IN CONVERSATION WITH GARRETT PRUTER ON ‘THE BIRDS’
27 JANUARY – 09 MARCH
In the following interview associate director at Brigade, Emma Kollien Gjerde, sat down with gallery artist Garrett Pruter, to talk about the inspiration behind his show, the motivations for the ‘erasure’ employed in ‘The Birds (3)’, and his new series of photographic works.
EG: You (Garrett red.) started working on this project around 2 years ago, it’s a very consuming and ambitious project. This exhibition centers on this ongoing work where you laboriously re-edits Alfred Hitchcock’s iconic thriller from 1963, removing all the birds, and by doing so you remove the perceived threat from the original.
The original film centers on the small coastal town of Bodega Bay, which becomes victim to these very unexplained, violent bird attacks. We follow socialite Melanie Daniels from San Francisco where she meets her love-interest, Mitch, at a pet store. She pursues him to Bodega Bay and once she arrives, these vicious, random bird attacks start happening. And what you do in this work, is that you employ frame-by-frame, digital painting, rotoscoping, and a lot of sound design, to reconceptualize and alter the original. This contemporary re-imagining shifts and distorts the narrative of the film. So, I thought we would start, to hear a little bit about what set off this project for you two years ago?
GP. It has been a really long project that very much dawned on me, but I guess it all started 2.5 years ago when I did an experiment with the horror film ‘Halloween’, and it was basically a somewhat cruder execution of this idea of just going through the film and completely cutting all the scenes of violence, terror and horror out, only leaving parts of the plot with development, tension and suspense. So, what was left was just this thing that built up to a release that never came. And in doing that I became intrigued with what other films I could start working with.
From the beginning ‘The Birds’ came to mind, and it was one of the most absurd examples I could think of, given the fact that the birds are pretty much in the entire film, and it almost seemed like an impossible task to begin with, and that impossibility drew me to it. But also, that this film from such a long time ago was made using tools that we no longer use, and that I don’t use now. The idea of going back to this using digital tools to try to grab and locate the marks of the 35mm film, and the ‘handmade’ special effects, to create these alternate, convincing substitutes for what could be replaced in the birds’ absence. Essentially the erasure of the birds has a lot more to do with addition than subtraction because by erasing the birds, the birds are often covering something significant in the scene, so it requires this kind of reconstruction of the thing that was covered by the birds. For that reason, it became a project that is very much rooted in painting, which makes sense because my background is in painting. It came together and became a project that I quickly became really obsessed with.
EG: I am also interested in hearing more about how the human form and figuration has become more central in the work?
GP: Yeah, I mean that is the significant challenge because of the way the film is shot, and a lot of the crucial scenes have birds in the background which makes it easier to deal with but when the birds come into the foreground, it is a whole different thing because there are some frames where it is completely “bird”, and you can’t see anything else. So, this issue of having to fill in the gaps between the movement, requires rendering of the face and the form, to make it look somewhat believable. It’s never pursued perfection, it’s very much the hand present in the frames which makes the erasure very visible, and it becomes kind of a remnant or a specter of something happening.
EG: You showed the first instalment of the film (‘The Birds (1)’ red.) at Trafalgar Avenue in London last May. In this show at Brigade, you are also exploring montage prints and rows of sequential stills, and I wondered if you expand upon the relationship to the original material in the still works?
GP: It’s funny because this really is a film project, but at the same time I think because of how much labor goes into each frame, and because it’s like a frame-by-frame process, I have come to really see it as a collection of frames and stills. I spend a lot of time looking at each of them individually, and so it makes sense to slow down as much as possible to see it in its original cinematic format, but also as a collection of digital paintings – especially as you see it in the row with the boy running, it kind of presents the technical aspects that I found when working with it, and there are a lot of moments when the thing being captured isn’t fully captured by the camera; there are these motion blurs and other technical defects happening and so in erasing the birds from these scenes and having to recreate or replicate these motion blurs, lens flairs and light leaks, the kind of flaws or “the hand” of the original film.
EG: That reminds me of the two juxtaposed stills featuring the hands. In works like these, we also get to peek into the process behind the video work; how you are drawn to different imagery within Hitchcock's film, uncovering unseen and unknown moments within the original, presented through your gaze.
It has also been very interesting to learn how sound functions within this project, perhaps you could expand on how the sound design has become more central as you progress?
GP: Yes, part of the project is also getting rid of the bird sounds, and as the film goes on the sounds of the birds become overwhelming in the audio. In earlier scenes I can kind of filter the sounds out, and then in some of the scenes there are so many bird sounds that you can’t hear anything else really. I realized that the only way to have audio is to completely recreate it, and so I made all these fully done recordings and built the audio from the scenes completely from scratch – everything from footsteps to the sound of fabrics, to the more obvious things like explosions and glass shattering etc. I also had one of my friends do the breathing and kind of the voice of Melanie Daniels – I know that no one is ever going to sound just like Tippi Hedren, but it’s been a fun exercise to try to reenact the scenes and to make them become as close as possible to what they would have sounded like without those birds.
EG: I think your sound design is just one example of how considered and ambitious this project is. We’ve also been discussing how many parallels there are with the original film and Hitchcock’s approach to everything from set design to sound.
GP: Yeah, Hitchcock was a real obsessive filmmaker, and as we were talking about that one of the interesting facts about the original film is rooted in Hitchcock’s decisions to film it in the place of Bodega Bay, even that as the original short story that film is based on, was set in the Cornwall, England. There is nothing inherently required about it being in Bodega Bay, but so much of the film is about Bodega Bay in a strange way. A lot of it is filmed in sound stages, but Hitchcock had this way of making the sets, so they are exact replicas of these particular Bodega Bay buildings. He even sent his costume designer to photograph the townspeople of Bodega Bay to try to get the costumes as close as possible. So, in this very strange way, there is an almost documentarian process put into this, that you would never really know. But there is definitively this sort of obsessive desire to recreate something that he is like lusting over.
EG: And do you feel like this is also a part of the driving force for your work?
GP: It's not the same driving force, but I think that there is this sort of obsession engrained into the work in one way or another.
‘The Birds’ remains on view until 9 March.
Monday - Friday: 8 am – 6 pm
Saturday: 10 am – 4 pm