A conversation between Elizabeth Cline and Paul Pescador

Over the past 3 years, Paul Pescador has been collecting visual material through photography, performance, writing, book-making, and filmmaking. Throughout, he has developed a series of gestures to transform his subject matter to characters to sets, to props, to fictions, to truths and then back again.  In a practice that wants to consume, make and unmake it all,  the material and formal based decisions that constitute the work are manifold to the embodied experience of the artist’s life.  In other words, the practicing of life is generative.  Pescador seems to be asking how many ways can we reconstruct an image/event/memory to reveal  its meaning, its function, or its representation?

In the most recent work 3,4,5, and 8, which is comprised of a two-part film, performance and two books, he  weaves a personal narrative about his social relationships and trauma with fiction to animate and construct experience utilizing strategies of camp and film tropes, among other modes of seduction. His references range from post-identity based work of 1980-1990s, to Roland Resee’s dioramas and Cindy Sherman.  Work that deals mostly with the figuration and  location as a way to talk about  themes such as queerness, monogamy and family.  

While  Pescador’s work unfolds episodically and chronologically, the way the audience perceives or experiences it is relative to the context, as it is made in response to the work that precedes it  and to the site in which it was shown.  This becomes another gesture in which Pescador explores  personal understanding of the materials and mediums and the exchange between them. Following is a conversation between myself and the artist about the premiere of the second part of his film 3,4,5, and 8, the final episode in this body of work.

-Elizabeth Cline, curatorial associate, Hammer Museum

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Elizabeth Cline: Can you talk about the genesis of this film project and how it has manifested over the past 3 years?

Paul Pescador: At this point, the project has had two iterations. The first iteration, 1, 1 ½ and 2, was an exhibition consisting of a book, a performance, and a 20-minute stop-motion film.   I thought of the next body of work, 3, 4, 5 and 8, as the sequel and as a remake of 1, 1 ½ and 2. They both utilized three mediums as a way of developing narrative structure. I exhibited 3, 4, 5 and 8, as my thesis exhibition in April 2012 at UC Irvine. Now I am returning to this project and expanding the film as a way to a continue the narrative.

What guides this narrative and cast of characters through the 3 remakes and 2 sequels?

Both of these projects 1, 1 ½ and 2 and 3, 4, 5 and 8, have a written component which contains a narrative. The writing comes from a blurring of painfully personal experiences as well as fictional and found text. My films lack conventional narrative progression and specific plot points, but the writing does act as a loose script for the films. The films are created in a similar manner as my books, which are created out of photographs of simple gestures. Through these sets of gestures, narrative develops.

In your work I am always struck with the way things are constantly in the act of becoming and being remade: Objects becoming other objects or objects becoming stand-ins for other objects, performance becoming images, images becoming books, books becoming films, art space becoming theater, theater becoming art space.   Where does this fluidity come from?

The artwork is the process in which every decision develops. It becomes a way of working out a material to find out how far it can be pushed. At first, it might be the subject of an image, but then it turns into a print that is cut up and used as the landscape for the next image. Material’s functions shift constantly.

Another part of my practice is looking at and playing with practices of artists’ who I admire. An example of this is a small white porcelain seal that I found at a thrift store because it reminded me of Amanda Ross-Ho’s large porcelain ghost candy dish sculpture. I bought it to tie another artist’s practice to mine and to pay homage, and the more I photographed it, the more it became my own. I first used this object in the film 1, 1 1/2, 2, in the backdrop of a set. Afterward, I still wanted to see what else I could do with it. Since then the seal has been used in multiple photographs and has become a more important part of the next film.

You are able to explore it in different ways in different mediums and contexts. There are exponential possibilities.

Yeah, I can use an object until I break it! Even then, I’ll sometimes use its broken pieces. I think that even if the objects are considered important, they are just materials in my studio. They are used for a photograph or scene and then discarded. They are meant to be ephemeral.  

But what seems more important is the decision of how to use an object in that one moment?

Yes, since I had a white seal I needed a black one too. The decision to find another object in relationship to the first. It just continues the process.

I am interested in the different logics at play over the entire body of work. You seem to use two distinct organizing principles: numbers and colors. But are you also thinking about the logic of the mediums employed?

When I first started the project, I was thinking about the film Jules and Jim which is about a love triangle. It is a shifting relationship, first we see two friends together, than one relationship and breakup and then a shifting of partners. The moment you get all three of them together, the love triangle becomes too explosive and their car goes off a bridge. The triangle is too explosive to work for the film, but in mathematics, the triangle is a very strong shape. In theory ideas such as math, shape, or color are logical and have a basic set rules, but the moment they get applied to social beings they become illogical and intuitive.

When starting this project, I could not imagine showing my films on a monitor or on a loop, which is how film is traditionally shown in a gallery. I felt that it was imperative that my films were screened at a scheduled time. By turning the gallery into a temporary theater, it removed the social aspect of the space and forced the viewer to sit down and engage. For the Vista, I am shifting the site to an actual movie theater, where the audience’s expectations will vary. There will be the viewer who will have an art background and may be familiar with my work, and then the viewer who is just walking in and expecting the conventions of a movie. Their experiences could be very different.

Are you trying to appeal to an audience outside of the art community? Perhaps an audience who will bring new or different set of references to a film that unapologetically maintains an art sensibility?

I think it goes the other way.

That you are making art with the sensibility of a film?

I mean some of the decisions I am making are so stupid and humorous, I am using little dolls that are kicking and fucking one another. It lends itself to video art, and yet by screening it in a movie theater, there is a resistance to typical video art in the gallery. What is it going to take to make this an actual movie?

So are you getting back to your film background, thinking about the essential qualities of film? I know you mentioned Jules and Jim earlier, but is this work inspired by other films?

I think there are these two modes of film that I am using. The first is a Douglas Sirk format in which the materials appear very attractive and luxurious. It is very emotive and charming. And then you have a Godard way of making film in which narrative and character are disrupted, and the expectations of the audience are undermined. Rather than choosing one style over the other, I am using both. The colorful patterned objects are draw the audience in, while the way the film is shot and edited pushes them away.

Right, so you are creating tension by using two distinct forms of filmmaking and also by using humorous or pop imagery set to very personal narrative. What is behind the conceptual decision to use these charming or seductive images?

I think “the cute” or “the personal” are just tools of bringing in the audience. Making them feel closer to the author of the film.

In the same way that it is seductive to expose your personal or private information?

I think there is something awkward about forcing someone to listen to your baggage. I can sugar coat it with “pretty things”. Through this, information, such as the personal or the medium of experimental cinema becomes more accessible.

In other words, you seduce the audience with the DIY, accessible aesthetic or colorful and funny scenes, but then disrupt it with intimate details from your life and the language of experimental film.

I am interested in the relationship that develops between these two ways of working. The seductive and the disruptive fuel each other. They are the true relationship of the film.

I see there is this relational aspect to the work as well. The mediums themselves can be in relationship to one another as well as the context or site. It seems like you are exploiting that through the cyclical and the recursive nature of the work.

I think that is true. It is as if these projects are just one long on going soap opera. You just come whenever you do. Hopefully it will stay on as long as it can.

(Laughs) And never gets cancelled?

I hope not.