Sound, image, espionage, and methods of control.
Deborah Stratman displays great mastery at subtly interpreting the subconscious frequencies and amplitudes that give shape to our common experiences, illuminating the viewer through her distinctive representations of power, control, and belief systems. Working within a multiplicity of media from film, video, and audio work, to drawing, architecture, and sculptural projects, she has received Fulbright, Guggenheim and Creative Capital fellowships over the course of her career. For the last decade, she has taught in a multi-disciplinary arts program at the University of Illinois in Chicago.
One of five artists to receive the 2014 Herb Alpert Award in the Arts—an unrestricted prize of $75,000 given annually “to risk-taking mid-career artists … at a moment in their lives when they are poised to propel their art in new and unpredictable directions”—Stratman makes work that engages her perpetually inquisitive mind, a mind that asks a lot of complicated questions, ones to which she really never expects to receive answers. And if she does receive answers with too much facility, it’s likely she’ll decide it’s not worth pursuing after all.
The editing of her film and video work is distinctive, and—perhaps, oddly—reminds me quite a bit of the work of Armenian director, Artavazd Pelešjan, also a brilliant essayist and theorist, who creates highly poetic views of life on celluloid. Pelešjan is also known for developing a style of cinematographic perspective known as “distance montage,” and this is something that Stratman does with high proficiency, as well, particularly with sound, combining perceptions of depth with various visual entities on screen to sometimes uncanny, but always mysteriously moving, affect.
I met with Stratman most recently last October in the Czech Republic at the eighteenth edition of the Jihlava International Documentary Film Festival where she was to give a master class and also serve on one of the juries, a particularly intense task at this festival where jurors are expected to view seven to eight films a day in order to deliberate on as many as forty films in one competition. We managed to carve out a bit of time between her screenings for a quick bite of lunch at a deafeningly noisy café in the foyer of one of the cinemas. Stratman’s latest film, called Hacked Circuit, was also in competition in the Fascinations Section at Jihlava. It is dedicated to both Walter Murch and Edward Snowden and won the prize out of thirty-three other films in its category.
Hacked Circuit, a title that beautifully plays upon many ideas presented in the film, is a fifteen-minute piece shot in one take, with superbly realized camerawork by Norbert Shieh. Before we see the context within which the initial sounds we hear are embedded, footage of a mysterious location is accompanied by audio fragments from Francis Ford Coppola’s 1974 film, The Conversation, starring Gene Hackman, specifically the scene where he frantically searches and tears apart a room in order to uncover the “bug” he is convinced has been planted there to record his telephone calls. Stratman uses a Foley studio in the back streets of Los Angeles as her set, exploring violations of privacy by political powers while simultaneously illustrating the power inherent in the various illusions and conflations of our perceptions of sight and sound.
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