Author Archives: samchoos

Process Piece

Process Piece—Gilka Machado Stop-Motion

Revised: Volúpia do Vento Stop Motion 

Original: Poema de Amor Stop Motion

First and foremost, it was necessary to change the title of my piece from “Poema de Amor” to its actual name “Volúpia do Vento.” The original, incorrect title was an error on my part caused by reading the background information on a website too quickly. Although I featured the original title in the film (I wrote “Poema de Amor” into the background), I feel as though the text proves more powerful since it is not the title of the poem. The writing in the background now merely designates this poem into one of love, as opposed to calling out its name.

The above paragraph, however, explains my reaction to a change I did not actively make. The following ones speak of the changes I did make and why I made them.
During the editing process, my primary focus was to make the film more “surreal.” The film’s in-class workshop had labeled it as a “trip” and I wanted to explore this characteristic and make the form more “trippy.” I first attempted to achieve this by trying out a technique that Danny had posted on the blog in one of his videos on data-moshing. Whereas the data-moshing technique applied to videos, one of the techniques explained by the videos was to create “glitch art” using jpegs. Following the technique, which is to open an image in TextEdit and manipulate the data in a completely arbitrary way, I created “glitched” representations of about 75 of my original images.

My original plan was to incorporate these images into the work alongside their “unglitched” originals, to create an even faster stop-motion (more images per second). This plan, however, failed as FinalCutPro accepted only about ten of my “glitched” images. The remaining 65 had been too corrupted by my data manipulations. As such, I ended up incorporating the “glitched” images throughout the piece, as well as creating other visual discrepancies through my heavy use of the video filters provided by final cut pro.

In the end I wanted a piece that came across as “trippy.” I aimed for quick transitions, intense colors, and occasional “glitched images” that interrupted the flow of the movie to produce this effect.

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Ars Poetica


I feel the need to preface my second manifesto by informing the reader that I do not see myself as an artist. While I find questions of aesthetics and representation interesting, I like to play with their meanings/manifestations on a theoretical plane, using words as my tools and argumentative schema as my techniques. The result is not an artistic creation, but instead an interpretation (hopefully a theory one day) that, far from a definitive statement, serves only to reorganize preexisting questions in a way that leads to more questions.

I understand myself as a critic who takes in information and attempts to organize it in new ways, by pairing empirical data with different systems of thought/ philosophical assumptions/ theoretical models. In my use of the word “critic,” I refer to one who critiques e as opposed to one who criticizes. Whereas a criticism structures its understanding of that which it attempts to criticize on an oppositional scale of “good” and “bad,” a critique looks at the multiple components of that which it is critiquing and only endeavors to structure these components in a multiplicity of different ways. A critique “problematizes,” rejecting the absolute singularity for the problematic multiplicity. Consequently, I am a firm believer in the existence of many truths, and, while I have yet to discern exactly what Deleuze and Guatarri mean by it, I still attempt to understand the world “rhizomatically.”

All this being said, I currently find myself looking at the world through an anthropological lens. As such, the relationship between a work of art and the society(ies) in which it finds itself is something I find worthy of exploration. These explorations should be guided by questions regarding the cosmological, ritual, functional, colonial, individual, societal (etc.) context of the work of art in question.

  1.    Structure
    My Ars Poetica is less about who I am as an artist, and more about what interests me about art/how I have come to understand art. I primarily focus my musings on Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” as I feel as though he addresses some of the aspects of art I find most interesting (spatial/temporal context, authenticity, function, reception). From Benjamin’s essay, which concludes in the projection that politics will become essentially aestheticized through the “Fascist” apotheosis of war, I will look at how understandings of art/aesthetics can influence how we look at contemporary marginalized societies still cognizant of their indigenous roots. 
  2. The Work of Art (before) the Age of Mechanical Reproduction
    Prior to mechanical reproduction, a work of art had a function/value primarily founded in ritual. A work of art was unique, according to Benjamin, in that it was “inseparable from its being imbedded in the fabric of tradition.” Furthermore, these unique works of art were authentic. This authenticity, in the words of Benjamin, “is the essence of all that is transmissible from its beginning, ranging from its substantive duration to its testimony to the history which it has experienced.” From Benjamin’s definition of authenticity it can be inferred that there was an inherent authority in these works of art. They were outside of the realm of human intervention, their power and beauty were intrinsic and transcendental, founded in the relationship between the work of art and the ritual/tradition of that society. This authenticity and “permanent” uniqueness composed the “aura” of a work of art.
  3. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (Art)

    Original or authentic art, according to Benjamin, cannot be reproduced. Mechanical reproduction (as exemplified via photography and film) strips a work of its “aura.” In “prehistoric” (Bejamin’s term) times, there was an absolute emphasis on the cult value of art that made it into an instrument of magic (only later was it considered a work of “art”). Benjamin argues that the contemporary (1940s) world puts an absolute emphasis on the exhibition value of art, which creates a work of art with entirely new functions (one of which is the “artistic value.”) Photography and film are examples of this new function.

    The combination of this emphasis on exhibition and the new technologies of mechanical reproduction (photo/film) has led to the circulation of millions of images which lack their authentic “aura.” This affects and is the effect of changing social conditions in which all previously unique and sacred institutions have become equal. As Benjamin argues, the push of the masses for mechanical reproductions is the “mark of a perception whose ‘sense of the universal equality of things’ has increased to such a degree that it extracts it even from a unique object by means of reproduction.” According to Benjamin, as the authenticity of a work of art has ceased to be of import, the total function of art becomes reversed. Instead of art being based on ritual, it begins to be based on politics.

  4. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (Politics)
    In the absence of an “aura” images are reproducible and politics, according to Benjamin, faces the chance of becoming aestheticized. He finds examples of this in the Futurist writings of Marinetti, and the Fuhrer cult of Germancy, in which ritual values are produced through aesthetics rather than the opposite. Benjamin hypothesizes that war may serve to supply mankind’s “artistic gratification of a sense perception,” that the self-aleintation of man may reach such a degree as to be able to “experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order
  5. Mankind Able to Experience its own Destruction as an Aesthetic Pleasure of the First Order?

     I want to look at Benjamin’s idea of the aesthetization of politics as the aesthetization of violence, focusing on the prominence of lynchings in marginalized indigenous populations of Bolivia. I want to create an argument in which “art” (the aesthetic) is ithe violence itself: the mutilated bodies of lynched victims.  The “artist” is the mob who lynches, whose intent is to contest their marginalized status (social, economic, territorial).

    The lynchings are spectacular in the grotesque level of violence that characterizes them. Victims are stoned, beaten, mutilated and burned alive in an extremely public fashion; entire communities participate in the lynchings. This spectacularization of violence, and the terror it produces, result in memories that are physically embedded in those destroyed bodies. The bodies themselves become a representation of not only the violence of the lynching itself, but also the violence that prompted it: the structural violence characterized by the assymetrical power relationships upheld by the neoliberal model adopted by Bolivia in 1985.

    Another method of interpreting the lynching violence as artistic, is in its treatment as a site of mediation between global flows and local practices of tradition. Those involved with lynchings, both the perpetrators and the victims, are primarily Aymara or Quechua people who have recently moved to Bolivia’s urban areas as a result of the nationalization of the mining industry. Lynchings may be perceived as an indigenous communities attempt to define itself. It embodies both “traditional” indigenous practices such as justicia comunitaria as well as neoliberal values such as privatization (in this case the privatization of justice/security). By seizing power over life itself in such a violent and spectacular way, these communities may hope to redefine themselves as products of neither their indigenous blood and “traditional” practices nor as “ordinary” citizens of neoliberal Bolivia, but instead as sovereign and dynamic subjects. 

    This idea (violence as a means to transform victims of colonization into sovereign and dynamic subjects) was originally introduced to me by Achille Mbembe, in his essay “African Modes of Self-Writing,” in which he broke war into three characteristics:

    1. state of indistinction
      1. Terror; spectacularization of violenceà memory “physically embedded in bodies marked with signs of theor own destruction”
    2. sacrificial dimension
      1. Self-sacrifice and massacre; “through sacrifice, the African subject transforms his or her own subjectivity and produces something new”
    3. relation to life and property
      1. Goal is “seizure of power over life itself”
    4. By “upholding the work of death” people may feel themselves transformed into sovereign historical subjects, according to Mdembe.

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I’m Nobody


A short film set to Emily Dickinson’s “I’m Nobody.” Filmed by Hala Algrain and Samantha Choos; starring Nick Lybarger.

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My Process

Step 1: Selecting the Poem


The first step of the film making process was choosing which poem I wanted to visually interpret. Entering the search for the perfect poem, I had a couple of criteria in mind. Primarily, I wanted the poem to have been written by a woman. As the poems were required to have been published prior to 1923, this made the selection pool relatively small. Adding to the restrictions, and thus further diminishing the volume of poems I could choose, I wanted the poem to be Brazilian. My first film focused on a Chilean poem, and I really wanted my second to be in Portuguese. I find the language incredibly lyrical, and tales of Brazilian history regaled by the oppressed are often performed through music.

I eventually selected Gilka Machado’s “Poema de Amor,” published in 1917. The poem was originally four stanzas, but I found the last one very powerful. I also believed that it would be an interesting idea to interpret only a very small portion of the poem. Consequently, during the filming process, I felt as though I was less interpreting the words of the poem, and more the emotions of those three lines.

Step 2: What Should I Film?


I decided that I wanted to go for a background that I could manipulate in my filming, as I felt that the poem called for a more exotic background than the interior of a house or the city landscape of Baltimore. I thus went for a background of pastels. The figure I ended up filming was a wooden figure created to give artist’s an accurate representation of the human body. I liked how he was faceless, and relatively genderless (although I saw him as a “he”).

Step 3: Editing?


The Editing process proved fairly simple, or at least much more simple than I had believed it to be. The slides were already in the order I wanted, and all I did was manipulate the color a bit to enhance the exotic, voluptuous feel I was going for.

Step 4: Where Do I Go from Here?


I go to something more voluptuous, more crazy. I am going to add a “glitchy” flavor, and trip it out a bit.

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by | July 19, 2012 · 8:56 pm

Poema de Amor–Gilka Machado

Stop-Motion early twentieth century Brazilian poetry

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by | July 17, 2012 · 6:34 pm

My Experience at “Sweaty Eyeballs”

The Journey

As a rising senior at JHU, I always relish academic opportunities that take me off campus and into Baltimore. Momentarily ignoring the actual event, the location of the Creative Alliance attracted my attention. The flavor of the neighborhood seemed distinctly Hispanic (as a Latin American Studies major, my intellectual taste buds can’t help but react to the quinceañra  dress shop we parked next to, or the graffiti(ed) crosswalks dripping Mesoamerican imagery). I’ve already made plans to return this weekend to sample a tequila bar that caught my friends’ eye.

The Creative Alliance

In order to describe my reaction to the screening itself, I feel it necessary to consider the “space” offered by the Creative Alliance. As far as “spaces” go, the Creative Alliance surpassed what I expected. It served as much more than a typical movie theater. In the place of a typical ticket window there was a fold-up table manned by two women who sold not only tickets, but also complementary raffle tickets and playbills with an insert that served as a ballot so the audience could vote for their favorite film. Already, the space was one that was much more interactive than that of a typical movie theater. Furthermore, as opposed to a typical concessions stand, the Creative Alliance offered a café, and the tables and chairs that stood around it were occupied by not only the patrons of the event, but also the staff of the Creative Alliance and a few of the directors themselves.

The room of the screening followed this motif of “interactiveness.” The venue lacked the formality of the typical movie theaters I’ve been quick to offer as comparison. The chairs were temporary (moveable), and latecomers stood as the event proved more popular than seating allowed.

The Screening

 I have only attended one animated shorts screening prior to “Sweaty Eyeballs”: the collection of animated shorts considered by the Oscars that the Charles offeres every year (I went 2012, so this year.) I expected “Sweaty Eyeballs” to be more “artistic” (less accessible) and of a lower quality. I was surprised, as both the caliber and theme of the shorts I witnessed surpassed my expectations.

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Poema de Amor–Gilka Machado

Gilka Machado

   Poema de Amor

     E não podes saber do meu gozo violento
   quando me fico, assim, neste ermo, toda nua,
   completamente exposta à volúpia do vento!

   Gilka Machado, 1917



Poem of Love

And you cannot know of my violent pleasure
when I stand naked in this deserted place,
completely exposed to the Voluptuous Wind!

Trans. The Cambridge History of Latin American Literature: Brazilian literature


Gilka Machado, a Brazilian poet from the early twentieth century, is remembered as one of the very few females able to penetrate the male-dominated literary world of Brazil. Most notable in her work is its explicit eroticism, the bold message of female desire that confronted a society that chose to deny its existence. While this is not the entire poem (it is only the last stanza of Machado’s Poema de Amor), I feel that there is enough in its three lines to not only represent Machado’s style as a poet, but also to inspire a stop-motion film.

The above lines anthropomorphize “nature,” rendering elements such as the wind sensual (almost sexual) beings. There are two paths I think it would be interesting to take in their visual interpretation. The first would be to exclude all human forms. Without “people,” elements such as the earth, sky, wind and water can take on stronger personalities. Although wind is the central element in Machado’s stanza, I would like to focus on either water or mud… maybe even an interaction between the two.  My second idea is to create a piece entirely dedicated to a single dancer. I think I would want her to dance with fire.


by | July 12, 2012 · 1:35 pm