Thursday, July 30, 2015

Elegance, Wit and Gravitas Unite in Heidi Kumao's Work

In 2011 Heidi Kumao broke her back while sledding. During the slow convalescence, Heidi spent many hours lying on her sofa staring up at the ceiling. She describes it as like being “Underwater looking up at a layer of ice.“

Her film, Swallowed Whole, which was featured in the Ann Arbor Film Festival, Black Maria Film Festival, Tricky Women International Animation Film Festival, the Atlanta Film Festival and just won Best Experimental Film at the 13th Annual Female Eye Film Festival in Toronto is a wonderfully evocative portrayal of this personal calamity.

Heidi employs striking images and interesting techniques in her filmmaking. For instance, at one point, she makes the film frames thwack down like the lenses in an ophthalmologist’s phoropter to emulate the crashing down to the ground of her airborne sled.

She uses stacks of books, cookies and lifesavers to recreate the impact and shattering of vertebrae, and later on, melted ice cubes. These ordinary items are amusing and very effective stand-ins, adding a breath of fresh air to this grave and beautiful film.

The final shot—taken in the Arctic Circle—features Heidi standing on an ice floe, a lone, fragile figure in this inhospitable and awe-inspiring landscape. It’s a humbling and haunting image.

At VCCA, Heidi was working on a number of projects including a film that involved an antique birdcage she had picked up at a antiques store in Amherst. She was also working with the film snippets she makes and keeps on her computer. To help organize the clips, she sketches images on index cards, which makes it easy to arrange in the order she wants. One wall of her studio was covered with an arrangement of these cards. While they were really just a guide, they provided a striking collage of her personal language of hieroglyphics.

Heidi was also toiling over a couple of mechanical sculptures that emulate the movement of a little girl’s legs and feet. One set of “legs” stamped its foot, the other seemed to belong to a child lying on the floor pushing its legs back and forth in the throes of a tantrum. The “legs “ were plain metal struts, what made the anthropomorphizing so effective was the addition of vintage mary janes, which also added a whiff of creepiness. 

Heidi’s work showcases her easy and consummate command of her media. Her work has elegance and gravitas and also these moments of sly humor that add a refreshing lightness to the work.  heidikumao.net


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