Occupy and its Representations: An Interview With Filmmaker Eric Stewart

Film & video curator Kelly Pendergrast spoke with I Am Crime: Art on the Edge of Law exhibiting artist Eric Stewart. A portion of their conversation is recorded below. Above is a still from Stewart’s 16mm film “Work Prints Journal” which you can view at SOMArts through April 19th.

I wanted to get you to talk about why you have been documenting Occupy, and why you have been shooting film as opposed to the video that most Occupy documentations have used?

Eric Stewart: Well I think it’s not really terribly thought out. My artistic practice originally came out of painting and drawing and I kind of moved into film and filmic things, and that is my current preoccupation. So it was a fluid thing: this is my way of engaging with what’s going on.

So, your concerns are not really with the medium itself then?

Well, I am interested in the medium of film, but I’m not opposed to video in the way I think is often couched in terms of “film vs video.” I have a way of working that’s empowered by film. And that’s the way I feel comfortable capturing.

It’s also part of this historical narrative, and trends in experimental film that are directly attributed to [Stan] Brackhage and Eisenstein and whatnot. Whenever you purposely disregard the narrative, that’s inherently political. In a way, to eschew narrative is to eschew hierarchy, and instead to be about participation and co-operation in the filmic experience.

Gene Youngblood said in his book  how television in a way frees film in the same way that photography freed painting. And he was obviously talking about work in the 70s, but I think about the niche that film has now and it’s true: it almost moves us out of industrial processes, it’s kind of personal, handcrafted, and non-narrative. It’s totally occupying a similar space that abstract painting occupied. And I think that is true of film and digital technology, because we are no longer tied to film as a capture medium.

Can you talk about whether the way you’ve been shooting and editing around Occupy is similar to your usual practice?

Well yeah it is. It’s just what I do: I make little film poems. And for me to go to protests – well I have to occupy myself with something or I feel incredibly awkward. So everybody has their way of engaging in what’s happening, and every contribution is valid. And also I think all media voices are needed, especially the obscure.

I even feel weird about showing my things in the context of this exhibition, because I feel that so much of what I see is relegated to describing things in terms of spectacle, without being critical. And you can’t just make propaganda to fight propaganda.

But there’s work we need to do. There’s a huge historical precedent with poets and people like that using grammar and language to say new things and challenge the power structure, and to be poetic about it, and also to be… “revelatory” is maybe the word.

It’s weird to talk about the contribution of artists and poets and whoever, people who don’t say concrete academic things, but that’s why I liked the General Strike, because it was just this awesome thing, and everything I filmed there works as a piece, maybe because it was amazing and poetic in ways that I can’t begin to contemplate outside of being there.


About the author of this post:

Kelly Pendergrast is a film and video curator, maker, and writer. She programs film and video for Artists’ Television Access, where she is invested in providing a forum for underground and experimental artists to collaborate and show their work.

Originally from New Zealand, Kelly now lives and works in San Francisco. She holds an MFA from the University of California San Diego and a BA from the University of Otago. Most recently, Kelly has been working with a group of women filmmakers on a new quarterly screening series, GAZE.