Set over the course of a year, Adam Shecter's New Year is a haunting portrait of a city, told in a form halfway between a graphic novel and a dream. Animations of futuristic zeppelins, sleeping robots, and interplanetary travel are paired with poetic fragments detailing an exchange between lovers, recollections of cinemas, and notes in a journal, all in a hyper-panoramic format. Little Joe is proud to present this work online from New Year's Day 2016 until the end of the month. Below is a conversation between Little Joe founder Sam Ashby and Adam Shecter.
It's been a privilege to be included in your process and to have seen the development of this project from an early stage. Can you speak a little to how the project came about and how it sits within your general practice?
A new project involves a lot of time stumbling in the dark. I discard and forget a great deal of my initial ideas by the time I figure out what I'm doing. While I found this extremely frustrating a few projects ago, at this point I am learning to relax into the uncertainty. This was especially true for New Year. My initial idea was that I would use a multichannel security camera system to edit and present an entire film about a city. Instead of using actual footage, I would animate everything, and feed those signals it into the machines. I made recordings of these compositions, zooming into some scenes, panning into others, cutting into 4, 8, 12 simultaneous feeds. Doing this meant I'd need a lot of footage. I made animations with this in mind for about a year and a half, and it ended up being a majority of the footage I would use later. I did not have a script or major plan, just a string of images that came to mind. But the more I looked at it, the more I realised it wasn't working. It was really hard to let this go. The funny part of this is I had totally forgotten about this lost year. My husband actually reminded me about it this week.
Many of our own conversations include recommendations of current and past pop cultural artefacts, which speaks to a kind of shared queer-historical sensibility, and of course to our complimentary Americanophilia and Anglophilia. I feel this really acutely when watching New Year, which precisely and yet elusively touches on so many shared passions: including the work of the Wachowskis, Joss Whedon, Samuel R. Delany, all somehow echoed in the multi-layered structure of the film creating something familiar and new all at once.
Totally. I think we both channel versions of our fandom into our work. I used to write really long, embarrassing letters to my favourite musicians, call in to radio shows to talk to them, and over the years I've reached out to authors and filmmakers I admire with various degrees of response. From as early as I could remember, I built coded relationships and made investments in stories and characters, especially animation; books, movies, albums that I found refuge and companionship with. I think this is an archetypal queer experience that many of Little Joe's contributors provide evidence of. Even if we don't like the same things, as queers we can identify with that obsession, investment, and invention. But when you have these shared interests, it's amazing. I don't think it is surprising that so many queers become artists. Lots of us jump at the chance to finally make something we didn't get to see. I'm curious what the younger queer generations are going to do without such a media closet.
You place yourself into the narrative alongside your husband and your dog, who exist within a shifting plane of other narratives that overlap, each within the same temporality but somehow also not. Does the film become a kind of reality for you through the process of making it? Are you actively implanting those false memories you reference in the film?
It can definitely make things blurry. I was listening to an interview with one of my favourite authors, Steve Erickson, and he was talking about how even if we intend to write about ourselves the person we end up is more like a third or fourth cousin than an accurate reflection of the self. The astronaut, the radio operator, the wild dogs, are avatars for aspects of myself. My husband in New Year shares bits of DNA with my real husband, but he is not Joe. That's perhaps why I just gave the characters initials and labels rather than names. They aren't stand ins for people, they are more reflective of particular states of mind. So is the city for that matter. I don't feel I implant memories, but when I use real-life experiences there is almost a vampiric process by which the original memory is drained and replaced with something less tangible and real. They become little memory changelings. It can be a bittersweet process. The false memory of the theatre mentioned in New Year was real. But after making the movie it is impossible to access it without remembering the new version.
The film, with its extreme aspect ratio, was originally shown across three projections at the gallery 11R. We are now presenting it via Vimeo online. The way we experience media is shifting all the time, for example even a few years ago I couldn't have imagined watching episodes of The Good Wife on my phone. There is a question about access that I think is important to artists' moving image. By making an artwork available there is a presumption that you are somehow diminishing it, at least economically. How do you feel about presenting New Year in this way and do you think anything is lost in this new context?
You're right, our experiences are shifting constantly, and this has has been going on for a long time. I saw a great deal of my favourite films for the first time as rentals, watching 2001, Days of Heaven, and basically every film designed for widescreen changed by TV to a 3:4 'pan and scan.' I remember renting the movie Innerspace as a kid and there was this explanation of their use of aspect ratio bars, and I was like "whoa, I haven't been seeing the whole movie!" I wanted so badly to have a laserdisc player, that seemed like real movie watching to me. So yeah, ideally, I would love for everyone to see New Year splashed across a giant wall, 3 projectors wide, but shows and screenings come and go, you can't attend them all. There isn't a month that goes by where I miss at least a few movies or installations I'd meant to see; the availability becomes exhausting. Sometimes you just want to watch The Good Wife.
When we first discussed including the film in the new issue of Little Joe, my first instinct was to adapt it into a short graphic novel. We share a love for comics and graphic novels, and watching the film with its scrolling panels, I felt it should lend itself to the printed page so easily. And yet there is abstract emotional quality to it that did not translate to that traditional panel format. In the end we went with something more elusive. How did it feel for you to have your work adapted to print in this way?
We spent a lot of time going back and forth trying to make New Year work in the new issue. I think it was harder than we thought it would be, but I'm really happy with how it turned out. I'm glad we hung in there! I always think the translation from moving image to print will be much easier than it is. They are distinct forms with their own rules, own desires. Even when capturing a still from a movie I can't help but feel that it is missing a certain something. This process works the other way too. When I teach animation, I will have these really great artists who get stuck in the details of each drawing. They have to learn that the individual frames don't really matter, it is the choreography and movement of the final product that will determine how successful the moving image is.