The art of (remixed) dreams

photo: Portrait of María Cañas / CROPPING IMAGE

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“THE REVOLUTION IS NOT TELEVISED.” While Gil Scott-Heron, the American jazz poet, originally sang this line in 1970, it is an ageless source of inspiration for María Cañas. It can even be said that Cañas is the modern Scott-Heron, forcing us to open our eyes to the realities of this bold statement.

IN 2012, CAÑAS DECLARED, “…It’s time to film what no one films and to go where no one films and to make movies without cameras. Just as the bullfighter practices bullfighting, I practice videomaquia, the art of contending with our audiovisual detritus… I am a radical cannibal of audiovisual material, cultivator of apocalyptic militant cinema…”

MARÍA CAÑAS IS A FILMMAKER who utilizes the found footage rooted in the infinite amount of video clips and music legally available on the Internet to create unique, dramatic art pieces. She uses montage, the film editing effect attributed to Russian filmmaker Lev Kuleshov (1899-1970), with great aptitude. Cañas demonstrates how recycled images placed in a particular order with certain music possess immense power to teach, change perspectives, and even make some feel uncomfortable.

YOU COULD SAY CAÑAS has been destined for her current career since age 4 when she first believed that “everything has life.” This conviction inspired her to clip out articles and pictures from her grandmother’s magazines and collect candy wrappers. Anything she deemed interesting would be saved and later used as collage materials.

BORN AND RAISED IN SEVILLE, Spain, she grew up in a house with her mother, father, and sister. She remembers how her mother, Rosa de los Reyes, a professor and film lover, introduced her to movies like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and those directed and produced by Alfred Hitchcock, sparking her own fascination with cinema. WHEN SHE WAS NOT WATCHING MOVIES, Cañas could be found reading anything she could put her eyes on, which she continues to do today. Perhaps it was a children’s story that inspired the commencement of her current practices. She remembers reading Little Red Riding Hood as a child; however, it was not the classic most are accustomed to. Her alternative version of the story reversed the characters’ roles, transforming the wolf into an innocent victim and Little Red Riding Hood into the cruel predator. Substitutions like this can be seen in Maria’s work today as she attempts to flip our current views of reality upside down.

CAÑAS REMEMBERS AS A YOUNG GIRL “always feeling like a Martian, very extraterrestrial.” Stirring with creativity, progressive sentiment, and punk flair, Cañas knew she was different. She did not love Esclavas, the religious school she attended, because of the classicism that was practiced. Her beliefs differed greatly from what was taught and accepted. She was constantly thinking, questioning, and inventing, but in search of the right platform to communicate her innovations to the world.

ALWAYS DRAWN TO THE ARTS, she tried painting while studying in the Fine Arts department at the University of Seville. She remembers having “a lot of messages and history” in her head, but struggling. “One day I would paint like an Impressionist, another day like Basquiat, the next like Picasso… I suffered a lot because I couldn’t find my style and materials cost a lot,” she describes. After painting, the young artist tried photography for a while, but it did not satisfy the depth of what she wanted to express.

THE SECOND SHE STARTED WORKING on her Macintosh computer, with programs like Adobe Photoshop and Director, she found her niche. She loved the Do-It-Yourself qualities and the ability to recycle what she had collected.

TODAY, MARÍA CAÑAS IS A PROMINENT FIGURE in Seville’s art community, and her work is gaining more and more attention. She has participated in Seville’s European Film Festival four times, but this year her increased involvement is a bit different. In addition to having two different series of her short films presented during two viewing sessions, she is teaching a class on her passionate and inspiring journey of remixed video, and is participating in a round table discussion about the real and imagined origins and evolution of scripted cinema alongside film director Enrique Urbizu, scriptwriter Michel Gaztambide, and film critic Manuel J. Lombardo. She hopes that her audiences enjoy what she has to say and what she has created. In anticipation of the festival she says, “I don’t want them to sleep or suffer.” And they didn’t.

IN HER FESTIVAL MASTER-CLASS she presents to a crowd of over 65 that laughs and sits on the edges of their seats for two hours, even though Cañas is only running on three hours of sleep. The attendees are all ages. Some have seen her work while others have only heard about it, but all are curious to learn more. She sits at a small desk with her laptop and folder full of notes on the left of the stage, with a PowerPoint projected on a large wall behind her in a studio of the Center of Arts of Sevilla (CAS). María’s organized and edgy presentation includes her childhood stories, inspirational quotes, a trailer viewing of Meet my Meat, provocative images, a mediation session, and a Q&A. She becomes friends with the crowd while sharing who and what she is.

ONE OF MARÍA’S MOST WELL KNOWN VIDEO montages is cleverly titled, “Sé Villana,” which, deconstructing the word Sevillana (Sevillian), translates also to “You Be Devilish.” This video montage incorporates a variety of images and sounds creating a lens that illuminates the city’s contrasts. She calls it “a rebellion of the industry of fanaticism and a tribute to the most wretched humanity.” It is also a testament “to people’s inventiveness, to the strength of the weak, of weirdos, exiled poets, loonies, and prostitutes…” she says. Seville is seen as “not only a breeding ground of folklore, but as a protagonist in and of itself, with the power to halt the train of history.” Cañas expresses her “anger and pleasure of living in Seville… melted with love and hate in a big ball of fire, strength, and beauty.”

ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF MARÍA’S WORK IS Holy THriller, where she juxtaposes images from Seville’s Holy Week, Semana Santa, with Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” raising questions about religion, faith, celebration and hypocrisy.

HER CLIP TITLED Toro’s reVenge mixes footage from gory bullfights with excited, attentive fans that drawing attention to the festivities involving performance, life, and death.

CAÑAS’S WORK reveals the contradictions that are often overlooked in our daily lives; these realizations make us question what differences exist between reality and the representations of reality created by the media, and why certain events and stereotypes exist in modern society.

WHEN ASKED WHAT INSPIRES HER ART, Cañas excitedly responds, “Everything is my inspiration.” She is always attentive to the transforming environment around her, and Seville is no doubt a major contributor to her projects. Documentation is the key to her creative operation. “Reading is fundamental, preferably in print,” she says. Hours of research, video watching, note taking, re-watching, and re-reading go into each of her films. She describes the process as an “obsessive labor of documentation.” While producing projects, she will work up to 15-hour-days. “My movies are my children,” she says.

ANOTHER STEP IN HER THOROUGH PROCESS is editing the already existing YouTube footage she chooses to include. Often times these videos are not high quality, which Cañas refuses to use. She deals with many channels of audio and video, and works with a small team of professionals to aid her during production, but she is always right next to them instructing, editing, and calling the final shots.

“I ACCUMULATE IT ALL because I want to reinvent it… I want to reinvent daily life,” she says. Cañas reinterprets what she finds, gives new life to old footage, and never fails to include her special ingredient, controversy. Among other things, she describes herself as “a video guerrilla.”
She purposely creates her films with an “open structure of narration; they are surreal, poetic, experimental, and promiscuous.” Her strategies include humor, parody, and irony. An endless palimpsest and kaleidoscope.

HER arT-iVism evolves with the world around her. She hopes to inspire her audience to become more critical, more creative, and more suspicious of the content they interact with every day. “My life is a fragment, and I hope other people complete it. This is also true for my work,” she says. Each fragment of her avant-garde work, whether it is a movie clip, a sound bite, or an edit effect, has distinct meaning that intensifies and takes on new life when placed alongside other fragments.

BUT DOCTOR TOMáS CAÑAS, María’s father, sometimes struggles to understand his daughter’s profession, especially its lack of potential to make a living. He describes his daughter as “precarious.” She replies that her work is not for the money, and that she is happy pursuing her passion.

MARÍA CAÑAS is televising the revolution.