Though mainstream cultural narratives often fail those relegated to the fringes of our societies, artists like Leslie Foster are deliberately crafting content that, as Foster and the artists with whom he's collaborated call it, "isn't for you."
This "you" is the proverbial "you" that exemplifies the cultural powers-that-be, and more specifically in the case of Foster's most recent project, the 59 film installation, the cis, white male. "These visuals are not created for the dominant culture to easily consume," explains Foster. "They are celebrations of bodies and genders and ideas that are often marginalized."
Noting that he oftentimes fits into this "dominant culture" and that in reality many of these films are also not "for him," Foster shares an appreciation for his collaborators, who, while creating these alongside him, "were there to keep my own privilege and gaze in check."
Each spanning 59 seconds, the 11 films that comprise 59 are each entirely unique to the vision of the artist with whom Foster collaborated for the film, respectively. The collaborative process surrounding 59 is a fundamental element of the final product, which means that for each project there was "a rule we followed [where] we had to generate the idea 50/50 and as much as possible, split the work 50/50 as well." While some films did not follow this method perfectly, "we worked hard to communicate well and include each other on every decision."
In the case of filmmaker Jacqueline Suskin and her film, entitled 59.8, "the collaboration felt seamless, effortless even, as it came together naturally and without debate." As as poet living in Los Angeles, Suskin wanted to bring viewers back to "the importance of the earth, the natural world, soil, water, air and fire," and her film took the form of a poem while capturing a personal "ritual" of Suskin's. The vulnerability present in witnessing the "personal and private world of an artist" is a poignant rarity that can be found throughout the films.
The decision to keep each film under one minute came from Madeline Merritt, with whom Foster created the second film (59.2), and intrigued Foster due to "how effective good commercials can be in less than a minute." Wanting to "explore creating incredibly short experimental films as a challenge" for himself, the restrictions set around Foster's 59 installation have created what he's come to call "visual sonnet-making."
The films, which celebrate marginalized identities, are all unique to the artist with whom Foster collaborated. "What intrigues me about the 11 films is how different they all ended up being! There are dance films, intensely mystical films, poetic films, and all of them defy easy categorization." This posed a unique challenge for Foster as he worked against his own limitations and expanded different components of his style.
"I'm looking forward to viewers trying to find a theme," Foster tells Creators. "I think there's an expectation that there should be some sort of harmony between all of the films," and while a harmony may emerge among all 11 films, "it wasn't something we thought about consciously, which was intentional." For Foster, the concept of the limitations set around the films and the installation as the unifying force "was and is really attractive to me."
There is, however, one central theme that became a little quip among the artists, the theme that "this isn't for you." This is not to be exclusive, but to be inclusive among those who are not always welcomed or represented in the collective narratives and imageries of our "dominant culture," says Foster. Allowing the viewer to peek into how these artist's find and make meaning, Suskin has found "a sense of struggle that runs like a thread through all of our stories: no matter who we are, what body we have, what oppression we specifically deal with, we are all trying to heal and offer clarity through artistic expression. These films take us out of the margins and into a shared experience, which illuminates our differences and similarities all at once."
The 59 film installation opened at The Aerial House in East LA on May 26-28, and is holding a second installation at the Iron Triangle Brewery from May 29-June 2.