Where is She Now?

Chainletter Filmmakers:

Transformer Chainletter

Beth O'Brien, the body revealed
December 2, 2016

How did you find out about Joanie 4 Jackie and how old were you at the time?
I had been profoundly influenced in the early nineties by the mythos (and my own imaginative extrapolations) around riot grrl culture, which was passed on to me in limited snippets through high school classmates, zines, lyrics and inserts in records and CDs, and at punk and hardcore shows around northern Virginia and Washington D.C. At some point the chain of underground female artists and musicians lead me to Miranda July. In 2001, I saw her perform at the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio. Her imaginative and playful combination of performance and video, low and high tech, and emotional vulnerability left a strong impression on me. I don’t remember exactly when I heard about Joanie 4 Jackie, but it was most likely around this time. I was 24 years old. I didn’t send my tape in until 5 years later in 2006.

What interested you about the project?
Sometime in middle school, at the tail end of the eighties, I was introduced underground culture. It began with music. I became fascinated with the idea of people creating in a way that rebelled against popular culture, was non-commercial, or political, and they did it using what they had, on their own terms.

At first, it was only the search that interested me. In those days, it required leaving your house. There was a sense of adventure, and, sometimes, risk. Going to shows in unfamiliar places, sometimes with a friend, sometimes alone. Wandering new places until you found the cool record shop, then scouring the 7″‘s, reading the liner notes, buying one because you recognized the name from a patch on a punk’s jacket. Always keeping an eye our for fliers. Writing letters, sending off for a zine. And when I found something that moved or inspired me, it felt like a personal gift, an exclusive secret, an initiation.

It was only later that I realized I could also participate. That participating was the point.

Of course, YouTube had already launched by the time I sent my tape to Joanie 4 Jackie in 2006. Maybe I had a certain wistful sadness and nostalgia for an underground that would no longer exist as it had when I was a teenager. So I sent my tape out to both share it and discover others in this anachronistic way that I still found so much more direct, human and beautiful than pushing some buttons alone in my bedroom.

At the time you participated in Joanie 4 Jackie did you consider yourself a filmmaker? What was your relationship to making movies?
I considered myself someone who likes to make things. Sometimes a filmmaker, or a painter, or a collage artist, or a writer, or a photographer, or a carpenter. I was still working on video and film projects then and I still am now.

Do you have any specific anecdotes or memories associated with your movie?
I sent in a tape with three films. “the body revealed” was the one included in the Transformer Chainletter. It was made with one 100 foot roll of 16mm black and white reversal film and a Bolex camera. I rewound the film and shot over the already exposed film many, many times. There were four nude models, two female and two male.

What did you think/feel about the Joanie 4 Jackie at the time? And now, in retrospect?
I loved that it was a way to share with each other the film and video we were creating, and that anything that was sent was included and seen – there wasn’t some authority figure deciding who would and wouldn’t be included. In retrospect, I wish I had sent my submission in far sooner and that I had seen more of the chainletters.

What institutions, groups, people, publications and movements were inspiring you at the time of your participation in J4J?
In 2006, I was living off the Morgan Stop of the “L” Train in Brooklyn, New York. Though rapidly gentrifying, the neighborhood still had an isolated artists’ village feel. I was lucky enough to be surrounded by creative and inspiring people. The musician/actress Laura Schurich, the writer Melissa Febos, and I moved into a raw warehouse space and built out three rooms with lofted sleeping spaces. We were soon joined by the artist Carla Aspenberg. I shared a studio space at 54 Bogart Street with Gina Beavers. I was listening to Al Fair and Oscar Rodriguez’s band Nakatomi Plaza, while I created the artwork and layout for their CD “Unsettled”. I was very inspired by all the complex and colorful street art that was proliferating around the city. The Wooster Collective’s show at 11 Spring Street was a highlight of that year.

I also have to mention the amazing resource of the Millenium Film Workshop, which was still in Manhattan in 2006, though I only went there a handful of times. Their mission is truly inspiring:

“To offer the non-commercial film artist – of whatever experience, or proven degree of proficiency, and without interference in either film-subject or style – the use without cost, or at minimal cost, of the tools of filmmaking, instruction in filmmaking, and a means of contacting others of like creative interest.”

What do you do now – professionally and otherwise? Are you still involved in filmmaking?
I am still making motion pictures, photography, art, writing. It’s what I do.www.bethobrien.com (you can contact me by writing to beth at this website)

One recent project, called “On Foot: Brooklyn” was in collaboration with the composer and musician Craig Shepard, and resulted in a tour with our performance (which included projected video, live music and playback of field recordings), a book of photography and essays, a solo show of photography and a CD.

I pay the bills, buy equipment and fund my own mini-sabbaticals to make things by working as a lighting technician on movies and TV in New York.

Anything you would like to see on the J4J site?
I would like to see a simple master list of all participants in alphabetical order that links to this “Now” section, to the work they contributed, which chainletter(s) they were included in and links to current websites if available.