Jess Irish is an artist, filmmaker and writer who practices new multi-genre and collaborative media with an emphasis on environmental justice and the expansive potential of technology to create a more equal society. She was the founding co-director of OnRamp Arts, a forward-thinking collaborative creative nonprofit operating in Echo Park from 1998 to 2002. Since then Irish has focused its work on the potential for intertwining digital / data systems and filmmaking as a materials for the meta-narrative storytelling required by the complexities of a dangerous and hyperconnected world. His new short film This deadly plastik screened on October 28 at LA Live, as part of the Awareness Film Festival.
THE WEEKLY: When did you first know you were an artist?
IRISH JESS: I did a pretty fantastic drawing of myself as a “bug girl” when I was two, which seems pretty fitting. But the proposal to “be an artist” came around twelve o’clock when I found a book on the letters van Gogh wrote to his brother. I remember looking at the studies he was doing for hours and feeling transported to a manner to have to. I recognized that it was not how the rest of the world values ââsight, and it seemed like a mystery to explore. The idea that you could just build an expanded vision around something common and ordinary stuck with me and saved me as well.
What’s your short answer to people who ask you what your job is?
The subject and medium of my work are changing, but my approach is that of “lyrical non-fiction” where I bring together disparate elements in new ways. For the past five years, I have focused on making experimental documentary shorts. While I have worked in “new media” for the past 25 years, my thinking about “what is possible” is tied to the changing nature that computer systems have opened up to me, even when working in media. analogs like poetry or painting. . We pollinate, sort, filter, extract, mediate, and connect ideas all the time, and doing it visually and textually is an endless commitment to me.
What would you do if you weren’t an artist?
I often have an intense envy of underwater filmmakers or people who spend a lot of time with animals in the wild. To me, this seems like a much more compelling way to experience new realities or new spaces than trying to fly to the moon like billionaire men do. But a more lucrative job would be to be a house pinball machine, which I had fun doing for myself. I love finding a gem in the rough and understanding the process of physically transforming it into something beautiful.
Did you go to art school? Why why not?
For college, I knew I wanted to study art but wanted to be in a larger study experience, the liberal arts in particular – psychology, history, philosophy. I am still in this frame of mind and currently consider myself a student of science and poetry in equal measure. But what matters most is the student position, to always find the opportunity to seek new understandings. This is why I love teaching, it requires you to be an active participant and an ambassador of learning as a practice.
When is / was your current / most recent / next show or project?
The Los Angeles premiere of my new documentary short This deadly plastik is October 28 at LA Live, as part of the Awareness Film Festival. I did this during the pandemic containment period; it is a poetic and personal approach to the most impersonal substance in the world: plastics. How to make a subject so ubiquitous and banal interesting? But it really is, for better or for worse. This is our pandemic within the pandemic. This research has sparked a new series of plankton portraits that I am doing. Plankton is largely invisible to the human eye, but collectively generates more than half of the oxygen we breathe !. I am also launching a dynamic project (data-driven) which uses the form of the cento poem to revisit the manifestos of the future posed at the beginning of the last two centuries.
Which artist, living or dead, would you most like to show or work with?
This is such a difficult question to answer. I would definitely choose a dead artist since the idea of ââtime travel would be part of the experience. i would love to work with Dziga Vertov, who made one of my favorite experimental films, Man with a camera in 1929 in the early years of the Soviet revolution. It’s so inventive and beautiful. But ideally, I would also take a train and have a coffee with other artists and writers working and sharing this utopian and curious era that crossed genres and shattered norms.
Do you listen to music while you work? If so what?
I admit being a fan of the Spotify âdiscover weeklyâ algorithm – it really helps. I love discovering new music and creating playlists for specific activities in my creative process (hiking, browsing, researching, drawing, etc.). But when I write, there is only Philip Glass. I have a writing playlist that works like Pavlov’s dinner bell – it kicks me into writing mode. He’s also a personal hero of mine, and he’s still active and collaborating now, in his eighties.
Website and social media handles, please!