Interview with Myriam Thyes
Who is Myriam Thyes?I’m an artist from Switzerland and have studied art in Zurich and in Dusseldorf, where I still live. Nan Hoover was my Video art [db] professor and later an important friend of mine. Beside making my own art, for many years I also worked for the rights of refugees / asylum seekers and for a better representation of women artists in the artworld.
My interest in video, movement, rhythm, collage / montage, in deconstructing symbols and myths, in the transformation of shapes and meanings of well-known icons, lead me to computer animation and digital imagery.
Your film is about?The Flash animation ’Armament at Lake Constance’ is from the series FLAG METAMORPHOSES, a participatory and still growing project.
This animation explores the cult of death in Catholic ideology as manifested in numerous images in churches and monasteries around Lake Constance – and the association of this cult with warfare, a link represented locally in the armaments industry at Friedrichshafen.
The term ‘cult of death’ here refers to:
- Vanitas themes; an emphasis on transience;
- sin, dread of Divine retribution, Purgatory, Hell;
- self-sacrifice for God and Country;
- persecution of those of a different faith – they are ‘sent to Hell’ (Jews, Reformers, ’heretics’, ’witches’);
- executions as ‘God’s will’ or ‘Divine judgment’ (trial by ordeal);
- missionary campaigns in which the other religion was prohibited on pain of death.
The Catholic Church not only made and financed war amply; the ideology described above also promoted the readiness for war psychologically, as it did the annihilation of dissenters. It legitimised these wars internally (as ’crusades’). The cultic aspects of National Socialism can be traced to a number of sources, not least to Catholic propaganda (Fascist anti-Semitism could not have arisen without the precedent of Catholic anti-Judaism).
I quote and animate baroque statues and other religious art, as well as Zeppelin airships and toothweels, which I have seen in churches, museums and companies around Lake Constance.
This piece was made for the participation of FLAG METAMORPHOSES in the exhibition "Nothing To Declare. Triennale Oberschwaben", Zeppelin Museum Friedrichshafen, Germany, 2008.
How did you start with film? And do you have an educational background in art or film?I started working with video and animation seriously in 1999 (seven years after having finished my studies), improving my skills in computer graphics, digital video editing, compositing, (Flash) animation and so on.
Could you explain how you work, what themes or concepts and what is important to you?For the last 15 years, my themes deal with symbols, myths and visual signs from architecture, politics, films, or religions.
My works are explorations of their meanings, a questioning, reassessments, "destabilisations" and creations of new associations. In order to undermine entrenched representations, I work directly with them, to develop them further, transform them and juxtapose them against new representations. I use animation, abstraction, collage and found footage (video stills) to present critical views of the current political, (psycho-)social, cultural and religious systems. I reconsider abstraction and graphical aesthetics as a means of critique in our over-saturated media culture, proposing that simplicity and imagination can still move us.
About FLAG METAMORPHOSES:
Flags have become again very significant during the last years - in politics, propaganda, new nationalisms, liberation wars, sports, and fashion. On the other hand, flags received new meanings and became signs of hope or nostalgia / homesickness for the increasing number of global migrants. In 1996 and 1997 I’ve been working with flags as installations in public areas: I created and painted new designs/symbols on flags and hang them beside / between official flags. In the last four years, I started working again with themes I had used before in painting, drawing and photo assemblies, but this time with animation and digital imagery.
Where do you get your ideas or influences from?Societies, socio-political and socio-psychological phenomenons, dominant cultural products like Hollywood movies, public symbols, religious dogmas, economical developments, ...
How does the title relate to the work, and how do you find a fitting title?Armament At Lake Constance refers to two kinds of armament:
- Weapons (produced for example in Friedrichshafen for World War I and II).
- Ideological weapons in order to rule the population, developed and used by the catholic church (texts, laws, rituals, architecture, art). Around Lake Constance there were many monasteries, and rich bishops owned the land and ruled.
Most times I don’t have difficulties finding titles, as I do a lot of research for each artwork.
How does content relate to the form of your work?Very directly - there is no difference between content and form of my works, I hope.
How important is sound in film, and if you use sounds, do you create your own or use existing?An important and difficult subject! For the emotional part of a film/video, sound is extremely important. (I dislike artists who use wellknown impressing music in order to make their artwork more attractive.)
Most of my videos and animations have simple, low-quality sounds/noises (own, or mixed from royalty-free samples, bought online). I don’t want to impress with music/sound too much, I prefer a more reflective perception of the visual event.
Armament At Lake Constance is an exception: I got the chance and the right to use semi-professional recordings of baroque music written in the monasteries around Lake Constance – the only recordings existing of this music!
How do you finance your projects (by yourself, sponsors or subsidy)?A mix of all
Nowadays everyone with the right equipment can create videoart, good, bad or ugly?Don’t understand the question
What possibilities of the web are yet to be explored? Which dangers do you see ahead?I’m no expert to answer these questions, but I’m sure the development of the web has only just begun.
Video broadcasting platforms on the internet, why or why not?Personally, I work with the computer too much to enjoy a video on the internet. I prefer large screens in exhibitions, movie theatres, and in public space. If one day internet / computer / TV / large screens will be one system, I might change my mind.
In what category would you place your work; cinema or art. And is there a difference between those?My works belong to the world of Visual Art, definitely. In my videos and animations there are hardly any talking / acting figures, noone to identify with, no plot/story in the usual sense.
The art world (museums, galleries, auctions, biennials, art fairs, off spaces) and the cinema/movie world are two completely separated systems, even if some artists are successful in both fields. This is a too big question to be analysed and answered here - but many differences are obvious and need not be mentioned.
How important is the reaction to your film by the audience?Of course, reaction, comment, exchange are very important to me - but often they are hard to receive/hear, because I can’t visit every festival that screens my works, and I can’t stay for weeks in an exhibition that shows my video installation, for example. Therefore I depend on the web - many people watch my websites and tell/email me what they think.
What is your next project about?In 2008, I worked in Glasgow with a grant for two months. I photographed a lot, and now I’m creating photo montages. The series of photos and of photo montages will be called: Glasgow Styles.
Myriam Thyes - 2008