Q&A with Artist Eric Baudelaire

August 4, 2010

A study for "Sugar Water," on view at the Hammer through September 26, 2010.

This interview was conducted by electronic mail. Questions were composed by the Hammer’s new media associate Amanda Law. Look for more information on Eric Baudelaire's film here.

AL: How difficult was the production process? How many rehearsals and shoots?

EB: The choreography had to be planned quite carefully because the film is shot in one take. We didn’t have many actors, I think around 15, and I needed them to fill the time and the space of the film. There aren’t that many possibilities for entrances and exits on a subway platform. The rhythm and the logic of the work are set by the billposter. The choreography of the passengers and the sound of a subway off-camera are timed in cycles around his activity. Most postures and gestures are simple reenactments of real attitudes or activities observed on a subway platform during the film’s preparation. So the movements and poses were planned on paper beforehand. We had a single morning to shoot the film, which was just enough time to dress the set, rehearse one poster cycle, shoot one full take and clean up. The rest is left to chance, improvisation and luck.

AL: Real time video has always fascinated me, but by nature of what it is, it seems like it should not. Why do you think it’s so fascinating?

EB: Because it is cinematic yet unlike cinema? It puts us in a strange place that is in between, yet one step removed, from our experience of both real life and film life. No editing, no cuts, no camera movement, no time compression… I’m not sure how to explain it, but I suspect the disappearance of cinematic sleight of hand leaves us with a certain sense of guilt associated with what is raw, unease at watching the un-processed, hence the fascination…

AL: Any particular reason that you chose a subway station over a bus station or a shopping center?

EB: Because it’s a closed, contained environment. Because the walls are curved. Because I don’t know of any other billboards that have those gilded, golden, tiled frames around the 4x3 meter posters. And because filming something in a subway has been a secret fantasy of mine since that scene in Melville’s Le Samouraï, when a calm Alain Delon suddenly leaps off the travelator, starts running, and almost everybody else remains static and in their role, unperturbed, except for the woman who chases him on the travelator, unsuccessfully…

AL: Do you have any ideas about how news media could be reformed to be more effective?

EB: If we understand effective to mean successful in producing a desired or intended result, I’d say Fox News is pretty effective. CNN is fairly entertaining, that’s effective for advertisers. I’d say mainstream news media has mostly been quite effective, possibly too effective, in that sense. I think the question is intent and incentives, not effectiveness.

But if I understand your question in relationship to Sugar Water, I’d say I’m more interested in thinking about how images work, their relationship to time and space, than thinking about the question of reform per se.

AL: What personal experiences have led you to be politically attuned?

EB: I’m part of a generation that grew up watching images on TV, the Falkland war, the war in Lebanon, mostly mediated experiences. I can’t think of any specific inaugural event that would have triggered a specific set of interests. Being attuned probably has more to do with a deficit of experiences that would have led me to not be politically attuned.

AL: What kind of artwork did you make before you embarked on an artistic career?

EB: I thought I wanted to write, and then I realized that writing is a lot less painful when one gives up the notion of being a writer.

AL: What is your favorite mode of transportation?

EB: I liked riding a scooter until it got stolen. I liked riding a bike and then it got stolen too. These days I’m enjoying the metro, and thinking about a new scooter.