At her funniest, musician/actress/performance artist Ann Magnuson skewers pop and celebrity culture like nobody else. And there’s a lot of that skewering on her new album, Dream Girl, Magnuson’s third LP following the strangely underrated The Luv Show and Pretty Songs & Ugly Stories. Magnuson will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Dream on.
Magnuson: Marnie Weber is an internationally known artist who works in nearly every medium. She makes visual art, music, performance, short films, video, sculpture, paintings, photographs, costumes, masks, installations—all part of her modern myth-making. Now she has combined all these practices in her first feature film, The Day Of Forevermore. This dreamy art film is a modern fairy tale where a teenage girl (played by Weber’s daughter Colette) seeks to escape a rundown Manson Family-style ranch populated by aged witches and misfit monsters. One of the witches is her mother, a manipulative hag named Baba Muthra (played by Weber). Marnie and I discussed her work and her new film with its many trippy images and psychological aspects.
Ann: Your work is so obviously informed by dreams, myth and archetypes. Have you ever taken material straight from a dream? Certainly your band the Spirit Girls were?
Marnie: My dreams tend to be fraught with nostalgia—people who have passed from the physical life, mostly loved ones, places I’ve lived or fantastical images of nature. I have never literally copied a dream, but they infuse my artwork with spirits, monsters, ghosts and a feeling of the otherworld or timelessness. The Spirit Girls were a conscious decision to create a musical band of ghost girls.
Do you think the creative artist lives in a kind of dream state? Or wears a very thin veil between the worlds of Reality and Dream? Certainly it would explain why some of the best go off the rails, given how close one gets to psychosis.
I think the true artists live in in between the two worlds: the ones who explore inner realms and bring back tales or imagery through their art as opposed to the ones who are role playing as artists by trying out things that might look good or be clever. There is a great feeling of discomfort in the place just where the veil is lifted. One can certainly lose one’s footing in a highly emotional state or in just being hyper aware. Everyday life is so anesthetizing with phones, computers and constant media. It’s important to remove oneself occasionally, and the easiest place to do that is being asleep.
Are you familiar with Jungian analyst/writer Dr. Marie-Louise von Franz? I can only assume you are, given your immersion in fairy-tale language. Have you see this documentary The Way Of The Dream?
I never saw the documentary but will try to seek it out. I like her concept of the “active imagination” through mediation to connect directly with the unconscious and psychic phenomena. For me, making films is just like making dreams except I’m awake. I set up an elaborate situation, shoot the film and then, later, upon watching it, I see that the subconscious is speaking through the film. I think there might be an invisible team of spirit filmmakers helping, too.
The author Robert Louis Stevenson talked about that same team of spirit helpers! He called them “his Brownies.” Do you think dreams have significance? What other artists, besides your husband Jim Shaw, work with dream imagery that you’d like to turn our readers onto?
I find inspiration from the “outsider artists” who don’t actually attribute their artwork to dreams but the work feels as if it was born from dreams; or that they are creating physical manifestations of dreams. My favorite is Calvin Black who created his world called Possum Trot. There is a nice documentary about him.
I’ve seen it! I love Possum Trot! That place reminded me so much of stuff I grew up around in West Virginia.
He made dozens of wooden life-size dolls, dressed them in homemade clothes by his wife, created a stage set in his compound in the Mojave, and then when someone would drive by he would lure them in, put on a show with the dolls and sing in a variety of voices. He might not be interpreting directly from his dreams, but his work feels dream driven.
My grandmother’s dolls are so much like that. One is on the cover of my Dream Girl CD. She would never have called herself an outsider artist—or even an artist—and yet, working in poverty in West Virginia using anything she had available, and channeling something from the beyond, she was definitely an artist. Do you have a favorite dream sequence from a film?
Well of course Spellbound is a classic. The original Life Of Walter Mitty has some amazing theatrical sets. They inspired my installation of a Western town at my recent survey show at MAMCO in Geneva. The stage sets were skeletal lacey versions of a Western town crudely cut from plywood with a jigsaw. I look at dream sequences sometimes to get inspirations for my art installations. I like creating the actual physical manifestations of the dream state.
What “art films” do you like best? Which inspire you?
Jodorowsky is a big inspiration to me, specifically Holy Mountain and El Topo. His work is like watching poetry for me. David Lynch, specifically the dining-room scene in Eraserhead. My dining-room scene in The Day Of Forevermore wouldn’t have been what it is without seeing his dining-room scene. Maya Deren and Cocteau have been very inspiring in my early years of filmmaking. It was important to me to make an art film as opposed to an independent film, as I wanted more of the expression of the subconscious. Art films for me are more like poetry whereas independent films are more like prose.
Carl Jung once said, “The greatest tragedy of the family is the unlived lives of the parents.” Your movie appears to be a cinematic thesis on that idea.
Yes, I had that growing up. My father always wanted to be an artist, and he received an art degree from the New School after World War II but instead went on to became an art historian. I hadn’t thought of that, but it might have come through in the relationship between the mother and daughter in my film.
When Luna, the daughter finds an old super-8 movie camera in a pile of refuse, she seems to use it as a means to escape the confines of the ranch and especially her mother.
The movie camera Luna finds is her way out in that it provides her with her own vision, not her mother’s projection of who she should be.
That is very much Jung’s process of individuation! Throwing off the false “provisional” self, conditioned by family and culture, in order to seek the truer “authentic” self that is connected to the divine.
That is it exactly: The unification of the unconscious with the conscious can be a deliberate act of creation. It can be attained through self-exploration and awareness and for an individual to be open to change. The creation of self can be simply that one tries to achieve a pure truthful essence and not be swayed by outside forces or other people’s projections.
Indeed! Thanks so much, Marnie. I have no doubt that Carl Jung would’ve loved your movie! In fact, I bet he’s loving it right now … over “there”!
Marnie Weber is represented in Los Angeles by Gavlak Gallery.