"I have a strong appetite and desire to manipulate time and reality through motion"
An interview with Stream Gao | Snail's Prance | VMA19 BEST SONG | October Edition
Product manager and software engineer for a living, creative technologist and media artist in her spare time.
This is Stream Gao’s double life, an American versatile artist whose last short movie ‘Snail’s Prance’, winner at the Vegas Movie Awards in October 2019 as Best Song (Award of Prestige) and Best Music Video (Honorable Mention), has allowed her to add another tile to her biggest passion: EXPERIMENTING.
Grown-up as a Chinese classic and folk dancer, switched to modern dance after she came to the US, and winner of multiple national dance awards, Stream is constantly researching new methods of storytelling through projects that experiment with a broad range of technology and media.
Follow us in this engaging interview where Stream will tell us more about ‘Snail’s Prance’ and about her own unique way of seeing the world.
• Hello Stream, it’s a pleasure to have you for this interview. Let’s talk about ‘Snail’s Prance’: a visionary short film that places a magnifying glass on every living being’s innate energy, which gets crushed against the complexities that one can encounter during their lives. Why have you chosen snails as the main characters for your project?
In November 2016, I moved to Bay Area from New York because of work and I lived in Sunnyvale for about a whole year. It was a huge change for me. I considered myself an “urban being” and it was very hard for me to adapt to suburban living style in south bay - I don’t even have a driver's license to go around.
Life in south bay was pretty boring and I tried to find some interesting things to do in order to keep me busy. One is for snails. I used to walk to the office and on rainy days I would see those large snails come out moving. Snails are not easy to be discovered in the cities. I grew up in China, where the snails there are as tiny as fingertips. So when I first time saw such huge gastropods on the sideway in Sunnyvale, I was amazed. By somehow I developed this weird habit of recording snails moving. All kinds, in the morning, at night, in the grass, on the street, on a straw, moving upwards, leftwards, rightwards, one crawling, two together with one carrying another on the shell, three in a row…
I used to keep hundreds of those videos on my phone. Every movement has its uniqueness yet many things are in common. And the more I recording I took, the more eager I became to get some insights and use them to make something.
Snail is an interesting creature for me. How come that inside such a hard shell lives a soft body? How come that such a soft body could carry its house on hard surfaces? Its softness and slowness of movement is an art. I could sometimes spend hours just watching and recording them, it’s like I’m stuck in that slow-motion, and time is frozen too.
• We can find other kinds of art, different from cinematography in your professional background, such as dance for example. Would you like to tell us about your commitment to dance, and how this passion has somewhat turned into visual storytelling?
I started dancing when I was in kindergarten. I was trained as a Chinese classic and folk dancer growing up. Dance has always been an important part of my life. I never majored in dance though, just something I kept doing for ages on the side. I got to know western dance forms like modern and contemporary when I moved to New York. The idea that dance does not necessarily mean to show beauty or serve for storytelling appealed to me.
Improvisation based creative processes like Gaga blew my mind. I was just fascinated by how creative a movement can be, and how far you can push with your body to dance.
At that time I was pursuing my master's in ITP, NYU, and I got the chance to collaborate with many kinds of artists especially dancers. Many of my projects or experiments at that time were related to dance, it can be generative graphics from motion capture data, use of body movement data to alter some visuals and sounds, or remix of thousands of online dance data, etc. Actually, it is through a dance collaboration that I met Soo Han, who is the composer of Snail’s Prance. We worked on a few dance pieces where she oversaw the dance music and I created the graphics for projection.
Over time, my interests in dance evolved from classic forms to body movement, and now in motion. You know dance is a type of motion too. You can rotate a line on the canvas, and in dance you do turns. You rotate a line with the rotation center to be the middle point of the line, that’s pirouette in ballet. You rotate a line from its starting point and switch to rotating from the endpoint, in dance it can be translated to chaînésturns. Sometimes a dance move I learned in class inspires me something new in the visuals, sometimes an animation makes me want to do certain movements. Dance, in general, makes me be sensitive in motion, and to easily translate it into visual storytelling.
Spiral is a symbol of the journey of life since ancient times.
• To what or whom have you been inspired for the making of this project and more in general for all your experimental work?
It’s hard to say what or who is my inspiration for all my experimental work. I’m not sure if I have developed my style yet. Early days my projects or experiments tend to be around beauty and elegance, it’s probably due to the influence of Chinese traditional culture and Chinese dance. Nowadays I get inspirations from many kinds of modern arts, like minimalism, surrealism, readymades. Dance too for sure, it’s a long-lasting source of inspiration.
Specifically for this work. I would say it’s Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory. Soo’s music of the film is based upon the artwork. Persistence of Memory and snails share many common characteristics in my mind. You know Dali’s work is always around soft and hard. The idea of melting in time resonates with me when it comes to me shooting snails for hours. In the movie, I was playing with speed, time, and relativity. Many of those little ideas are from this piece of artwork, also Soo’s interpretation.
• The Spiral is a perfect concept already present in nature, so much that Fibonacci identified it as Sequenza Aurea; would you tell us about the significance of it in your short film?
Spiral is the symbolic snail and an abstraction layer of my interpretation of time. From the shape, it is the same as the snail shell. The rotation of it represents the clock and time.
When a complicated thing is abstracted into a shape level, it’s easier for the audience to interpret without noise, to understand the motion and velocity. When I rotate, twist, and morph it, I’m trying to do the same thing with time and reality. Spiral is a symbol of the journey of life since ancient times. At a certain point in the film, it morphed into the pattern of a snail’s shell and blend into its life.
Spiral is used in hypnosis as well. But I hope people won’t get sleepy watching my spirals.
• It seems like your project compares life to a dance, to a rendezvous, and to an end. Physiological elements pretty common to every living being’s life but, lived calmly by these tiny creatures, so that every aspect of it is enjoyable, in clear contrast to humans’ frenetic lives. What is the message that you want to convey to your audience?
Wow, that’s a very interesting and strong interpretation!
Yes, I totally agree. The value of nature can be counter-intuitive if you compare to the classic values of capitalism. Humans since the industrial age have been trying to intervene in the rules of nature. Technology helps to speed up things and take “control” of nature.
But on the other side, the man-made society and human beings are always affiliated with nature. We have an instinctive appreciation of natural aesthetics and philosophy. There is so much wisdom that you can obtain from it, and from every living being.
I have a strong appetite and desire to manipulate time and reality through motion in the film. I think many people want to have that power. Sometimes you are stuck in an abstruse reality and question why it is like that. I offered that simple power so you can forge things as you like, but it’s not real.
• Which difficulties have you encountered in the creative development and production of the film?
Ideation I think. I had hard times to develop a coherent agenda and I think it’s still not perfect.
The value of nature can be counter-intuitive if you compare to the classic values of capitalism. Humans since the industrial age have been trying to intervene in the rules of nature. Technology helps to speed up things and take “control” of nature.
• The soundtrack lends drama and depth to the whole work. A tie between images and music expertly assembled by the amazing composer Soo Han. How did you choose to work with her on your soundtrack and why?
Well we collaborated a few times previously. Soo is a great composer and likes to combine her works with other arts, it’s always a pleasure to work with her.
For this piece I didn’t actually choose her. She made some sample music first and asked me to make some projection for one of her live concerts. I was attracted to the first sound. And I felt that those snails’ footage could be a perfect match for it.
There was some interesting darkness throughout the piece with many layers. The original track was about 30 mins long with three sections. It started from death and despair to the confusion of reality, and finally the treacherous mindset of human beings and how they quench their thirst in life. I edited a little bit to fit for the short. The cadence of the music is a clear contrast to the movement of a snail. For me, it’s a very good way to express the misaligned reality by putting them together.
• Will we have the pleasure of seeing the two of you work together in the next future?
• Which projects are you currently working on? Where can our readers find and learn more about yourself and your unique projects?
I’m working on some small art projects but not very actively. My full-time job is taking more and more of my time so it’s harder for me to be productive. But I definitely am working on something.
• Thank you very much for delighting us with this short film, Stream. Again, congratulation on your win at the Vegas Movie Awards and for your future projects!
Thank you for inviting me to do this! It’s my pleasure to get my work featured in VMA.
- Website: http://www.streamgao.com
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/streaming_stream/