Andrew Bonacina: You’ve described Walk-Through (2012) as being closely related to your previous film Monuments (2010). I see this connection formally but also in the way in which both films cast art historical narratives and mythologised characters as sites of forensic investigation. What drew you to CalArts as subject matter for Walk-Through?
Redmond Entwistle: I had an intuitive sense of CalArts as a rich site through which to explore, for want of a better term, forms of cultural capital. After completing Monuments, I felt I hadn’t finished looking at the role of speech and discourse in contemporary art and their relationship to particular geographies. Monuments was at one level an attempt to understand the process of social reproduction – the ways in which concentrations of knowledge and power are reproduced from one generation to the next – through which I was myself formed as an artist and filmmaker. With Walk-Through I saw an opportunity to focus even more concretely on this question of social reproduction, as it is taking shape today, through a skewed portrait of the establishment and evolution of CalArts. This portrait explores the social imaginary of CalArts and more generally the art school – not just the physical site of the institution, but its virtual life in the economy of the art world – and this also meant its ongoing life in the memories of individuals, including myself. This connected quickly to questions around the commodification of education, and more broadly, how value is increasingly extracted from the social.
AB: While Walk-Through doesn’t explicitly contradict the image of CalArts as a progressive pedagogical model, you do employ various formal devices that suggest something of a critique of that image? I’m thinking specifically of the stylistic references to giallo films by directors such as Mario Bava or Dario Argento which create an atmosphere of intrigue.
RE: It wasn’t so important for me to critique the institution as such, but rather to try and make a picture of the tensions present in the development of the art school and in the teaching of art, thereby creating an allegory for the rise and collapse of democratic institutions in our culture at large, as well as the pressures on the basic assumptions of democracy, in particular the equation of the individual and speech. Something in the abstraction of giallo films spoke to this attempt to read broader corruption through the minor ‘horror’ of being an art student. There’s always a double sense in the giallo; of a hidden conspiracy that's never fully disclosed even when the murderer is finally caught, and being vertiginously in the mind of both murderer and victim. So the allusion to giallo, and the ways in which the film takes up often contrasting perspectives and styles, was to try and expand on this sense of being both aware of the abstract form of a process but still never able to step back from it to a critical distance. Something that's both analytic and psychedelic. During the making of Walk-Through I had in mind Patricio Guzman’s didactic film The Battle of Chile, especially the way it lays out of the dynamics of a failed revolution and the fascist coup that followed, and so this was as equally important a reference as any films by Dario Argento.
AB: The film intertwines two styles or tenors of storytelling - one more didactic detailing the the facts and figures of CalArts’ founding, and the other more personal and experiential with recollections by former students and your classmates. But you complicate these voices in the film; how did you conceive these scenes in particular and how do they intersect with the found footage you use?
RE: I was thinking about a collective protagonist and what that might mean today. I had recently seen Que Viva Mexico by Eisenstein and wanted to bring some of its sense of epic history – of a whole people and their conflicting desires – into the film. But I was also trying to articulate the nature of social reproduction that seems to be taking shape in the proliferating spaces of art education and discourse, where there is an imperative to speak, to perform a position as a subject. But through the chains of dialogue and whispered speech, I wanted to recast the ‘crit’ as a shift towards competing memes rather than dialogue between subjects. The found footage comprises stills that I animated on a stand. They mimic the traditional treatment of stills in documentary, but I was also trying to convey a feeling of movement back and forth through the architecture, a looking and scanning through a website or through an archive. The whole film can be read as a recording of someone navigating through a distance learning website, an attempt at virtual socialization.
AB: So in this collision of styles and voices, what might at first appear to be a portrait of a single institution, in fact becomes a more complex and timely investigation into the fraught and shifting role of the pedagogical institution in today's cultural economy?
RE: In Walk-Through art teaching becomes the model for all teaching, it’s beyond ‘de-skilling’ and simply becomes the core skill of the flexible worker. And that's the twist that the film leaves us in: with art teaching – or at least the formatted and replicated skill of adding value – both threatened and taking a central role in the new economy, while the artist is both everywhere and nowhere.