‘Official Film Nerd’ Jessie Rodriguez Creates Whimsical Hand-Printed Movies That Feel Like Magic [Interview]
“Film has always been my gateway to a larger world,” says “official film nerd” Jessie Rodriguez, who crafts every detail of her stop-motion films by hand, right down to the hidden pull tabs that facilitate the movement of beating paper hearts and wriggling mermaid tails.
“It is indeed a very laborious process to make a [stop-motion] film,” says the Denver artist, who calls her shorts “hand-printed movies” because of the stamp-and-print—or linocut—method she uses to create the skeletons, birds, and sea creatures that scuttle freely across her work. “The amount of time it takes, from conception to completion, could be days, weeks, or months, depending on the piece,” Jessie continues, explaining that her ideas undergo extensive storyboarding sessions before either the knife or the camera appear. “Through my animations, I have confronted personal experiences of loss, death, and violence,” she says when asked to share the catalyst behind her chimerical shorts. “It can be a very profound process to work through my thoughts and feelings around an event, as I cannot hide from my art; however, other pieces can be pure joy to create as I tap into playful absurdism.”
Accompanied by a literal skeleton crew, the wriggling temptress in Mermaid’s Dressing Room augments the absurdity with a burlesque-style striptease and a hair-raising finale. “This was a site-specific piece made for a friend’s gallery that is circus-themed,” Jessie remarks on the salacious short. “It is a play on a traditional peepshow, and I placed it inside of a peepshow box that viewers had to look into a hole to watch.”
Elsewhere, Fish Dream transports viewers to a watery fantasy complete with winged hearts, flying flowers, and a brief but transcendent kiss between a seabound fish and a landlocked fowl. “[Fish Dream] was a reflection on insomnia, something I have dealt with on and off for years,” says Jessie. “For me, it often comes with vivid dreams when I finally fall asleep that lead to confusion upon waking.” Meanwhile, Abrupt Knife bends toward violence, a surreal retelling of a public stabbing with Jessie in the role of the witness: “I was working in the library when a man was stabbed in the back by another customer,” she recalls. “[Abrupt Knife] is my reflection on the feeling of time slowing during a traumatic event and re-emerging from it, but in a different place than before.”
Linked by recurring symbols, Jessie’s films interpret the world with drops of blood, anatomical hearts, and tearful eyes—tokens that bypass the brain and cut straight to the heart. Clocking in at a whopping average of 60 seconds each, her shorts are, paradoxically, a painstaking labor of love: “One minute of animation is composed of hundreds of photographs,” she explains, adding, “Once I get to see the movement taking place and my idea comes to life, all of the many steps are worth it—it feels like magic.”
In Today’s Q+Art Interview…
Jessie Rodriguez discusses Mexico City’s avant-garde art scene, using music box melodies to score her films, and the intoxicating ritual of creative execution.
How did your journey into stop-motion animation begin?
Jessie Rodriguez: It began out of curiosity. At the time, I was working in the library, and as part of my job, I would give storytime to the kids. I would invent flannel boards to move as teaching devices to help with telling stories. I found myself in the studio working on one of my prints one day and started to wonder what it would feel like if it moved. I began cutting my prints out and creating new linocut stamps to create pieces and began moving them around in a similar way. Stop motion was the next step to bring them to life.
How do you decide on the score for your films?
JR: I often use music box scores; I collect a lot of old records and even music boxes themselves. I find the notes match up well with the movements of the animations. Typically, my music is found after the piece is created. I play different segments and when I find one that sounds like the right mood, I pair them together and see what happens. It often fits on the first try. However, I’m currently working on a piece in reverse—I'm making an animation for a piece of music. In this case, the music is informing my creation, which is a new way for me to work. It is a unique process and I am enjoying it.
Who are some of your favorite filmmakers?
JR: Wong Kar Wai—I love to get lost in his films and characters. John Waters and his campy filth are the best. Sophia Coppola creates the kind of sets that I want to move right into. Harmony Korine captures the underbelly of America so well. Andrea Arnold does the same for both the UK and Midwest America. Jean-Luc Godard, one of my entries points to New Wave films, along with Agnes Varda. Lotte Reiniger, with her intricate shadow animation creations. George Melies, with his surreal and inventive silent film theatricality. Stop motion pioneers Jan Svankmajer and Brothers Quay. Werner Herzog for being himself.
Where are you dying to have a film screening?
JR: I love a captive audience and old theaters. My favorite way to experience film is in intimate settings. One of my favorite film experiences was seeing George Melies films played in a small opera house in Telluride with a live piano score. My films would live their best life being shown in small art deco theaters. Throw in a live hand-crank music box and the setting would be complete.
What’s your favorite creative ritual?
JR: There is nothing I love more than being completely enmeshed in making. When I am in the process of creating and filming, it is an obsession. I am carving linocuts, printing them, and bringing them to life. When I have all of the pieces in front of me and an idea prepared, I love the ritual of execution. There is creativity to it, as I have the freedom to modify and adapt my ideas in the moment. It is a kind of complete focus where the world becomes this tiny universe of created expression.
What’s the last film you saw? The last one you loved?
JR: I got to see a newly restored reel of the 1966 Czech film Daisies by Věra Chytilová in the theater. I love this movie and seeing it on a big screen was so much fun. So much chaos, anarchy, jump cuts, color, and absurdity. I also watched This is Not Berlin recently, set in the avant-garde art scene of Mexico City in the '80s. They did a phenomenal job of bringing it to life, I wanted to time travel and live inside of it. I’ll also do a plug for the Chilean stop-motion film The Wolf House, one of the most inventive films I’ve seen, blending mediums and creating an otherworldly experience.
What’s something you keep in your home studio that would surprise us?
JR: I always keep my “pig rig” nearby. When I first started making animations, I did them on my phone, and I attached an overhead rig to a large ceramic decorative piggy bank because it had a handle on the top that fit it. I called it my pig rig. Now that I have a more official setup, the pig rig is always there watching over me as I work.
What are you working on that you’re excited about right now?
JR: I have two very different projects that I am working to bring to life. In a way, they are complementary to one another, as one is dark and personal, and the other is surreal and fun. I am working on a piece that I composed last summer in a small Italian chapel that I was able to call my studio for a week while on a creative retreat. It is a piece unpacking problematic experiences inside a “profits over people” medical system, using lots of symbolic elements. The second one is a collaboration with a close friend who is a musician. I am working on an animation to go with a song he made, and it involves a flying robot satellite.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. All photos published with permission of the artist(s).
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