Gonzalo Baharona Illambra Interview

Conversation with Chilean director Gonzalo Baharona who enjoys experimenting with art and science. He tells us the journey from painting and drawing, through film and animation to science and quantum physics. His animated film ”The Fly” (Die Fliege) is available for streaming HERE.

ILLAMBRA: You are originally coming from Chile. Was your decision to move to Europe driven by the pursuit of new influences and how did it impact your art?

GB: Since very early when I was a teenager learning painting and drawing I wanted to travel to see the original work of “the old big masters” like Rembrandt, Velazquez, Leonardo, etc, that was my first motivation. At the end of my studies on Visual Art I was for one semester in Germany where I discovered this international kind of life with people from all different backgrounds and languages interacting at the same time. Back at home I was missing this international way of life and I decided to continue studying in Europe.

ILLAMBRA: You are first of all multimedia artist. How did you start to work with film and what does this medium bring to your concept?

GB: I didn’t expected working on film at the first place, my field that was focused on painting and sculpture. At the Art academy in Hamburg I discovered that it was a Film Department and I was welcome to experiment with it. The concept of Time was something that I was trying to “catch” since my former projects on painting. The possibility to work with a temporal medium like film -I thought- could help me to work more deeply with the concept of time and also mess a bit with it.   

ILLAMBRA: Why animation, more precisely, stop motion animation?

GB: I started with animation because it was more familiar with my former knowledge of painting and drawing. I also always liked to do, as much as possible, with my own hands. My first animation was a short film experiment that I did together with the great Chilean Painter Gabriela Guiñez (http://gabrielaguinez.blogspot.com) It was very strange and funny experiment, as it should be. Since then I could see animation not only as something to watch and wander, but also as something one can do. Also, the idea of creating, not only the characters and movements of the animation but also the physical framework was motivating me as well. In animation things don’t fall on their own, one has to make them fall so one needs to fake the sensation of gravity, air and so on, this is of course not new but for me was at the time a new thing to explore. Ah I almost forgot, the animations of Jan Svankmajer were a big inspiration, that explains maybe why I choose stop motion in the first place.   

ILLAMBRA: Your animated film “The Fly” features seemingly insignificant protagonist, a tiny and annoying house fly, and through its portrait you’ve actually pulled through a story about physical laws on which the entire universe stands. Where did you get an inspiration for it and how did the development of plot go?

GB: I have always hated flies, but at the same time I was observing that they mostly fly in a kind of “programmed flight” with very sharp angles after drawing straight lines in the air. This very simple question about “how the fly turns while flying?” got me busy with a lot of images and questions. Since it was technically very difficult to film a close-up of a fly moving its wings in detail, I’ve decided to animate this phenomenon. During my research I found a paper on “fly moving manoeuvres” * in which I learned that it was a very complicated question to answer experimentally. The technical means that they used to understand “the flight of the fly” were very similar to what Eadweard Muybridge did 100 years earlier, to know exactly “how the horses run” but at a rate of 10000 frames per second. At this time, I was also very interested in quantum physics, it was the beginning of long research. My purpose to make this film was to join the questions about the movement of the fly together with my questions about Quantum Physics.

*The Aerodynamics of Free-Flight Maneuvers in Drosophila

Steven N. Fry1, Rosalyn Sayaman2, Michael H. Dickinson2

still from film ”The Fly”

ILLAMBRA: Your film is visually stunning, you constantly surprise the viewer with new plains, cartoons, perspectives, familiar images… Did you plan it completely through, or every idea gave birth to the next one during the creative process? How was your workflow?

GB: I had a few clear images of the movement of the fly and also already pictured the whole aesthetic that the film look should have: it should look like old scientific illustrations from the 17th century, in combination with the photography from Eadweard Muybridge, comics and should have some absurdity inspired from Monty Python. All the rest was jus a big question mark. Thematically I proposed myself to combine the manoeuvres of the fly with some ideas from quantum mechanics, but I didn’t know how to do it at all. So basically this project started with many questions and little answers. There where so many possibilities and outcomes of the film, that it was difficult to decide. The best way that I found to solve that, it was to use the logic of the images to determine the script.

ILLAMBRA: Tell us a bit more about the production process. We suppose you did it mostly by yourself…

GB: I started building the puppet of the fly and collecting a lot of images from all kinds, but especially from old scientific illustrations. Parallel to that, I started reading papers and books and read about scientific paradoxes and Quantum Mechanics. In the middle of the process I visited a lecture on Quantum Physics at the University of Hamburg for one semester as a guest, to try to understand more deeply how those paradoxes are working. I was also in contact with a group of physicists from DESY Hamburg (a particle collider) and we where meeting very often and shearing ideas between Art and Science. Many of these conversations turned out to be part of the film’s script.

The process of the film itself was a lot of experimentation with drawing, cutting,  building stuff. Every little scene or sequence was helping me to start to collect the ideas and the images for the next one. The work with images was a priority and determined the development of the text. It was like a big puzzle of hand crafted characters and backgrounds, and digital composition editing and matching everything with the theoretical concepts.

ILLAMBRA: You are also the composer and performer of the accompanying soundtrack of the film that perfectly fits the witty story and the nature of the main character. Did this subject drew up all of your creative powers and engaged them in a process that brought up the best of them?

GB: I had a lot of fun collecting, recording and mixing the first sounds for the film, for me the sound was another way of working with images, in this process I learnt “to see” through sound. My brother Javier Barahona who is a professional musician helped me with the orchestrating composition for the beginning of the film, but the strange atmosphere that I wanted to have in the develop of the film was difficult to explain. I decided to try something by my own with a violin that I was learning to play. My knowledge in music is no so big to make a complex composition, so I tried something simple with just tree notes that are looping and giving a strange background ambience. Mixing this violin melody in pizzicato with a couple of noises of a rubber band and a comb, gives the resulting music that accompanies the fly.

still from film ”The Fly”

ILLAMBRA: During the course of the film you also managed to touch the subject of the very nature of the medium – each singular “now” that becomes the basic unit of life, of existence, is also a basic unit of the film in form of a “frame”. Did “Fly” also inspire you to speculate about the film as a phenomenon?

GB: This self-reflective or auto-referential problem is a topic and mechanism that I use long time ago, the first time was in a series of paintings based on mathematical problems from Alan Turing and Kurt Gödel. By using a mirror, this self-referential paradox appear when I tried to copy the reflection of my own hand which is painting. To achieve that, the hand has to move, the faster that I tried to paint, the faster was my “model” moving, making this apparently simple task of painting an object, as something impossible.  

In the case of the Fly, I wanted to establish a similar paradox, taking the frame as something like the Planck length of the film trying to explain itself. How to explain frames with frames? Was one of my questions for this scene. The fly made me see the phenomenon of Time in a different way, pushing the observation to the limit. Assuming that the nature of time is similar to the nature of a film, then the logical question was: what happened between two frames? What is there between the ultimate units of reality? As an artist, I cannot answer this question but I can scratch a bit on the reality of the film.

ILLAMBRA: The scientific details represent the core of the plot in “The Fly”. Does science also inspire your other work as well?

GB: Yes, since my early studies on painting I attended a seminar about important paradigms of mathematics, that motivated me to make a research to translate mathematical paradoxes into painting. Since then I discovered a new experimentation field. Now I cannot separate my work on art from my curiosity for science, especially “limit science”.

ILLAMBRA: Is there any new film on the horizon? Tell us about your upcoming projects.

GB: It is a long time ago that I don’t make a film like “The Fly” although I have made many small animations for physicists and many other projects, it is a long time without making a proper film with a beginning and an end, so to say.

Since 2014 with the choreographer Sonia Franken I started a collective cold El Cuco Projekt (www.elcucoprojekt.com), in which we combine Dance Performance and Visual Art using hyper-realistic animal masks. It is another form of animation that is developed through the body itself on stage. The result is a very absurd and bizarre combination of human and animal movements in dissociative scenographies. In many performances we have used video projections and animations -everything self made- as a complementary medium. Now we are experimenting more and more with video as a form of Performance, so it is very likely to have a film project in the near future.

performance series “SCREAM!NG MATTER” – El Cuco project

Thank you for the interview!

The film of Gonzalo Baharona is available for streaming on Illambra – click HERE to watch.