Fables and Phantasmagoria: Christiane Cegavske

(Originally published on the Coilhouse Magazine blog, January 26th, 2011)

Described as “a David Lynchian fever dream on Beatrix Potter terrain”, Christiane Cegavske’s exquisitely-crafted stop motion tale Blood Tea and Red String is a macabre delight and a labor of love that was 13 years in the making. The film, a dialogue-free, avant garde “fairy tale for adults” follows two groups of anthropomorphic creatures in fancy costumes -the aristocratic White Mice and the rustic Creatures Who Dwell Under the Oak – and the “struggle over the doll of their heart’s desire.” This struggle, notes one critic, is so fascinating because the actions and emotions of these bizarre creatures “so uncannily resemble warts-and-all human behavior”. We find a “disturbing comfort” in these unconventional characters, and we see ourselves in this magic world that Cegavske creates.

This beguiling, nightmarish, deceptively whimsical world extends far beyond the phantasmagoric fable that is Blood Tea and Red String. Cegavske, also responsible for the animation in Asia Argento’s The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things, began dabbling in film making and animation at an early age (5th grade!) with an oddly satisfying-sounding claymation short about trick-or-treaters whose candy is stolen. Not only is she an extraordinary film maker, but a talented artist in several mediums and a self professed “Creator of Many Things” with an Etsy shop full of delightful oddities as well.

See below for a tête-à-tête with Christiane in which we parley on the subjects of muses and myths, future dreamscapes, and fancy edibles.

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It took 13 years to make this film – is that typical of this sort of venture? During that time were you working on other creative endeavors or was your sole focus dedicated on this particular project?

Christiane Cegavske: I don’t really know. Most people aren’t crazy enough to attempt such a long project without funding and a crew. The high budget animated films get done a lot quicker, of course.

It was my primary focus, but I’ve always got other projects going. I continued to paint and write and sew. Side projects can invigorate a primary project. By letting your mind wander to less overwhelming work, solutions to previously insurmountable trouble can suddenly appear. The thing that really slowed this project down, was earning a living. It can really be a challenge to produce artwork after you are exhausted from working all week.

Blood Tea and Red String, 2006

Blood Tea and Red String, 2006

Blood Tea and Red String, 2006

Blood Tea and Red String, 2006

Blood Tea and Red String, 2006

Blood Tea and Red String, 2006

I have heard tell that Blood Tea and Red String is part of a trilogy – is there any truth to that, and if so…can you tell me a bit about what we might expect to see in these sequels and when we might expect to be able to view them?

Yes that is true. I am currently working on Seed in the Sand which is part two. I don’t know when this one will be completed. I have a few other projects that were on hold during production of Blood Tea and Red String, that I want to complete first. My main focus right now is a series of 8 paintings that have been plaguing my mind for the last 10 years. A few months ago, I finally started to work on them. It feels so good to see them developing now.

In devoting so much time to a project it must be inevitable that you run across other amazing artists with whom to collaborate -is this how you came to know Mark Growden, for example, who provided the haunting soundtrack for Blood Tea and Red String?

I am very fortunate to know some amazingly talented people.

I first went to see Mark perform with some friends of mine. I really liked his music and he gave me a CD at the show. Later, I was watching my work print of my film and my friend started playing Mark’s CD. There was a scene where the music matched up to the visuals so well, I just knew I wanted him to compose the music for my film. Luckily he was interested and agreed to do it.

Mark gave me a copy of his new CD, “Saint Judas” and asked if I wanted to make an animated video for him. I listened to it and chose “Coyote”. I told him that was the one I wanted to do, and he said to just follow my inspiration and do what I wanted with it. In return for this music video, Mark is going to create the first song for my new film, Seed in the Sand. With this song, I hope to animate a portion of the beginning of the movie. I am almost ready to begin animating. I just have to get the set finished and find a way to purchase the camera. I hope to get the Canon EOS Rebel T2i EF-S, but at this time I don’t have a way to purchase it. If I get everything ready and still can’t get the camera, I can still shoot a short promotional scene with the equipment I have. The quality just won’t be adequate for the final film, so I would have to reshoot that part.

You call yourself “a creator of many things” – off the top of my head, and in addition to being a film maker I know you are also a poet, a painter and a seamstress – what else are you involved in? Where else can we see your work?

I came up with the title Creator of Many Things because I was at a loss to categorize myself since I do make art in so many mediums. You’ve listed my primary pursuits nicely. I guess you might add “creator of fancy edibles” and “doll maker” in there. So far the edibles are just for family and friends, but more than one person has suggested that I make a cookbook to share my inventions. That is pretty far down on my staggering to-do list though. Maybe I will put one together for my little girl when she goes off to college in about 13 years.

There are currently two books of my poetry available, and I am working on illustrating a short story called “The Black Cloak”, no publication date set at this time, and the series of paintings that I intend to release as an art book when finished.

Links to purchase my books can be found here http://christianecegavske.com/books.html

“Hooded Snake Charmer”, pencil on paper

“Hooded Snake Charmer”, pencil on paper

Have you found that your recent move from the city (LA) to the woods of Oregon has helped or hindered your creative process?

It has been severely disorienting. Since I have a child, it helps to have my family around for support, but I am not sure how I feel about staying here long term. I don’t like the isolation from my peers. If I just consider it a temporary hermitage it helps. I am able to work on my paintings out here and I have a nice sized garage studio. I didn’t have a studio for shooting film in LA. So that is a big improvement.

“Cat’s Cradle”, Oil on Canvas

“Cat’s Cradle”, Oil on Canvas

Crows, ravens, ragdolls – these things show up quite frequently in your work, in almost every medium. What draws you to these items, what meaning do they hold for you?

That is a little tricky to answer as putting a definition to them takes away from some of the symbolism that hits the viewer behind the rational mind, but I will comment. Crows and ravens are like my muses, my familiars or my alter ego. They watch and tell and illustrate. They are usually portrayed as helpers, sometimes mischief-makers, sometimes just witnesses. Ragdolls are like the outer mask of a person. That which is seen and judged and must be discarded to reach authenticity. It is a danger to identify with the doll. Dolls don’t grow, dolls don’t love, dolls don’t feel. It can be tempting to hide inside of one or to love one, but is not a good idea to forget that it is only a thing, not a being.

“Giant Crows at Meat Table”, The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things

“Giant Crows at Meat Table”, The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things

There are, of course the obvious comparisons of your work to surrealist Jan Švankmajer and Jiří Trnka, and perhaps to a lesser extent, the Brothers Quay –would you consider these folks among some of your influences ? From where else, or who else, do you draw your inspiration?

Definitely they have influenced me. Beyond my own mythic imaginings that have drawn from many sources in the world around me and sources lost to my conscious memory that I can’t identify, inspirations include Bosch, Botticelli, Frida Khalo, Jan Svankmajer, Ladislas Starewicz, Ray Harryhausen, Joseph Campbell, the ancient myths of many cultures…

“Skeleton Doll with Secret Mouse”, photography by Robin Loznak

“Skeleton Doll with Secret Mouse”, photography by Robin Loznak

What are you currently working on? What can we expect to see from you in the future?

In addition to getting Seed in the Sand ready, I am working on a series of eight small paintings that I want to release as an art book, and I have just finished a script for a live action film I would like to make. There will of course be a little animation in it. My next step is to do a few storyboards and prepare a pitch for it so I can start to search for financial support. I really hope to find a way to make this film. Since it is live action it will require a team to make it. That is a little different than toiling away alone in a garage for years, so I can’t just dive in without help.

One of my friends who read the script liked it so much that he suggested I write more stories. So you may see new publications from me if inspiration takes hold. Time will tell.

My list of projects is excitingly long and sometimes daunting. But, given time, health and support, they will all be accomplished.

UPDATE: Read more about Christiane Cegavske’s Seed In The Sand here!

Find Christiane Cegavske: website // facebook // instagram // patreon // blog

 

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