VIP - VideoChannel Interview Project

Peterson, Mikey

Mikey Peterson
US video artist


Interview – 10 questions
29 June 2022

1. Tell me something about your life and the educational background
I am a Chicago-based video/sound artist with a BA in English from Illinois State University. In addition to my focus on creative writing, I took my fair share of film/video classes, wrote and performed music for many years, and started making video art during the birth of digital. I’ve worked for several art education outreach foundations in Chicago, and I’m currently a faculty member at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where I teach video, cinema, and sound in the Film, Video, New Media, Animation department and the Contemporary Practices department. In addition, I am an artist-in-residence with the hospital-based art education foundation, Snow City Arts.

2. When, how and why started you filming?
I started making moving image work in college during the shift from analog to digital. At the time I was focusing on creative writing, and I thought that exploring the video and sound mediums could more effectively relay my ideas, emotions, and concepts better than through the written word. As much as I loved and studied film, the making of it felt unapproachable due to how expensive and permanent the equipment and material was. Videotape was also much cheaper than film, and you could record over it if you needed to, which suited my budget at the time. This was in the middle to late 1990s, and the digital video editing lab was new at my school, so not a lot of students were taking these courses or using the facilities yet. It was a perfect storm in terms of access and creativity. Video became the perfect medium, as it combined all of the components which I loved: image, sound, writing and performance – through the process of time and space exploration.

3. What kind of subjects have your videos/films?
My work involves collecting, manipulating, dramatizing, and recontextualizing subtle natural events in order to reveal greater truths about the world that they are from. I’m interested in the relationship between technology, nature, and the human condition, while also exploring the connection between our memories and how we internalize and conceptualize the slow moving catastrophe of climate change. Much of my subject matter consists of natural abstractions and textures that interact organically in nature – such as the movements and layers of light, water, wind, and earth. At times, humans and animals make appearances through their interactions with these elements though every subject is represented equally.

As humans, we need to be aware of our mortality, our legacy, and our effects on nature and our environment. Through science, we have the power to positively change nature’s course. Through humans’ self-importance, our society’s economic infrastructure, and the channels that we receive conflicting information, we are negatively affecting nature’s course for our way of life. It is up to us to change the way that we think, so that we can change our actions and our economic structures in order to slow down and eliminate the process of climate change.

In some form or another, nature will ultimately exist with us or without us. By dramatizing these subtle events in my videos we can hopefully see, engage in, and respect nature’s power and beauty while reimagining our place in it and our effects on it.

4. How do you develop your videos/films, do you follow certain principles, styles etc?
I extract and transform natural events into dramatic digital ones. I am documenting and altering these fragments of nature through the use of human-made technology and using this technology to communicate my ideas. In order to create new worlds, I first explore the world in which I live. I go for walks on a daily basis. This is the initial plan – to be in these real places, to search, to capture, to alter, and to showcase these moments in time recontextualized from our natural world.

The human-made technology we use for communication and documentation (such as laptops, phones, digital cameras) help us communicate with each other quickly and efficiently, but in turn, can create distance between our deep and personal connections with each other and our natural environments. I use this technology to make us feel closer to the natural events I am capturing. In addition, as much as I love and am influenced by nature and the analog aesthetic, I would not be talking with you if not for embracing the digital tools and processes to make and share my work and ideas.

During the editing process, I find a balance between the analog and digital in order to preserve nature’s integrity by making sure that nature’s movements and layers are intact. I embrace filmmaking techniques such as: time alteration, perspective shifts, and color manipulation – but always keep the scenes’ original movements as untouched as possible. These heterotopian places contain moments of organic drama and chaos that I find equally beautiful and terrifying. These are the events I want you to see – they already feel dramatic to me, but I enhance them visually and aurally in hopes that you are put in a place to understand what I envision – and hopefully see and comprehend new things that relate to your lives.

5. Tell me something about the technical equipment you use.
Due to my fluid and exploratory approach to shooting and creating, I like to be as portable as possible. Currently I’m shooting with a Sony a6300 with several lenses and an iPhone 13 Pro. The built-in macro lens on the iPhone has shifted the way that I see and shoot, as I’m able to search for and discover smaller events that are now easier to capture. I also use a Zoom H4N audio recorder when I’m out in the field, and I edit video and compose the soundtracks using Premiere Pro and Logic Pro.

6. What are the changes of new media for the genre videos/films in general and you personally?
I would say that the biggest changes for video and film within the past 10 years is where it lives, where it is exhibited, and easier access to cameras/phones that record in high-definition. There’s a lot more versatility and attainability in the medium. Due to smartphones, many people have high-powered cameras in their pockets now. In addition to video/film showing in galleries and theatres, it’s now viewed in our living rooms, on our laptops, and on our phones. Much of my work is available to view online, so computer and phone screens have become popular places for its engagement. Every screen can be a canvas now. The pandemic has accelerated this even more, as many festivals, galleries, and screenings have moved online. Film, video, and new media work are the few mediums that didn’t suffer as much as more physical mediums did such as painting, sculpture, and installation. I was still able to exhibit during the lockdown. Strangely enough, I met more artists and curators during the past two years due to panels, presentations, and interviews moving online. Beyond art, video has become one of our main vessels of communication, so I see more video integration within the genre of new media. Augmented reality and AI are current areas of focus, and I’m seeing themes/issues of data commodification and mis/disinformation that are currently being explored, relayed, and protested.

7. How do you finance your films?
Currently, my films/videos do not cost much to make. I rarely use actors or crews, so my main costs are equipment and travel. Much of what I create is financed out of pocket.

8. Do you work individually as a video artist/film maker or do you work in a team? if you have experience in both, what is the difference, what do you prefer?
Usually I work individually, as this fits my schedule and process better. However, I do love the process of collaboration in terms of learning new practices, philosophies, and perspectives from other artists. On occasion, I’ve collaborated with other artists who work in other mediums including writers and musicians. These have been fantastic experiences. Our connections with one another are incredibly important, so I’m always open to working with other artists if the project is a good fit.

9. Who or what has a lasting influence on your film/video making?
I watched many 1970s-80s sci-fi films when I was young, so these aesthetics and concepts feel part of my DNA. I also grew up during the early days of the VCR and cable TV, so I’d stay up late at night channel surfing, discovering, and recording fragments of weird surreal horror and sci-fi films. Many times I would first view these scenes in the middle of the movie, so I wouldn’t have the full context of the narratives, settings, or characters. I would subconsciously create new contexts for what I was seeing. I fell in love with many of these mysterious places and characters, and imagined my own stories as I watched. Just as I was displaced into these strange worlds as a kid, my intent is similar to my video work – where I want to place my viewers into uncanny settings in order for them to create new contexts while confronting the universal truths that lurk within our dreams and memories.

I also discovered and obsessed over the work of David Lynch, David Cronenberg, John Carpenter, early Speilberg, Kubrick and the visual effect work of Douglas Trumbull when I was younger. Videotape and the birth of digital media were also important influences, as I never thought that I could make films due to the high expense and my lack of resources for editing and exhibiting them. Being a musician, and influenced by early punk, post-punk, and hip hop, the DIY aesthetic and de/reconstructive approaches were incredibly important to me, so I gravitated to the intimate low-fi pixelvision videos of Sadie Benning, the expressionistic film collages of Stan Brakhage, the abstract flaneur filmmaking of Jem Cohen, the romantic noir of Wong Kar Wai, the surreal visual art of Gerhart Richter and Wangechi Mutu, and through the eye of Robby Müller – the arthouse poetry of Jim Jarmusch and Wim Wenders.

10. What are your future plans or dreams as a film/video maker?
I was recently on a panel where a question was posed about how artists, beyond making artwork, can influence positive action on climate change and environmental preservation. Some of the artists on the panel were collaborating with scientists, which are important partnerships to find new inventive ways to successfully relay the importance of this environmental threat to the general public. I’m definitely open to collaborating in this manner in order to find new universal methods to get these messages across to a larger audience. My ultimate dream would be having a full global alignment on this issue, so that there can be better national and international government representation and action.

As for my work, I have a new video in progress that continues my exploration of the relationship between memory, nature, and environmental preservation. I’ve been thinking a lot about how global warming is causing the reemergence of artifacts, animals, and potential diseases that have been frozen in time for centuries. I’m curious as to how these “new” elements will affect our world, at what cost, and how will we as a society internalize and react to these unburials. I’m aiming to complete the project by the end of this year.