Jessica Fenlon - Ungun

6:36, 2013, Experimental
Animation built of 4,000+ decayed and degraded images of handguns. Audio collaged of samples from popular films whose narratives prominently feature guns. Ive been making art that, as an act of aesthetic vandalism, neuters guns, turns them into images of beautiful objects that if they were actual objects, were they actually fired, they would misfire, fire into themselves, or not fire at all. Humans can express a nourishing connection with each other using guns only by relinquishing them. I started working with still images, which I roke using data-bending techniques. Then I started making gifs.
Then I decided to make a longer video, pushing the image into word-definition space. The dance of illusion, projection, metaphor. I sampled audio from popular entertainment that uses guns so much in their narratives that, as a friend once put it, the movie is really "gun goes on adventure, gun beats the bad guys, gun gets the girl, gun gets revenge" . . . Im witnessing illusions of "political ramifications of ideas about guns" shatter social relationships between otherwise reasonable people. The American community has to be able to speak sanely about this thing. Histrionic reactions to the object, in many directions, prevent people from having reasonable conversation. I have watched otherwise thoughtful people on many sides of the issue melt down into all-caps shouting in social media. The object, and whether or not or how it is regulated, shatters our ability to discuss the thing sanely. When a gun is in the room, behavior changes. Ive seen my own behavior change. Ive watched discussion become squelched, false and polite. When the gun leaves the room, the underlying tension of held breath walks out with it. So, I make unguns. I steal pictures of guns and make something else with them. Yes Im trafficking in stolen guns when I do this. Aesthetic vandalism.

Wasn the Matrix trilogy founded on that image of ullet time, the old Native American ghost dance promise that we could stop bullets?

DirectorJessica FenlonProducerJessica Fenlon


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Who is Jessica Fenlon?
An artist, writer, poet, teacher living in Chicago, IL, USA.

What is Ungun about?
An experiment, an animated deconstruction of the gun-as-character in American films.

How did you start with film? And do you have an educational background in art or film?
I studied video production in art school, for collaborative projects. In graduate school, I really took to the animation-based approach I still use to make my short films. I’m lucky, I had some great teachers.

Could you explain how you work, what themes or concepts you use and what is important to you?
I am interested in discovering margins for dangerous spaces and making them safe enough for some glimmer of understanding. Does the witness to war or atrocity participate in it, in some way? I have made poetic portraits of destroyed or marginalized communities; loop-based constructions pointing back to trauma theory and the problem of language when used to describe annihilation; and now these deconstructive works, where I’m playing with moments from the culture’s popular vocabulary - in this case, the hand-held gun.

How long do you usually work on one project?
Each project has its own demands. I have produced 3 minute animations in less than 48 hours, for film-fest challenges; I am now completing a 5-year long odyssey construction a 40+ minute experimental animation.

It really depends on the content.

Do you carefully plan the production process or do you work more intuitive?
Storyboarding has begun to play a more important role. But, they are experiments, there is an ongoing process of discovery for me. I find myself making lists, watching the work, letting it sit, making more lists, making the edits. .. Really its like painting, to me, but as a work that plays back over time.

How does the title relate to the work, and how do you find a fitting title?
Ungun refers to the process of destruction of the image of the object. This film is made from 5000+ ’unguns’, or images of guns stolen from the internet and broken through a glitching process. To become ’ungun’ they had to become images of objects that, were they real objects, could not fire a bullet.

Where do you get your ideas or inspiration from?
All of my work comes from a perspective I call "the poetics of annihilation". How do we deal with humanity’s horrific violence, natural disaster, abuse, traumas, wars, injustice, etc etc? I live in Chicago, IL, USA, a city where the murder rate by hand-held firearms is tallied up in the news every day. The ungun project started on a Monday morning after a weekend with a particularly high death toll, including a four-year-old child. I wanted to break all the guns I could. And I couldn’t do that, literally. But I could, in my artwork.

It was interesting how beautiful they became, when they were broken.. .

How important is sound in film, and if you use sounds, do you create your own or use existing?
The sound-component is very important to me, I’ve worked hard to improve my skills as an audio editor and mixer. I do create music; I also create soundscapes that include samples. Again, it depends on the content.

How does content relate to the form of your work?
Guns in America have their own public relations firm in popular films. Why not strip away the authority of the gun’s image or voice in the visual vocabulary in which it is so often re-presented to the public?

What possibilities of the web are yet to be explored?

Did the web changed your view on art, or your career?
The web made my career more portable, for production and exhibition.

Where would you place your work; cinema or art. And what is the difference between those according to you?
Neither and both? It has been placed in both contexts, successfully. If a film festival has an experimental or animation component, why not send it there? If a gallery installs a wall-projection, yes, there. When installed on the internet, it enters a space so loaded with activities the context loses meaning - our viewers do their banking, watch their porn on their computer. So here, it enters a different space.

How influential is the reaction to your film by the audience?
Different people will have different responses. I had the privilege of being in the audience for a film fest screening of this piece recently. They clapped well for it; a few people spoke to me about what they liked, and asked questions. Each person has their own experience.

What is your next project about?
I.thou : the thing that’s taken me 5 years to make - it reads as a looping unknown narrative, warped and altered by datamoshing techniques. Its a collaged trauma narrative; its about how we know the story, how we tell the story, what story we believe. It’s very much about filmmaking, as well. I’m just finishing mixing the sound.

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