Images by Chris Rohrer
The artist db amorin’s latest piece, grazed my neck w/ a burnt piece of land in liliha, operates like a magnet. The installation, a suspended video screen that projects static over a cracked surface of Pacific-sourced sea salts on the floor beneath it, seems to equally attract and repel. Or at least that was my experience being in its presence, finding myself unsure, yet also able to strangely intuit, how to trace my own way around viewing this work. Decentralization and deconstruction are the primary approaches amorin takes in assembling all of his canon, and to the viewers’ benefit: this mode of engagement shows us alternative, non-linear methods of negotiating narrative, history, and identity.
Your junkyard aesthetic and means of culling material deeply informs your art-making. I would dare to describe it as refreshingly non-judgemental.
My work uses noise aesthetics and glitch aesthetics as a way to talk about personal dysphoria and perceptual dysphoria. This work is the culmination of a lot of auto-ethnographical kind of research into my genealogy, my family’s experiences, and the location of my childhood home in Liliha. I come from a mixed family, Azorean-Portuguese and Samoan. A lot of the information about where we came from is no longer available. It’s been lost over time or obscured by different versions of the same event told by different people. A lot of my work takes those discrepancies and amplifies them. In a way, it is to draw attention to the gaps in knowledge and the negative spaces that are formed when information is lost and people are left to navigate these large distances within their histories.
How has Hawai‘i influenced your approach to art?
Growing up on an island really has colored the way that I go about my process of making art and treating time and material as something that can be explored, broken, re-manipulated, abstracted, or amplified. The cyclical nature of time and location on an island—driving around it, or even, like, wave cycles—has definitely mirrored the kind of perceptual disturbances and perceptual distortions that I like to use in my work. These ephemeral or immaterial things about growing up in Hawai‘i has really dictated where my work has gone and where it continues to go.
What draws you to video?
It’s something that I’m comfortable working with in the same way that a carpenter would work with wood or a painter would work with a palette to create these modular experiences that are durational, to take them apart and really exploit their elasticity. I love working with a medium that is so fluid.
Can you talk about how you decided to install and position this piece? It’s inviting and alluring, but not exactly easy to navigate either. I wasn’t sure where to place myself, or where you, the artist, wanted the viewer to be, exactly. Ultimately, I just had to surrender to that.
The things that I’m most inspired by are these moments between frames, or moments where there has been something that maybe once existed and no longer is present, and you’re kind of left to decide what it means to you and what it was. It’s in those spaces that you’re allowed to be free and renegotiate what that means to you and how you present it. With my work, I hope to create these media-driven experiences that stand in contrast to what a cinematic experience would give a person.
Rather than being immersive, it’s definitely calling attention to the division between the audience and the piece. I’m hoping when people are experiencing it, there is an ambient narrative that is coming through and it’s more sensation driven rather than intellectual or even sequential. I’m hoping that some of the immaterial qualities, such as the heat lamps or the reflection or catching it at an awkward angle where there’s a glare, gives the person a bodied feeling. That they’re able to get that transmission of what’s being communicated, which is more of an abstract notion rather than a traditional narrative.
Your interrogation of identity is a constant in your work. How has your relationship to your self, or the self, evolved over time?
I had begun doing a lot of self-portraiture and using my own body as a material, amplifying that, distorting that, and then moving on to these more non-representational ideas around identity, where multiple modes of communication about who a person is or what a group of people are and can be are deconstructed to the point of abstraction, and then using that as a template to build upon. So I think it’s important to explore identities, but I don’t necessarily think it’s beneficial to stay within representational modes.
Since we took portraits and recorded an interview of you talking about your work, I want to ask: How does that make you feel as a video artist concerned with boxing-in and packaging narratives?
It’s kind of interesting to be a person who primarily deals with digital imagery and also personally have such an adverse feeling towards the proliferation of digital images. (Laughs.) Maybe you can actually see that in my work, where I take something, a story that has a beginning, a middle and an end, a story that comes from a human, and then I break it down to the bare minimum. Then, I break it down further by corrupting a file, amplify that, and then serve that up as, you know, my grandmother’s story or the thing I found in the basement, or a box that my dad gave me. So thinking about the ways in which noise serves as protection is also really prevalent in my work because I have a responsibility to my family to tell a story, but not exploit their story.
Your treatment of sound as material, as something rich and tactile, especially comes through in the way you title your pieces. The characters themselves are stylized—some words are more oblique than others, in italics, in all caps. There’s an explicit texture.
A lot of my work has its roots in language, like you said. The “graze my neck” portion comes from a poem I wrote over 10 years ago, which was the impetus for this piece. It was after a really visually arresting dream that I had of the actual burnt land that I’m depicting in this work. I use a lot of these types of dream logic, then expressed as language, and then take it and extract it from there.
What you were saying about the tactile nature of my work, paired with what I was saying earlier about what I want people to take away from it, which is a bodied experience, a static-flavored shape [an iteration of this piece] is kind of a nod to that. To throw in a synesthetic description of this piece denotes that I want people to walk away with this sort of cross-sensory experience—where you’re both getting heat and watching something tumbling, or wincing at a glare that got too close or was a little too bright—but also kind of lulled by, you know, a gentle wave of static. I want these conflicting kind of experiences of my work because the lived experience is just as conflicting.