent thing you worked on was with Frankie Rose and Geneva Jacuzzi, and that’s coming out in a month?
I don’t want to promise a specific date, but It should be coming out soon! The track is called Red Museum. That was like the first thing that I’ve produced plus was cinematographer on in a while! I had just been making video art with just me and maybe one other friend. I made a thing for MATA at Superchief Gallery and that was just me. It’s the piece with pink and purple flowers and my face is bandaged in the bathroom and I’m in a breakdown and there’s smoke machine and I put my music to it. You can find all of these things linked on my website.
What’s your music alias?
Steel Rain; it’s just always been a hobby of mine for years that I’ve been hesitant in putting out because it’s just like fun stuff. Then when I was asked to do the video piece for Living room they wanted to use my music. I was like ok cool, and then it got a positive response so I’ve been using my music in all of my video art. This was maybe like a year ago or something.
So, who are some of your favorite artists?
Hmmm. Well, I really like Bill Viola, he’s one of my tops. I like Tony Oursler, and I like Marina Abramovic just because she inspired more of the stuff I’m doing now, which might be more like bodywork style stuff, you know? It’s more experimental, testing your body’s limits.
I feel like your work has a lot of nods towards ritualism, performance, and mortality...
It’s interesting that you say mortality because I think of it more as rebirthing; going through that dark period to get to the new you, and to figure out the growth behind that. Thinking back to the two films I made I think those two were more about escapism, the two main characters were escaping abusive relationships so they could live on their own without any judgements from anybody. It was left open ended as to what would become of them. My video artwork is definitely more body work, performance, endurance, but it’s definitely mental.
I’ve always loved psychological thrillers; Michael Haneke and Alfred Hitchcock. They build and have these female characters that they like to torture. So I’ve taken a lot of views from them, and so I’ve just been torturing myself with these videos I’ve been making basically. (laughs)
Torturing yourself in the process as well as the result of the video; that’s what “Ok, Drown” was about?
Yeah, I don’t like being underwater. I can go swimming under water, but I don’t stay underwater for long at all. I made this sculpture that was inspired by these mummers from Newfoundland. I’m obsessed with the imagery from that; they wear bags and pillowcases over their heads. They take households objects and materials, cloth and stuff, and cover their bodies with it and they look amazing! So I placed this mask over the showerhead, and I’m really big on encouraging people to cry. I love crying. So I loved this crying imagery of the water coming out of the mask. I love the idea of drowning in your own tears and just suffocating yourself with your own sorrow. So then I was just like, “I’m going to fake drown myself in the bathtub”, which is really horrifying to me. Kind of a theme in a lot of horror films, this kind of submerging and drowning and suffocation.
The idea for me was like, you’re putting yourself in this situation that’s really painful. You kind of hit bottom with that situation. You either give up or you walk through it and come out on the other side with a different perspective perhaps.
It’s interesting because a bathtub is usually a place of reprieve, or relaxation, comfort and cleansing, yet you are using it as a symbol of fear.
Yeah! I’ve always been really afraid of water. I probably didn’t start taking showers until I was like...older than the average person when they start showering because I was scared. I didn’t know how to breathe with water on my face. (laughs)
Your films tend to be heavily influenced by analog media yet join it with digital into one seamless storyline. Is there thought behind that?
Hmmmm...visually I think I really like the way that Hi-8 looks. I just had the tapes and was shooting on that for a while and eventually got a really nice digital canon 60D so I started shooting on that. The thing with Hi-8 is it’s more voyeuristic. I think I use both because I have access to both. The stuff on the 60D looks so good, but then people really, really love the look of the Hi-8 grainy throwback or the VHS which I’ve been shooting on, too. They really like that look because it’s nostalgic. Everyone kind of remembers that from their childhood. I still watch a lot of VHS, and I’ll watch shitty TV on this TV my dad gave me in 3rd grade. I just like the way it looks. I watch HDTV and it hurts my eyes, it’s so hard for me. Besides, if I want to watch a Robert Altman film I want to watch it on film!
It’s the closest thing to it’s truest form.
Yeah and it’s fun and I’ve found an easy way to capture film into digital. I think it’s easier just because when I use my Canon there’s so much more to it. When I shoot on Hi-8 and VHS I’m just like, “On! Go!” It’s meant to be hand held and voyeuristic, and that makes it easier for me to get down to business and just shoot stuff.
Where do you pull inspiration from?
I’m always listening to music and diving in to find new things, like roaming the internet. I’m a really big archivist. I have a huge collection of photographs that are really inspiring to me. I have a bunch of photography books, but I would say that I’m inspired by pain and tragedy. I see other people’s art and really I’m just a lurker. (laughs) I just search the internet and go in deep and I pull out a lot of images.
I started this instagram account called @demdronesarewatching and it’s just literally everything that I find that I’m inspired by. It might sound corny -- I don’t care -- but I go on instagram a lot because there’s some really good accounts that post really interesting photos. I’ve learned a lot through it, and it’s a really good way to have a database of stuff that you like. You know? Like, people will post something and tag an artist and then I learn about that artist and then I see who that artist is following and then they’re following another cool artist and then that artist is posting about an installation they had at another gallery and then I find out about a cool new gallery and I’m just like…”My mind is blown!” Also people know what aesthetic I’m into and I’ll get sent stuff, it’s really cool!
I’m also really inspired by flowers, and when I’m in a really serene situation possibilities seem endless and I can work more. I think that my mood is a really good indicator of what I’ll be inspired by.
Do you think there is a conversation to be had about the potential benefit to having filmed a performance versus experiencing a performance first hand? Being able to be present with something versus relive something separated from the experience?
They’re both good ways of communicating. I LOVE going to performances I think it’s really important. I think it’s kind of like it’s own thing. It’s kind of like photography versus oil painting, it’s just it’s own art form. Performance work is one and done, and of course it will out stand the test of time if someone’s documenting it, or it will stay in your memory and it will really move you. Some people need that, some people need a more voyeuristic, removed perspective. I think what I’m doing is more video art, it’s meant to have its own world separate from the gallery sphere. Of course once it’s being shown in a space it becomes part of that, but in and of itself you will be sucked into the video whether you’re at home or in a gallery. I think that’s why I like making things just by myself, because I know I’m going to be watched. I love magical realism, too, I love effects, and I feel like you can’t really do that with performance. I also LOVE LOVE LOVE taking an environment and making a world with it. Like I take what I have and ask, “Ok how does this make me feel, what can I make with this?” There’s this really great book called Shooting to Kill by Christine Vachon from the 90’s in which she writes all about how to produce independent film. She always said, “Work with what you’ve got.” Like, if your mom owns a factory that makes bread and you live in Iowa, then make your film about that! That’s kind of how I’ve operated, I get familiar with a place and you make the most of it. I’ve never had the means to be like, “Ok, I’m going to rent this equipment and get that location!” Ya know? Spending money like that makes it so much less fun, whereas here I’m free to do whatever the fuck I want for as long as I want. (laughs) But to go back to what you were asking about performance, I’ve only ever been asked to do video work for people, no one’s ever been like, “Hey can you come to my gallery and do an installation and a performance?” I don’t know how I would feel about the live performance aspect, but I would love to do an installation where there are things to touch and feel and experience and go into the world through being inside the platform that is an art gallery; then having a video there to match...but there’s something about videos and voyeurism which is different than being right there in the flesh with a performance artist. I get really uncomfortable. You don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s raw and it’s real, where as the video is kind of like a safe place where you have the room to imagine and make believe. After I watch a performance I’m always just like, “WHOAH!”
Yeah and you can’t revisit a performance, whereas with film you can go back and rewatch it and notice new things, new details...
I guess you could kind of revisit the feelings that you had towards the performance, but there’s like video artists’ work like Paul McCarthy for example where he does these really big video installations where they’re meant to be watched a certain way, where it’s like reflected on water in a dark room or displayed on like twenty screens at the armory. You can’t relive that really. I can’t like go online and be like, “Let me pull up that Paul McCarthy video.” It’s more about the experience and then making it accessible to more people for a longer period of time. Whereas with live performance art it’s more like, “Ok, for an hour you can watch.” Unless it’s a performance artist who really pushes boundaries and is like, “I’m performing from 6am to 8pm!” There have certainly been performances that have lasted long periods of time, but the one’s I’ve experienced have short lived, maximum length being a day.
Do you think that using yourself in your work is purely based on the freedom of having an extended time period and not needing to rely on anyone? Do you think if you used actors your work would change drastically?
I don’t think the concepts would change. I think it might be more interesting to the viewer to be like, “Oh, the artist is in the video that they made, that’s them!” I think if I used actors it would look similar to my work, that wouldn’t change, but just the practice would be different. It’s the type of thing where when you involve other people it gets dicey. I always think back to painting, it’s such an intimate thing. You can have people help you stretch a canvas, or critique your work or have a model, but it’s such a personal action. When you involve more people there’s different challenges.
True. So what’s coming up next, what are you working on now?
Well I was asked to do visuals for this musician who performed at ClubPro Gallery where I had done the visuals for the event. I had a video installation with this TV and four different projections going. So she wants me to do more videos for her, she’s doing a show at Soho House and wants to work on a music video. My friend who has a gallery in the backyard of her house in Echopark (6984 Space) wants me to do a show there with one other person. I don’t know, I really don’t know, video projects just kind of arise. I want to do more photography projects involving some ideas I have. I want to do this whole series with this hat, this reclusive housewife series of stills. I like shooting sculpture too, but this hat is just super weird. Yeah, so we’ll see.
Cool, last questions. Is there a piece of equipment that you’ve been especially drawn to lately?
Well, my cellophane, and I love my new VHS camera that I just got. I would say those are my two favorite things right now. I also really love this 30mm sigma lens that opens up really wide to 1.4. The fixed length is limiting, but I really like limiting. I shot my second film on super 16 and that was super limiting. I had to be like, “Sorry guys I ran out of film, guess we’re done for the day!” (laughs) I think I need to be forced into that sometimes.