Inspired by Children’s Media, Students Aim to Engage Infants and Adults Alike
Four BFA students filmed fictional characters performing simple, everyday activities in South Korea’s capital
December 11, 2019
As part of a collaborative project funded by a film and digital media grant, Fiona Barney mingled among the crowds in Seoul, South Korea, donning pink overalls with a face and a stuffed pillow in place of her head.
The ensemble was one of three costumes sewn by Barney and classmate Ricey Wright, who joined Barney in Seoul wearing a brown headpiece, a large yellow top shaped like a wedge of cheese and shorts. A third classmate, Rachel Henriksen, performed the role of a large blue character with red boots, no arms and a perpetual smile.
Seoul: A Fitting Backdrop
Group videographer Dalila Sanabria, who conceptualized and directed the project together with Barney, followed the fictional characters around Seoul as they explored their surroundings. The trio—the result of an exquisite corpse game—blended naturally into Seoul’s scenery, where similar whimsical characters are widely used in marketing efforts.
According to Sanabria, the goal of the project was not to disrupt the landscape in any way, but to simply insert themselves into it and record people’s reactions to the characters.
“If people approached us we would talk to them like a normal human,” said Wright, who speaks Korean, “but we weren’t going out to ask them questions. It was more if they wanted to interact with us. Occasionally we would say something to them.”
Narrative, Play and Layers
Sanabria and Barney developed the project to explore the construction of a nonlinear, rebounding narrative similar to those found in videos made for infants, such as “Baby Mozart” or “Teletubbies.” This style of video captivates babies with snippets of information and no logical chronology.
“We are interested in how something can be accessible to both an infant and an adult, and narrative is at the root of that,” Barney explained. “Baby videos are nonsensical but entrancing, and our aim was to evoke a similar feeling with a narrative that anyone could walk in at any point and engage with, without feeling like they missed anything or need more context.”
This particular narrative follows the characters as they explore Seoul and engage in everyday experiences—taking the elevator, walking down the street, and trying on hats, for example.
“By interacting with the world in simple and familiar ways, we are playing with the characters the way a child would play with a toy,” Wright said. “The child begins a new story with the toy each time it is played with, and by inserting our characters in different places throughout the city, we are engaging with them in a similar way.”
While in South Korea, the group photographed still images to use for a green screen back home, where they continue to develop their project.
Miniature versions of the characters and other props will make appearances in the final video—a hybrid of digital and traditional film techniques, including green screen, puppetry, animation and sound mixing.
“So you have live, actual performed scenes, and then more staged ones,” Sanabria explained. “So there will be different layers of reality and layers of production.”
A Lesson in Collaboration
The opportunity to travel and execute a self-directed project offered the students insight into life as a practicing artist, with its rewards and challenges.
“Collaborating with other artists was a big learning curve,” Wright said, and Sanabria agreed.
“Up to this point I’ve only done personally driven projects,” Sanabria said. “It’s totally different when you’re in a team environment with other artists because we all have very different ideas or visions of things, so learning how to cooperate in that sense. Then also just being pleasantly surprised by how they contribute as well. There is a great creative energy when you have a group of artists working on a single thing, and we get a lot more done together.”
The group’s final project will be exhibited as a video installation in a two-person show at the Rio Gallery in Salt Lake City in January. The show, titled “Comforting Discomfort,” will feature artwork made by Sanabria and Barney.