On a Dimly Lit Path
On a Dimly Lit Path shows a couple as they navigate uncertain times.
Janaye Brown's video work explores perception of time, fragmented narratives and the unseen. Brown has exhibited at venues and film festivals including New York City’s Studio Museum Harlem, the Dallas Video Fest, The Banff Centre in Alberta, Canada and Shulamit Nazarian in Los Angeles. She has participated in residencies at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, the Bruce High Quality Foundation University and Crosstown Arts among others. Brown received her MFA in Studio Art from the University of Texas at Austin in 2013 and her BA in Cinematic Arts and Technology from California State University Monterey Bay in 2010. She currently lives and works in Shanghai, China.
Interview questions by Cara Kuball
1/ On a Dimly Lit Path feels like an outline of a narrative, a nice analog to the neon pieces you incorporate, which are outlines of three-dimensional forms. I'm curious whether you started with a narrative in mind and then stripped it down to its bare elements, or if you started with the three story elements (and three neon works), and built a narrative around them?
I began making this piece by coming up with the idea for the three LED signs. The images I chose are of objects or movements that represent the passage of time. From there I was searching for a narrative to connect to these LED timekeepers. I wanted to speak to the ideas of anticipation, slowness and anxiety, themes that often appear in my work. It wasn’t until the pandemic hit that I landed on the three-story elements and overall narrative. I often work this way, using a gesture, action or visual as a starting point and then build up from there. The idea of loose storytelling appeals to me because it allows viewers the space to bring in their own ideas and experiences to fill in the gaps.
2/ Your video features a multivalent use of neon signage. Please share more about the neon "signs": how and why neon? Do you make neon pieces yourself? Were they made just for this video, or did you form the video around existing neon pieces?
These kinds of LED signs are prevalent in Shanghai. They are cheap, easy to customize and easy to produce. I’ve always been drawn to them and the fact that they often adorn shops, restaurants and bars that come as quickly as they go. For years I had been interested in doing a piece that involved custom neon signs and the approachability of these LED signs helped to make that happen.
To produce the four LED signs seen in On a Dimly Lit Path I worked with a company I found on Taobao, an online marketplace somewhat similar to Amazon. My husband, who is also an artist, helped me to create the specific designs I had in mind for the piece. I sent the designs to the company and three days later I received the finished product. Each sign is made with a clear sheet of laser cut plexiglass and LED light tape. When hanging in a storefront, the plexiglass tends to fade into the background and the LED lights shine bright. This effect is something that I wanted to capture on video, as well as being able to use the signs to light their corresponding vignettes.
3/ You really capture a feeling of shared domestic isolation--or perhaps I am projecting this, writing questions for you as I approach the 1-year marker of staying at home during the coronavirus pandemic. It does make me curious about whether this was a work inspired by pandemic-induced lifestyle shifts within the last year, or if it was germinating before COVID-19?
Before the pandemic I had the idea for the designs of the LED pieces, but I wasn’t sure in what capacity I wanted to use them. I knew the piece would be vignette-based (as much of my work is) and I knew I wanted to use these signs to tell a story about a couple. While in quarantine, it was hard to see beyond what was happening in my life from day to day. Eventually the narrative made itself clear to me, I could connect the LED signs to these small moments I was experiencing within my domestic space, using them as visual title cards for each scene. I couldn’t escape the feelings I was going through, and making this video was a therapeutic way to help find some control and optimism about the situation at hand.
4/ One of my favorite aspects of video is how it can disarm and disorient by shifting our perceptions of space and time; your use of neon as a 2-D line image that shifts into 3-dimensional space as the couple exists in space with the neon pieces does this so subtly elegantly. I'm curious about your artistic practice outside of video making, if you also make static objects and images, and how these interact with 4-D creations?
The final scene was important as it allowed me to bring the LED signs into space and give them more dimensionality. When you first see the LED signs they sway, hinting at their objecthood, but I wanted to activate them more. I was thinking about this scene in the Twilight Zone episode “The Four of Us are Dying” where the main character walks down a street surrounded by many neon signs that act as visual cues to temptation. I loved this idea and wanted to use it as a starting point for the final scene. In On a Dimly Lit Path the couple, blanketed in darkness, would be able to walk past the LED signs and what they stand for towards the unknowable, unseeable future.
I don’t usually make objects or images outside of video, but I often will become infatuated with a particular thing and find a way to include it in a video. This is the case with the LED signs, but I’ve also done this with other things for example a tiled floor, a kite and gummy candy. I’m more interested in how to capture these things in a time-based format than having them exist on their own. I studied both film and art, so sometimes these proclivities come out naturally in the work as I appreciate other art forms and glean inspiration from them.
5/ I'd love to hear more about your scoring process--in this work, you incorporate and blend what seem to be found sounds into an ambient score. Did you make both the music and soundtrack yourself or in collaboration, and how did you approach the scoring?
The sound design is a combination of a score I composed and found sounds. Like many others I’ve found great solace in music during the pandemic. The score was inspired by these long, ambient, meandering songs I was listening to at that moment like B.E.F.’s “Decline of the West” and Röyksopp’s “Shores of Easy”. These songs (as well as many others) helped me to process the intense feelings I had at the time and to have some kind of optimism for the future. I wanted to create a soundtrack that did precisely this while also helping to tie the imagery together. I don’t usually compose songs for my work, so it was a fun challenge. The found sound effects helped to activate the LED sign imagery (waves crashing, a person breathing, the metronome sound) and I liked how they melded with the score.
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