A Skype Interview with Martha Colburn

Martha Colburn in her studio. Long Island City, New York

Martha Colburn started her artistic career in Baltimore while she was a student at the Maryland Institute College of Art. She finally stayed in the city for then 10 years which she depicts – 13 years after being left – as a place of “paranoid and fear with very talented people.”1 Actually, her decision to remain in Baltimore was not the result of an intense reflexion, but more the normal path for someone who came from the Appalachians and had “nowhere else to go.”2 Martha Colburn relates the “aggressive atmosphere” of the films she made while in Baltimore to the “conscious fear” one could feel when living in the city.3

She met older artists in the city while she was a student and lived with them in a warehouse. She had a band (duo group called The Dramatics) and her artistic life begun as a musician: her band released 6 records and even went on tour in Europe.4 She made hand collaged record covers and started making movies in this musical environment, an important element in her career – she made many music videos and recently experimented live visual and musical performances. In the 1990s, she filmed her band and other musicians with a super-8 camera and started her first stop-motion films in the warehouse. The “anti-social attitude” as she describes it herself, in which she lived had a positive effect on her creativity, and she was very productive in Baltimore.5 She moved to Europe in 2000 for 5 years, in Amsterdam, but tells today that she was “never comfortable there.” European scene gave her the possibility to make installations and to do different things because “you can’t do American work and live in Europe”, notably more thematic films such as XXXAmsterdam (2004/3 min). She came back to the United States in 2005 and settled in New York City, a “big and isolating”city, which yet provides an “imaginary audience from the art galleries.”6

Martha Colburn discovered animation through a film class at MICA, and found inspiration in “dead artists” as Marcel Duchamp and Stan Vanderbeek. The latter was a visual artist who lived in Baltimore in the 1970s and whose early films consisted of animated paintings and collages.7 One can arguably feel a connection in their realizations: for example, in Colburn’s movie Join the Freedom Force (2009), characters are transformed into rockets flying in the sky, a picture similar to Stan Vanderbeek’s 1959’s movie’s Science Friction in which monuments took off as skyrockets.8 The amount of work required to make one single movie is impressive, especially when you know that the artist does everything by herself, “weaving music, poetry, found footage, and historical narratives into celluloid.”9 She uses many various materials (found footage, puzzle, puppets) that she manipulates and transforms through collaging, painting, scratching, to create her stop-motion animations. In an interview, she assessed to 8 hours the time she needed to make 1 second of her film! I am truly awestruck by such a dedication to make a movie, especially alone.10

Most of her movies are in a certain way disturbing yet amusing. They are all social or political critique. Asthma (1995/2 min) is a funny and subversive “pro-smoking film for non-smokers made from an old smoking film and other footage.”11 An animated film such as Meet Me in Wichita (2006/7 min) criticized the American foreign policy with its bloody military interventions in Middle-East, using a reversed version of The Wizard of Oz, in which Osama Bin Laden embodies American untraceable “face of evil.”12 What strikes me the most in many of Martha Colburn’s videos is the feeling that the music and the video are meant to be together. She indeed works closely with musicians to create this symbiosis between the stop-motion animations and the music. In Triumph of the Wild (2008), Thollem McDonas’s piano accompaniment perfectly supports the rhythm of the struggle between animated American soldiers throughout history and nature.13

Picture from "Triumph of the Wild" (2008)

Today, Martha Colburn focuses on her work with musicians to perform live music videos. She gathers musicians that have never played together to perform live music in front of the screen where she passes her videos, molding them in live with color filters and projectors, interacting with the music. According to her, this new way of working gives her “more room for failure but also for creativity.”14Additionnally, she greatly appreciates live shows with audience. Finally, her recent work also includes documentary alike music videos dealing with the Occupy Movement (shot with a Super 8 camera).15




1 Skype interview with Martha Colburn, February 8, 2012

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 Exile: An interview with Martha Colburn

5 Ibid.

Youtube, “Pleasant Livers- Baltimore-1996?- Martha’s Warehouse,” accessed February 22, 2012, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nKk17x80B4M&feature=plcp&context=C3e7ffbaUAOEgsToPDskIkNXtKgP72viHmZjUjqAes.

Youtube, “New song from Fear Itself – Serj Tankian: Lie, Lie, Lie!!,” accessed February 22, 2012, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zd7yyJLQHVk.

6 Skype interview with Martha Colburn, February 8, 2012.

7 Skype interview with Martha Colburn, February 8, 2012.

Exile: An interview with Martha Colburn

8 Youtube, “Stan Vandeebeek-Science Friction (1959),” accessed February 22, 2012, http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=rvmXDeNGy3s#!;

Youtube, “Join the Freedom Force (2009),” accessed February 22, 2012, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aZPMuVRhEX8.

9 Dena Bird, “Martha Colburn Residency,” accessed on Art Practical website, 22 February, 2012, http://www.artpractical.com/index.php?/review/martha_colburn_residency/.

10 Martha Colburn interviewed by Lori Surfer, “Fast Strange and Out of Control,” accessed February 22, 2012, http://www.othercinema.com/otherzine/martha.html.

11 Asthma (1995/2 min), accessed 22 February, 2012, http://www.marthacolburn.com/index.php?back=7&id=57&movie=0).

12 Meet Me in Wichita (2006/7 min), accessed February 22, 2012, http://www.marthacolburn.com/index.php?id=70&back=7.

13 Triumph of the Wild (2008), accessed February 22, 2012, http://www.marthacolburn.com/index.php?id=76&back=7.

14 Skype interview with Martha Colburn, February 8, 2012;

Jonathan Kiefer, “Live-Cinema Doubleheader at San Francisco Animation Fest and SFMOMA Last Week: That’s Mental-EXPERImental!”, in Thefastertimes.com (11/23/2009), accessed February 22, 2012, http://www.thefastertimes.com/film/2009/11/23/live-cinema-double-header;

Youtube, “Consortium Musicum at SXSW Chimera Records Showcase 2011”, accessed February 22, 2012, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c02q1qAoKBE&feature=player_embedded#!.

15 Youtube, “Occupy Wall Street – film by Martha Colburn`2011”, accessed February 22, 2012, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=27swcxOAkmE.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: