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Artist and filmmaker Asa Mader collaborates with lighting and installation designer AJ Weissbard and sound artist and composer Rebecca Horrox to create an immersive 12-channel video and 16-part sound installation, to be presented this August throughout the garden and inside the 17th-century chapel of a private chateau in the South of France. 

This work is the culmination of a process Asa Mader began several years ago in attempting to find a new form of portraiture, one he calls “moving portraits” or more specifically “moving image portraits.” Mader first explored the idea in 2006 with a diptych of authors, which included Pulitzer Prize nominee Suketu Mehta (“Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found”) and Pavan Varma. He went on to develop the form with moving portraits of artists such as Mikhail Baryshnikov and the acclaimed war photographer James Nachtwey. 

The challenge of pushing the process of moving portraiture one step further with sixteen members and four generations of a family — while telling the story of how they ended up where they are now — made for an ambitious undertaking, unlike any Mader had previously attempted.

The story revolves around four generations of an American family. A rag-to-riches tale focused on the third sister of nine siblings. Growing up in a poor and extremely religious family, with no formal schooling and living at ten in a makeshift two-bedroom trailer (which eventually burns to the ground), she runs away and forges a path of her own. Excommunicated by her parents and forced to cut ties with her sisters, she then has the courage to come back and rescue her siblings — and ultimately her mother — forever altering the trajectory and lifestyle of the entire family.

Traditionally stories have been passed along orally from one generation to the next. Often it is the elders who weave these tales for their grandchildren, as they are the ones interested enough to listen. Those oral traditions and the art of storytelling are slowly, and sadly, disappearing. We primarily record things on disposable media and what will be downloaded to our future generations in a world of digital image-making are anyone’s guess. If, on the other hand, a portrait of Rembrandt or Vermeer could speak, what might we learn about the subject of the painting?

Unlike in a documentary, the last thing Mader wanted to show were “talking-heads.” We see and watch people speaking all the time. What is more precious, and perhaps even more so in our modern world, is someone listening. Truly listening. Mader discovered that in listening, a person becomes mirror-like, reflecting with accurate precision what they hear and thereby revealing a part of who they are. Mader therefore focused first on sound, capturing over 30 hours of storytelling from the different perspective of each of the sixteen family members. By then hiding the camera and crew behind a curtain wall and placing a mirror in front of the lens, Mader played the individual members selected clips from those previously recorded interviews, confronting them with parts of their story, as told by their own mother, father, brother or sister. What is captured are the most minute and nuanced changes in their faces — showing, in an almost word for word manner, how one responds emotionally to something from one’s past.

Presented on 12 vertical screens and a retro-projection in the chapel of an estate in Provence, France, the story of the family unfolds, as do the emotional responses of each family member. From laughter to tears, Mader presents us the intimate inner-workings of a clan on its most human level. Meanwhile, a sound composition flows through the garden, representing each of the 16 members of the family — as if their collective spirit has been set loose to run through the estate.

An AU DELA FILMS production
Producers: Corinne Golden Weber & Asa Mader | Director: Asa Mader | Director of Photography: Ghasem Ebrahimian | Picture Editor: Dan Gethic, Valentina Rizzuto, Asa Mader | Sound Editors: Asa Mader, Sven Taits, Steve Browell, Bernard O’Reilly |

Installation and Lighting Design: A.J. Weissbard | Sound Composition/Installation: Rebecca Horrox

A.J. Weissbard creates works worldwide for theater, video, exhibition, permanent architectural installation, special events and fashion. His collaborations include projects with Robert Wilson, Peter Stein, Marina Abramovic, Peter Greenaway, William Kentridge, David Cronenberg, Shirin Neshat and the Martha Graham Dance Company. His work has been seen in major opera houses, festivals, theaters, and other sites in more than 40 countries. 

Rebecca Horrox is a UK-based visual artist, composer, and performer, her work encompassing projects across sculpting, music, dance and installation. La Horrox completed a Contemporary Digital Performance MA at Brunel in 2012. Her commissioned works include sculptures and soundtracks for short films, experiential art events, installation, dance and performance, and have been presented by the Barbican Centre, Arnolfini, Spill London, Glasgow Film Festival, Fierce Birmingham and Soundlands.

Ghasem Ebrahimian has worked with the internationally acclaimed, award-winning art star Shirin Neshat, creating several video art films including Logic of Birds, Possessed, Fervor, K, Passage, Rapture and Turbulent. He has co-directed the photography of features and documentaries including ‘Greater Things,’ ‘Roads to Mecca,’ and most recently ‘Icaros: A Vision.’

Corinne Golden Weber worked with acclaimed Mexican filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu for six years on two feature films (21 Grams and Babel) and two shorts. She subsequently worked with Sam Mendes on Revolutionary Road and was Associate Producer on Away We Go, written by Dave Eggers. She has independently produced a number of films, documentaries and video art works, including many of Asa Mader’s projects.

Still from site specific 12 channel video and sound installation, flat screens, 55”(each), 2017