Bree von Bradsky MFA EDA ‘21: “Lavender Vista”

This is part of a series showcasing the work of the MFA in Experimental and Documentary Arts Class of 2021. Learn more about the program and its graduating cohort here. For this installment, Colleen Pesci MFA EDA ‘17 interviews Bree von Bradsky MFA EDA ‘21.

I was really struck by the choice of archival material and the use of home videos as performance. Not only individual performance, but an unsaid familial performance, where everybody understands how they are seen from the outside. I’m curious: what’s your specific relationship to home videos and why did you choose that medium?

I think it started with the fact that I was making work during a pandemic, and I wasn’t able to film. Then, as my idea for this film ultimately started to develop, I realized that this story was bigger than just myself and the direct personal storyline that runs through it. Therefore, I was drawn to the archive as a way to start playing with ideas of how to visualize this story.

From there I realized that people film themselves and their families in a way that I relate to, in my own experience with my family. Even though the time period in the archival materials are different, and therefore the clothing and the style is different, people still act the same way in front of the camera. The way they related to the camera then is just how someone relates to being in front of, or behind the camera, now. There was this familiarity that came with the archives, but also a distance from myself. It created a distance from the material that I like to play with in a lot of my work.

All photos by Bree von Bradsky MFA EDA ‘21.

Can you tell us about your process?

A lot of watching. At first, I was specifically only looking at home movies on the Prelinger Archives site, and however much time I had would determine the viewing experience for that specific session of excavating. In the beginning, I would scrub through films to see if there were any family or relationship dynamics, or images of homes and suburbia. Once found, I would automatically download it just to have in my collection of sources to use, without any clear intent at the time.

On a different day I would revisit the downloaded files and watch them all the way through, as if someone was sharing with me their newly developed home movies. Once I started to create sequences, I began going back into the archive looking for more specific imagery including certain gestures or objects. It was quite easy to find repetitions and patterns, and an almost formulaic way of capturing people was reinstated again and again and again through all the different sources. I was primarily looking for that, and then started to develop different themes throughout the film such as space and travel.

I was moved by your editing. Your edit builds expectation, but then the expectation is completely changed. Our perception of moments that are supposed to feel playful or intimate are shifted.

Well, thank you. With this film, I really tried to play with the idea of perceptions and how they can shift, especially using editing as the tool to convey this change. I’m trying to disorient the viewer, and I do that through making these connections and then playing with them.

“The movement in the edit, of not being here nor there, but in a constant state of flux, speaks to the idea of being unsettled in myself and going on this isolated personal journey of figuring out who I am.”

The paper mache mask, specifically, becomes a bit of a theme that’s repeated once more in the film. The first time you see it, you don’t know who’s creating it, but you see a mask and its cutout smile. The viewer is held there for a moment with a freeze frame of the mask being showed to the camera. For me, that was the creation of a facade, a mask that I portrayed externally when coming out, and even beforehand during this act of being I was performing. And so, there’s this dichotomy, this eeriness like, “Okay, I have to put up a front and hide myself, and I created this really lovely, beautiful, intricate mask. Now it’s off to the side. What does it mean to take off a mask I’ve made that is now separate from me?”

Watching your film as a woman who grew up in suburbia, and who also was raised in a very nuclear family with siblings, I think I was aware of the expectations that have been put on me along with my own expectations for my life. So, I really felt this visceral tension between sorting out external and internal expectations and conflicting values.

I was really interested in the book Queer Phenomenology by Sara Ahmed, and this idea of how we follow lines throughout our lives. Specifically, she calls them straight lines. Any movement away from a normative world is a divergent from those straight lines. If you no longer abide to social norms or the expectations created for you, then you are a deviant. You’re leaving that line and going somewhere else. And when you do that, you enter a phase of disorientation, seeing the world anew.

The movement in the edit, of not being here nor there, but in a constant state of flux, speaks to the idea of being unsettled in myself and going on this isolated personal journey of figuring out who I am. I was really drawn to themes of outer space, because of this idea of isolation, and the moon as this solitude place that is far away but ever present in our everyday.

There’s a lot of queer theory and affection towards the moon as this solitary place. It doesn’t always have to be a negative form of isolation, but this otherness that one feels especially when trying to figure out everything that life throws at you. Additionally, traveling as a theme in the film is a way of depicting my literal life trajectory of leaving the U.S. and having to figure out my queerness while abroad, while also addressing the more theoretical connection to queer phenomenology.

The final frame really struck me. Two people are hanging from the ladder of an airplane about to jump out and skydive in a grand gesture of falling. The viewer isn’t gifted with seeing where the skydivers will land. I know that this film is an excavation of your own period of coming out to yourself and to your family and building a new life and reality for yourself. I’m just curious: What now? Where are you and what things have you been thinking about? Have you landed?

For me, that last scene is very much about letting go. A letting-go of the expectations that I had for myself or what others have had for me, and of going into the unknown. For me, and because of the sound design I’ve chosen for it, it’s solitary and scary and yet riveting at the same time. I feel like that moment of free falling has been the past four years, and during that time I’ve really learned to embrace this unknown landing.

Where I am now is indicative of the future, I guess is the new perspective I’ve gained, of being settled and okay with my identity; being in a position where I now know what I want and who I want to be around and the spaces I want to be in. Having that new perspective is almost like being granted rose-colored glasses for the present. Queerness is no longer invisible in my life, in fact, it’s ever-present, and that is what’s most important.

Lavender Vista

Duke Premiere: May 8, 2021, by invitation
Streaming Encore with Screen/Society: May 14, 2021, 6pm. Click here to join live.

bree von bradsky’s website