Wavepool – Considering that you often work with common, everyday materials and experiences, how does your practice fit into your daily life? Is there separation, or are you always engaged in that mindset?
Joana Stillwell – My work is definitely a reflection of what is happening in my daily life as well as a supportive and therapeutic means to help to me throughout my day. As an anxious person who is prone to depression, I can become a neurotic self-manager of my emotions. Every decision I make throughout my day – what to eat, what to read, what to prioritize, what to wear, who to see – is aimed at me feeling positive and that comes through in my work as I reflect on ideas of growth, healing, and fulfillment. Everyday materials that have strong associations with happiness such as balloons and bubblegum become things I use in my work because they bring me joy and are a way for me to physically play with difficult ideas and take myself out of my head. It is through this everyday mindset that work will take shape and then I film.
Wavepool – Does the production happen spontaneously as the ideas form, or do you return to ideas after spending time with them?
Joana Stillwell – Ideas tend to stay with me for a while and I initially spend a lot of time actively investigating them and if it doesn’t lead anywhere then I let them go. They usually return later in a better and more productive way and that’s when it seems spontaneous.
Wavepool – What makes video such an attractive medium for you to work with?
Joana Stillwell – I studied photography in school. I remember wishing that my photographs could move. There was something missing in my photos and my narrative wasn’t getting across. I remember thinking “Oh DUH” after I made my first couple videos. Video is a great way to for me to immerse a viewer in an idea I’m tackling. I’ve toyed with the idea of performance because a lot of my video work is a “filmed performance” of sorts but I’m a terrible actor and I think it’s important that I’m alone and don’t have outside distractions (like an audience) to factor in.
Wavepool – Do you consider yourself an actor in the videos? Do you think there is a difference between acting and performing?
Joana Stillwell – I think there is a difference. I called myself a “terrible actor” because once I am on a stage context I become highly aware of myself and tend to laugh or make eye contact with the audience – bad acting things. It wouldn’t be the right context for me to do a performance, where I would be actually participating in an activity (as opposed to acting out an activity) in front of an audience and that’s why video is a great way to document these little meditative actions.
Wavepool – Is it important that you are the subject in your work, and is it a conscious decision to often remove your face or most of your body from the frame?
Joana Stillwell – My work definitely has an autobiographical element to it, but I try not to make the focus about me. I want the viewer to think about the idea I’m presenting and not necessarily present them with a diary of my life. I set up my shots with the aim of leaving some room for the viewer – so they can imagine or insert themselves into my narrative.
Wavepool – What do you want viewers to take away from viewing your work?
Joana Stillwell – I hope that viewers can empathize and relate to the work. While the subject matter is personal, it’s also very universal. I admire artwork that can discuss difficult topics lightheartedly or with a sense of humor. That work makes me feel comforted and understood as if the artist is saying “being a person is hard but beautiful and funny”. I hope my work has an inkling of that quality.
To see more, please visit Joana’s website.