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Art AND: Meredith Moore

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Meredith Moore is a treasure hunter. A self-professed “obsessive” with images, she is constantly seeking symbols in the everyday, finding her subjects—sometimes years before she uses them—and then creating unique ways to pay homage to them in short films that she creates with a hybrid of vintage and contemporary video equipment. 

Moore arrived in Baltimore in 2006 from Oklahoma to attend MICA on an undergraduate painting scholarship, but fell in love with video after she took a class on a whim and hasn’t looked back. Moore has also fallen in love with Baltimore, a place she appreciates for its creative community that, beginning with members of the early 2000s art collective Wham City, has always welcomed her. While her films are not necessarily painterly, each one centers around a central subject, the way a representational painting does, and then uses the format of moving images to turn the subject over and showcase it in a new light.

“I’m always looking for interesting and new things that I’ve never seen. Like right now, I’m on TikTok a lot,” she laughs, describing her inspiration workflow. Moore is interested in TikTok for the way it can show a day of an average user in another country—the global access inspires the artist to think about mundane human commonalities beyond borders—what a teenager’s morning routine is like in Saudi Arabia, for example. “I know I do have a peculiar sort of goofy way of looking at things,” she continues, and she classifies this unique viewpoint based on questioning the everyday as her style across several recent films.

Film is a medium that demands an audience, but Moore doesn’t concern herself too much with what other people might think about her work. Since the experimental short film world isn’t particularly commercial, she feels free to make things primarily for her first audience, herself. “I do it for myself. This is just how I explore life and express myself,” she says. And the resulting works are extremely personal, focused on single motifs that Moore became fixated on for a time: glitter, a lone cat figurine, her grandmother’s salt shaker collection. Her work tells a story of real objects typically recast in an otherworldly way. She’s not a documentarian, and much of what she makes we could probably call “trippy” for her use of strobing, special effects, and a heavy dose of the absurd. She’s made music videos in collaboration with several prominent Baltimore musicians such as Ami Dang and Dan Deacon, and her work always has a sound element that is either musical or the spoken word.

Moore works full time as the Digital Curation and Audiovisual Archives Specialist at MICA, where she also teaches special effects in the Film and Video Department. This work keeps her busy, so it’s hard sometimes to carve out the time necessary to work on her own projects. For the past two years, she has been working on what will be a roughly twelve-minute film about her grandmother’s salt shaker collection. Moore filmed it pre-pandemic and has been playing with some of the footage in her teaching workshops, using clips of her grandmother using her walker outside and adding an explosion styled out of a Jason Bourne movie behind her. The effect is humorous, of course, but also bittersweet; her grandmother is now 94 and resides in assisted living, and her dementia has worsened quickly due to the isolation of the pandemic. Moore’s project has essentially become a time capsule of her grandmother before the COVID-19 pandemic. Centered on one woman’s collection amassed over a lifetime since 1947, the film is a love note to their relationship and a poignant reminder that it’s how we spend our time that ultimately becomes our legacy.

In her Charles Village studio last November, Moore and I talked about analog technologies, Baltimore’s music scene, and taking yourself seriously as an artist.

SUBJECT: Meredith Moore, 34
WEARING: Vintage cotton mesh shirt from Depop, vintage slacks from Bottle of Bread, earrings by UNITS, shoes from Camper
PLACE: Charles Village

Still from "Burst" 2021

Suzy Kopf: What is the most important book (or books) you’ve read or are reading? 

Meredith Moore: So many books I’ve read over the years could qualify as important, but again and again I go back to John Steinbeck and Hermann Hesse, two authors whose work blew me away on a spiritual level when I first encountered them in my teens and early twenties. When you encounter work like that when you’re young and still figuring it all out, it’s like the book is speaking directly to you—I’m not sure that’s a feeling that can be replicated.

What makes Baltimore a great and unique place to be an artist? 

I find the arts community in Baltimore to be very unique in that everyone is very open and encouraging and down. If you live here long enough you can get to know so many wonderful artists and musicians and filmmakers. I appreciate a smaller city and don’t subscribe to the idea that one or two cities should be the center of culture.     

You’re the Digital Curation and Audiovisual Archives Specialist at MICA’s Decker Library. What’s your favorite part of that work? Is being an audiovisual archivist different fundamentally from other kinds of archive work?

Yes, I am dealing strictly with audiovisual materials, in this case, analog formats such as 16mm film, audio cassettes, Betamax, and VHS. Libraries and archives are such great resources but sometimes collections can feel a bit out of reach or locked away. So my favorite part of my work is being able to provide accessibility to wonderful artist talks, poetry readings, and lectures dating back to the ‘60s. Everything I digitize is uploaded to archive.org for anyone to access.

How have you defined success for yourself as an artist? Has this definition shifted at all with time?

I think it’s really important to make work you enjoy making and to do it largely for yourself. As a little kid, I made work as a way to process the world. Not much has changed. If what I’ve made is interesting to someone else, that’s a plus, but not the main goal. Another marker of success for me is that I’ve gotten to a point where I have the knowledge and skills to properly execute ideas in my head. That’s a big deal. 

 

Still from "Chasm," 2020

TikTok has been a source of fascination for you as of late. What is captivating about it for you as a consumer of media?

Initially I had an aversion to it, it makes me feel old, etc., but TikTok has 1 billion users around the world and I think it’s important as an artist working with technology and media to be aware of things like this and not just write them off. Of course, you have to think about it critically as well and how it’s changing the media landscape. What I personally find so fascinating about TikTok is the ease of use and the shortness of the videos. All of this creates an environment where people from all sorts of backgrounds and countries can easily post small snippets from their daily lives. A few things I don’t like about it, however, is the algorithm: It gets tight very quickly and you have to really work to break out of it and find the interesting stuff—also, obviously, the censorship and data collection. However, I love finding kids in remote Russia, India, Saudi Arabia, etc. posting their daily lives and what they’re into, things I would never be exposed to IRL.

Would you say you’re looking specifically for TikToks from other countries to gain insights into other cultures?

I’ve had an existential crisis from a very young age. Being alive and existing on this planet is such a peculiar thing. I’m interested in seeing different versions of living than what I’ve been around. So I’d say in a way I’m looking at these TikToks from other countries to gain insights into the peculiarities of culture and society as a whole and what the universal themes are.

Many of your films contain a text or spoken component. What role would you say language plays in your work? Do you consider yourself a poet or writer of any sort?

Oftentimes in my work, I’m trying to express the inexpressible. Perhaps a great writer could do it with just words but that’s not how I operate. I’m obsessed with images. I’ve always felt more comfortable expressing myself with a combination of words and images to get at the crux of what I’m trying to convey. I would say an experimental film is very much like a poem, I think most experimental filmmakers would say that.

Do you pursue any hobbies in addition to your work? Do you think that these hobbies have any influence or impact on your work or do you view them more as stress relief or a way to unwind?

I’m always interested in a million things. I like doing physical things, running around, rollerblading, hiking. I’ll ride any go-cart, dirt bike, golf cart available to me. Nothing has become a full-fledged passion; for me the most important element is play and finding joy in simple pleasures as much as I am able.

You’re heavily involved in the Baltimore music scene and have collaborated to produce videos for Dan Deacon and Ami Dang and others. Why is it important for artists to find and nurture community?

It was a pivotal moment in my life when I met the Wham City folks and joined them at 19 years old. I’ve never felt such belonging and connection in my life. I was a real weirdo in suburban Oklahoma City, and suddenly I found people like myself who were interested and excited about creating and making things happen. It was an absolute electric time in the music and arts scene here and I was involved in bands and making visuals and helping organize shows and everything in between. It’s been hugely inspirational and an absolute pleasure to grow up with these people. Giving ourselves the permission and validation that a creative life is a life worth pursuing. I also think it’s really important to give back to the communities you directly benefit from and I try to do that as much as possible. 

 

Still from "Chasm" 2020

What are the last three emojis you used? Have you given up emojis?

I have largely given up on emojis besides my main three: the sun🌞, upside-down smiley face🙃, and sparkle✨. What more do you need? 

Looking around your studio, you’re clearly a collector of analog film technologies. Can you tell me a little bit about your collection? 

I’ve always had an obsession with optical toys and analog film and video technologies. I have a ton of objects that either record or project. Super8 film cameras, VHS camcorders, microscopic cameras, overhead projectors, 16mm projectors, digital projectors, etc. Additionally, I have a ton of old toys from kaleidoscopes to stereoscopes to Gameboy cameras, the XBOX Kinect which you can use for 3D scanning. Each of these technologies contains so much potential. 

I’m interested in learning as much as I can about an unknown (to me) technology and then exploring the limits of it. It’s the most fun I have creating. I love entering into the creative process as a bit of a novice. I find it to be especially freeing and there’s a lot of exciting possibilities yet to be explored.

In what ways are older technologies superior to newer, slicker ones for your artistic aesthetic?

I am very much against the idea that as an artist you must shoot a film in 4k, hyper resolution, you need a camera that costs $10k. No. Why would my films need to be in 4k? They don’t. In my work, I’m often combining outdated analog technologies with advanced digital techniques​. There’s such a richness and beauty in these antiquated technologies. My work is definitely a little bit of a statement against the idea that you have to use the latest and greatest. Also planned obsolescence is awful.

As a professor, I think a lot about my students who worry so much about perfection and my own perfectionist tendencies. Whatever you have available to you, whether it be a vintage camera from the ‘60s or the camera on your iPhone, those are your tools. I don’t think there should be one right way. 

I think about Sadie Benning’s incredible short films that were made with a Fisher-Price PixelVision toy camera. I think of this Maya Deren quote constantly: “Improve your films not by adding more equipment and personnel but by using what you have to its fullest capacity. The most important part of your equipment is yourself: your mobile body, your imaginative mind, and your freedom to use both. Make sure you do use them.”

 

Who do you see as your contemporaries? Whose art is yours in conversation with? Are there structures, places, or other notable influences on you? 

I try not to compare myself with others but of course it’s hard to do. I consider all of my friends to be my contemporaries. The work shown at experimental film festivals, like the Ann Arbor Film Festival, Antimatter, and International Film Festival Rotterdam are places I’m looking to.

Do you believe in astrology and if so what insights can your signs give our readers into your personality and mindset?

Astrology is fun, but I can’t say in writing that I give it any real weight. That being said, I do really identify as a triple fire sign (Aries, Aries, Leo). 

Who are your art or career heroes and what do you look to them for? Do you have anyone whose work you’ve always admired or whose career you’d like to emulate or just someone you think would be a cool person to have coffee with? Why are they the coolest? 

I don’t have any specific heroes, only people whose work I greatly admire. I am especially impressed by people who are living a creative life most authentically to their truths and not creating for fame or recognition or whatever else. I could throw out the MVPs off the top of my head: Agnes Varda, Maya Deren, Barbara Loden, Guy Maddin, William Kentridge, Werner Herzog, Bruce Bickford, Suzanne Pitt, Suzanne Ciani, Yayoi Kusama, Maya Lin, Agnes Denes, Remedios Varo, all of my friends.

What would your teenage self think of you today? 

Teenage Meredith was very idealistic but also had a lot to learn, so whatever she thinks about me is her business, not mine, haha. 

What have you learned the hard way?

In my twenties, before I had any recognition or accolades, I had a really hard time giving myself credit for being an artist and filmmaker. If someone asked what I did I would never say, “Oh I’m an artist.” Which was ridiculous because that’s exactly what I was and always have been. Give yourself validation. You have to take yourself seriously before anyone else will. 

 

 

Still from "My Favorite Object" 2019
Still from "My Favorite Object" 2019
Still from "Margie Soudek's Salt and Pepper Shakers," a work in progress to be finished in 2022
Still from "The Comfort of Being Obtuse" 2022

Film stills courtesy of the artist. Photos by Justin Tsucalas for BmoreArt

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