Transformation Time with Vanessa Renwick

Vanessa Renwick is on her way back from a week of Portland at La Gaîté Lyrique just in time to do an in-gallery presentation at the White Box tomorrow night. This is a great opportunity to experience her Portland 2012 Biennial work, Medusa Smack. I asked her about these pieces in a mini-interview below.

Medusa Smack is running through May 26th at the White Box.
Gallery talk, First Thursday
7:30 pm
in the gallery. 24 Northwest 1st Avenue, Portland, OR 97209

The day after that closes, May 27th two of Vanessa’s films show at the Hollywood Theater accompanied by live scores. Charismatic Megafauna has its Portland premier along with Mighty Tacoma, as part of the EFF Fest and the Hollywood Theater’s Sound & Vision Festival.
More details here.

You have called Charismatic Megafauna a transformative piece. Did you experience transformation in creating it?

This piece is hard for me. It makes me feel uneasy. Although I champion the work the biologists have done to help with the reintroduction of wolves in the western USA, it is hard to watch all the manipulation that we as humans are doing to animals to help balance the landscape. Of course, my piece is not a documentary. It is an experimental, poetic take on actions that happened over many years condensed into 50 minutes with no talking and a live score by amazing musicians. So, please remember that. In a way at times it comes across as alien abduction from the sky. Making this piece allowed me to examine a lot of footage of the reintroduction, and to create something longer than I would be able to in a traditional documentary. It premiered in Seattle in a beautiful chapel. There has been great feedback on it, but it definitely is an eye opener. The musicians do an amazing job at contributing emotion to the footage, and I think having them play live is an important element of the piece. I think it helps to bring you out of it at points, where you can watch them, and then slip back into it. In a way this reminds me of Worse, the piece I made on abortion protesters. I went in with one idea, and came out questioning my preconceived notions. That’s what I love about making films, they bring you places further, expand your outlook. This piece is a definite eye opener. You’ve never experienced what you will see here in 50 minutes on the nature channel. There is so much going on behind the scenes in wildlife management that people do not know. Good and bad.

How was Medusa Smack presented and received at Centre Pompidou-Paris and Centre Pompidou-Metz compared to here in Portland?

Medusa Smack was projected large, single channel, and Tara Jane O’Neil played a live score to it. So, it was a different experience, as in Portland, it is a two projector video installation that one lays under a giant jellyfish screen. The imagery is very different from just seeing one channel huge on a screen in a theater. The people in France didn’t know they were missing an even more relaxing take on it, and they appeared to have the same reaction people in Portland have had to my installation piece, one of wanting it in their bedroom… appears to work its magic either way. Plus, Tara Jane O’Neil was doing an amazing score live to it, working her ass off, playing many instruments while the flick played. She did this twice. At the Centre Pompidou in Paris and in the Centre Pompidou-Metz.

A recent extended interview with Vanessa Renwick by Nora Robertson can be found on

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