Elena Knox - The lingering and the stain

11:15, 2008, Video Art
Conceived at the nexus of fantasy and flesh, The Lingering and the Stain records the actual etching of a poem onto skin by a blind tattooist. Bound by a contract to perfect stillness, the girl’s mind wanders through the pain: perhaps her thoughts direct the needle, perhaps she’s ruled by the consensual act. Part gruesome Gothic neo-noir, part hyper-real documentary, The Lingering and the Stain is a literally spine tingling short film.
DirectorElena Knox, Roberto Jean FrançoisProducerElena Knox: Lull StudiosWriterElena KnoxCameraPaul J Warren, John BrawleyEditorElena KnoxCrewPerformance: Elena Knox, Josh Roelink
Lights: Paul J Warren
Sound: Naomi Radomishelski
Makeup + hair: Georg Wotawa
Stills: Rowena Hall

CountryAustraliaSubtitlesEnglishEdition2011 ScreeningsZebra Poetry Film Festival
Athens Video Art Festival
St Kilda Film Festival
Sydney Underground Film Festival
Red Hot Shorts: Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI)

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Who is Elena Knox?
I’m an artist with feet in all sorts of disciplines, maybe like an octopus.

I make music, text, video, performance, sound, theatre, live art, dance, events, costumes and installations.

What is The Lingering and the Stain about?
The Lingering and the Stain follows the tattooing of a poem onto a woman’s spine (mine) by a blind man. Both dreamlike and forensically real, it speculates whether or not we are directing our own destinies, decisions and even feelings. It was interesting co-directing this piece whilst naked, flat on a table and being tattooed!

How did you start with film? And do you have an educational background in art or film?
No educational background in film, though I took some academic film subjects as an undergraduate. I’m at art school for the first time right now, doing my PhD in Media Arts. I started making video documents of my performance work, and they became artworks in their own right. I think my writing practice, and my rhythmical training in music and as a dancer, make me a good film editor.

Could you explain how you work, what themes or concepts you use and what is important to you?
I always start with the body, what is happening to the body, what signals bodies are sending out. What it means, or might mean, to appear, to make movement and sound, to be present and reacted to as a physical presence, especially in terms of social perceptions of gender. This will translate to a "performance", sometimes to a text, and this will be packaged into an audiovisual format in order to communicate the performance as vividly as possible.

I’ve worked a lot from poetry, from a standpoint of interpreting the world as poetic.

How long do you usually work on one project?
It takes me about 8 months to get a product into and out of the computer. A lot of this time is wasted in my squeamishness about looking at the rushes.

Do you carefully plan the production process or do you work more intuitive?
I plan the scenario, schedule and world of the shoot carefully, a bit like a more conservative production process, but when we get there and it’s all set, I improvise. I do rough storyboarding and never, ever stick to it.

Often I’m in the film, in a performance mode that is either compromising, painful, difficult or all of these. It’s hard to plan for such circumstances.

How does the title relate to the work, and how do you find a fitting title?
The phrase "The Lingering—and the Stain" comes from a poem by Emily Dickinson. Having designed the text of the tattoo I’m receiving in the video, I found that I had adjusted the capitalisation of some words, and inserted a dash, in a style reminiscent of her work. Her themes and concerns also resonate with my poem that’s being tattooed up and down my spine. So I searched her Collected Works and found a title that fit and that I loved.

This is not something I do for other works. Each work needs a custom solution.

Where do you get your ideas or inspiration from?
The many, many weird ways societies interpret how your life should go depending on which sex and sexuality you are born.

Also, I love almost anything kitsch.

How important is sound in film, and if you use sounds, do you create your own or use existing?
Sound is as important as vision to me and each video has an original soundtrack that is highly worked, often by super-talented composers like Lindsay Webb and Naomi Radomishelski, sometimes by myself. We compose new music for each piece, using appropriate resources—"custom solutions"— such as blending bagpipes and children crying, or having a boy soprano sing a Latin translation of the tattoo at the end of The Lingering and the Stain.

It’s probably the most difficult thing about displaying my videos in public—how to have great, non-spilling sound for the listener/viewer.

How does content relate to the form of your work?
In Fleshed Out, my series of 11 videos made with different collaborators (The Lingering and the Stain’s principal collaborator is Roberto Jean François), each video uses the radical performing body to show rather than tell a poem, fleshing out its poem in a new way, be this dance, design, tattoo, dialogue, translation, newsfeed or hypnotic original soundscape.

What possibilities of the web are yet to be explored?
In relation to video? Obviously immediacy will get cleaner as webcam technologies advance. As a nerdy thought, I think archival practices on the web are not necessarily where they should or will be. Different systems wil be invented to inventory video and related media.

In Australia in 2011 we still have internet "limits" and "quotas"—I can’t wait for these to disappear.

Did the web changed your view on art, or your career?
It is just starting to change my view on my career.

It changed my art in that it totally facilitated my learning to make video. Forums rule when you have problems, which is all the time. I should spend more time browsing other people’s work. When I think what is up there on the net, that I haven’t seen yet—yes, it has changed my view on art. I CAN see international art, without waiting for exhibitions to come to Australia, without travelling from my studio. We’re all richer for that. We still need to arbitrate quality.

Where would you place your work; cinema or art. And what is the difference between those according to you?
It began in art and is moving towards cinema; I don’t know if it will ever get there, or do a U-turn and come back! Cinema to me is a language, that one speaks and improvises in but with relation to its basic grammar and vocabulary. Art is loose.

How influential is the reaction to your film by the audience?
Not very. It’s lovely to provoke a deep reaction, or have people who feel compelled to contact me or discuss their responses with me, but I don’t think it really changes what I make. What changes what I make is my reaction to other people’s films and art.

What is your next project about?
It’s about game-show hostesses, and how they communicate through a tightly scripted physical language and incredibly - ridiculously - gendered (self-)presentation.

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