In the Studio – Kello Goeller

We visited Kello Goeller in her studio to talk about her ambitious July show. Habitat is a complex multitude of parts: map, mandala, video, self-portrait via journey, installation, and experience.
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Duplex: Where did you go to film school?
Kello Goeller: I went to NYU, the Tisch School of the Arts. It was wild: at eighteen you’re a working girl in Manhattan, and expected to be on your game right away. I stayed in New York City after school and a friend and I started an animation studio directing commercials and music videos. But I needed to make art, so I made that transition.

D: Is that what brought you to Portland?
KG: That and the forest. I started making videos like this one while visiting friends in Vancouver, BC. I was fortunate to stay at a friend’s house in the Gulf Islands each year, and I fell in love with the rainforest. I moved here two years ago this week.

D: What inspired this project?
KG: I grew up loving maps– especially the maps in the beginning of storybooks. I would study them before ever reading the story. That’s how I feel when I go into the forest, like I’m moving from one area to another, each with mystical names based on the surrounding features. I wanted to create my own, more conceptual version of that. I like the harmony and the balance of the mandala, and I think there is a nice spirituality in seeing symmetry aesthetically. The outline shapes themselves, when mirrored, create a lot of the faces and spirits I see in the forest. There are faces everywhere! Forest time alone produces really intense vision states, I just need to be out there.

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D: That sounds really powerful. You would have to let go of everything.
KG: A big part of me just wants to live out there forever.

D: How does the video travel throughout the map of the mandala?
KG: The whole thing is based on a Tibetan sand mandala, which has a certain structure. It’s all planned; the actions in each area are themed on a different human emotion or concept. It gets more intense as we move deeper into the forest. Around the edge is the world of samsara. In the Buddhist perspective this means the endless cycle of birth and death, and the seemingly arbitrary struggle of everyday life. In samsara-world I walk through lands of ‘lost’, ‘constraint’, ‘arbitrary routines’. Then I enter puzzle land, where I solve riddles in order to find the entrance to the center. The center is surrounded by four gates, as in a sand mandala, and represents the land of pure cosmic order.

D: The mandala is also a map of geography and emotion, and even though it is created out of repetitive mirroring, I imagine you can walk through the same area or emotion but the experience would be different because you are still moving forward in time.
KG: That was the brain-bending part because I was creating a video loop while still going forward in time. The film itself is five minutes long, so there is five minutes of content looping forever. The detail scroll is twenty minutes of panning and rotation around the map. The videos are mostly short, repeating loops, but the pan creates a lot of interesting variation.  The movement on the two side walls is a loop itself, and they’re offset from each other, so you can’t tell where the film restarts.

D: That’s similar to how we experience an emotion, we can feel anger a million times in our lifetime, but it’s never really the same.
KG: That’s a really cool way to think about it. It is also kind of how we were shooting.  Though the shotlist was pre-planned based on shapes and areas in the map, we would have a directive and get to improv within it.  We needed ten shots of ‘rage’, so we’d find a rotten, angry looking area and go wild.
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D: I love this documentation, what do these numbers mean?
KG: These are shooting numbers, so in shots twelve through fifteen, I do actions in which I am lost. Shot Z would be background (b-roll). It’s just a system I created for organization–there are about two hundred shots or more. We carried this around as our ‘map’ while shooting, it became a cool artifact.Kello Interview-11

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D: I can’t even fathom the technical aspects of making a video that seems folded over itself like this.
KG: It has been quite a process! I’ve been working in After Effects for almost ten years, and I pushed this knowledge to its absolute test on this project. The map is rendered in sections because it’s too big for the computer to read as one layer. I still have a week of rendering for these detail projections to be twenty minutes long. I knew from the beginning this would be an epic endeavor, but it was a challenge in every possible way, especially file storage. The full project is five terabytes. It is backed up but the drives are all in my studio, so I get paranoid about the building burning down! The process of editing and rendering took about three months and then it had to be pared down and down, called ‘baking out’ to render footage down to a workable size. A feature film is created at four thousand pixels wide, and this is twenty thousand. That’s a huge file and it is not currently a format that is possible to screen at full size. Maybe for the future worlds. The goal one day is to hang it on a giant wall or building, where you can view the film in such high resolution that you would just walk up to it and the detail shots would come into focus.

D: Have you always worked within the wilds of nature and the constraints of these geometric shapes and pattern making?
KG: I have done that for a while, my last few videos have turned out that way. I forget when exactly I found this method, but after I did, it was all I could think about. I spend a lot of time composing a great image out in the field, and then it gets put inside a shape or mirrored and the composure is gone. I’m excited to keep making patterns, but with still images next.  I’ll print the patterns on vinyl and put them on sculpture work. Very ready to rest my computer-eyes and build things with my hands.

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D: What about working with your self-image? Have you done any performance art prior to this?
KG: Not really at all. This was me saying “Look, I can do this. I’m not scared…” I guess I dealt with that fear by putting myself in every shot. Let me do all the braveries at once! The crew was just two collaborators and myself; Emily Wobb and Robert Thomas shot the whole film themselves over three weeks of camping and hiking. They were insanely dedicated as we pushed ourselves each day to get all those shots made.

D: How did you decide the performative aspect of it?
KG: I got into the mindset of each emotion, it was pretty loose. For example, we needed ten shots of constraint, which meant being stuck under a pile of tree limbs or trying to fit through a small hole. It was fun to feel that out as we went. For fear, we chose an area that looked menacing and weird and full of rot, and Emily and Robert would follow me with the camera, reframing shots so I could stay in the moment.

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D: What should people expect when they come into the space?
KG: Take your shoes off and stay awhile! I want to create an experience where people can meditate on the visuals. Opening night there will be live music by Biddy Thomas, who is amazing at inducing a trance. He has a series of prerecorded sounds and will be arranging them live, responding to the mood of the audience. That night’s set will be the soundtrack for the rest of the show.

Directed by Kello Goeller
Thomas Onstott – Assistant Director, Cinematography, and Production Support
Biddy Thomas – Music
Emily Wobb – Cinematography and Production Support

Funded in part by the Regional Arts & Culture Council‘s Project Grant and Innovation Prize, and the 2015 Precipice Fund from Portland Institute of Contemporary ArtThe Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, and Calligram Foundation/Allie Furlotti.

See more photos here.

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