Creation Myth narrates the birth of a universe comprised of dissolving nail clippings and clear chemicals that smell like ice, fertilized in glass beakers and warmed into being by bunsen burners. The video artist Elisabeth Reinkordt has worked in collaboration with a poet, a performer, and a composer to transport this world from the laboratory to the infinitely deep space just behind your screen. Reinkordt talks below about her creative process and partners, and the influence of the Nebraska horizon line.
Although you created the video interpretation, Mathias Svalina wrote the text, Patrick Wilkins performed the reading, and Anderson Reinkordt produced the score. Can you talk about how this collaboration came about? What were the pleasures and perils of working with this group and/or this material?
When I first met Mathias, I was so taken by his poetry. I spent several months trying to figure out a way to visualize his Creation Myths—poems full of strong imagery and often magical realist storylines—but struggled to find a way to complement the imagery in his writing without deliberately illustrating it. In 2006, Patrick Wilkins performed a series of monologues, and decided to include readings of two of Mathias’s Creation Myths as part of the performance. Rather than performing them live, he decided to pre-record them with my husband, Anderson, who then added a musical score. Patrick did such beautiful reading of the poems, and with Anderson’s score elements added, the poems took on a new life. I was the light designer for the production, and had kept the recordings on my laptop; a year later, in sorting through video footage that hadn’t found a home in any of my work, I found the match of image for sound. At the time, I was taking a seminar with the avant-garde filmmaker Jon Jost, and I had been experimenting with the filters added onto consumer-grade miniDV cameras. The color of the video is evocative of the light design from Patrick’s production, and the filtered images, to me, match the mystery of the world created by Mathias and enhanced through Anderson’s sound design. Though piecing it together and creating a video version is my work, I see and hear everyone else’s contributions when I watch the piece. I cannot stress enough that this is truly the result of four distinct artistic talents coming together.
Can you talk about your process for translating a literary and poetic form into a cinematic narrative?
Much of my film work has been creating imagescapes for projection during concerts, and I’ve certainly taken this experience into the work I’ve done with Creation Myth. In creating images for projection, it is essential to create wordless narrative—the sound is all being performed live; thus, the work I have done particularly for the band Man’s Last Great Invention has tended toward the ambient and the visually descriptive. Similarly, I feel that it is important to create a cinematic narrative that neither overtly depicts the content of the literary work nor fails to create a story of its own. There is certainly a delicate dance—there are occasional moments in which you can imagine you see what’s being said; there are others in which the images cause you to wander into a visual narrative separate from the literary work. I’ve been very inspired by the work of Joshua Marie Wilkinson and Rabbit Light Films when working with poetry, especially.
Who did you make Creation Myth for? Who is your imagined audience?
Primarily, I would like Creation Myth to be an easily accessible mode of exposing people to Mathias Svalina’s poetry—especially those who might not be inclined to read a poem, but would be drawn in by a multimedia piece. On the other hand, I made Creation Myth to tie a few worlds together—namely, those artistic disciplines that the four contributors to the project inhabit. In Lincoln, Nebraska, we are fortunate to have a diverse community of artists who tend to band together, thus facilitating the collaboration of a filmmaker, a poet, an actor, and a musician that is also a collaboration of friends. We all have our networks within our respective media as well, and I was interested in creating a piece that could be easily distributed on the web to our friends and colleagues.
On your Vimeo site, nocoastfilms, you say, “i make money making educational videos. then i try to do experimental work on the side. these are the consequences of an ivy league education in media theory and production, the sexual reproduction of teachers, and the ninety percent sky-to-earth ratio of nebraska.” What more can you (or would you like to) tell about your background, creative interests, or the influence of the sky-to-earth ratio in Nebraska?
I’ll be the first to admit this is a pretty flippant profile statement. I studied in the Department of Modern Culture & Media at Brown University, with emphases in documentary production and feminist film theory. Much of my work has been influenced by the Nebraskan landscape, and, in a sense, by the inadequacy of any art form trying to capture the sense of being in the proverbial “middle of nowhere.” I am repeatedly drawn to filming skies, clouds, the rolling, treeless hills, and long stretches of road with seemingly endless horizons. Though I have produced several pieces in the traditional documentary vein, my artistic practice tends toward a more experiential documentary process. For the last two years, I’ve produced documentary video and multimedia pieces for the Nebraska Department of Education, and also teach video production and media theory to teachers and students across the state; my parents are both lifelong educators.