Haunting Visions: Bill Domonkos

See cyber art with glimpses of the anachronous and reanimated dead stock.

Text Gio Dionisio

The Internet, and thus Internet art is often riddled with struggles of identity, objectivity, and other digital/analog binaries. Defying bias, Bill Domonkos declares, “I enjoy both human and virtual interaction.” Working with an almost ambivalent approach, The San Francisco-based Hungarian visual artist disrupts notions of screen time with brazenly ocular videos, GIFs, and stereoscopes, as well as uncanny apps. By combining computer animation, public domain photography, and manipulated archive film footage, he presents assemblages of artefacts and artifice that challenge institutional thought. He explores such temporal themes as cognition and the supernatural. His experimental work has been shown internationally in cinemas, film festivals, galleries, and museums, but continues to elude confinement to any physical space or time.

You can see the following images in 3D using the cross-eyed method. Slowly cross your eyes, relax your vision until there are three images, then focus on the center image.

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To what extent is your artistic work informed by your commercial work?
Content wise, not at all. However, in my day job as an interactive designer/animator, I need to keep up to date on current technologies, digital tools, limitations, etc… so that technical knowledge certainly crosses that line.

What are your guiding principles as an artist?
The question that I’m always asking myself is, “What if…?”
What if I take this existing game and change the content? What if I take this vintage stereogram and add 3D objects or combine it with another stereogram? Now that I did that, what if I did this to it… or combined it with that? This is how my process usually evolves. Not everything is successful. Some things come together easily, some things slowly over time. Generally, I’m always surprised at where I end up.

Could you comment on the idea that intellectual property is a mortal dilemma of capitalist mentality?
I can only speak to my personal experience and how I approach my work. All of my films and GIF animations use archive photos and film footage that are in the public domain. Most of my work is available for free to anyone that has an internet connection. I work a day job to pay my living expenses… and to support this work. This is my way of escaping the capitalist mentality and keeping my work free from restrictions of any kind. In the digital world, I realize giving it away for free might not be the answer, but for the time being it’s working for me. Integrity is a value worth holding on to.

Describe the significance of using original music for your short films?
The music can be a driving force in my films, and in most cases it comes first. Sometimes I can visualize an entire film in my head just by hearing the music. We experience the world through sound, images, and movement. Film is an artificial form that mimics experience. Music has the unique capability to add depth, dimension, and emotion to that experience.

What draws you to the themes and motifs you meddle with?
I’m interested in creating new experiences that cannot be expressed in words.

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Is there a conscious subverting of convention involved in your process?
On a conscious level, I’m not trying to undermine conventions. It’s more like an improvisation, a willingness to take something existing and do something else with it. It’s the process of transforming one thing into another that I find so interesting. Creating new experiences through the manipulation of found materials.

Please discuss the relation of cinema and poetry to your own art.
I suppose my work can be considered a hybrid of cinema, poetry, and photography… but honestly, I don’t spend any time thinking about how my work relates to those things in general. I’m concerned more with the experience of interacting with different materials, and the changing relationships of those materials as I alter them and combine them with other elements.

Does your work follow a certain language or framework?
When I start a film, I usually have a really vague idea of what I want to do. It might be a piece of music, something I’m reading, or a particular combination of images that interests me right off. I don’t write a script or do a storyboard, I don’t even keep a sketchbook anymore. It’s this lack of structure that invigorates me—a desire to make something invisible visible.

In his book, The Theatre and Its Double, Antonin Artaud writes, “If our life lacks a constant magic, it is because we choose to observe our acts and lose ourselves in consideration of their imagined form and meaning, instead of being impelled by their force.”

“Life would be pretty dreary without the unfamiliar;
it makes us think and wonder.”

What can we learn from the unfamiliar?
As a child, my first complete sentence was, “What is it?” Life would be pretty dreary without the unfamiliar; it makes us think and wonder.

What are your thoughts on heritage and legacy?
In my films, I manipulate time by altering the past with the present. I think the GIFs have a unique potential to suspend time and compact feelings and experience. The looping of the images adds a strange otherworldly quality—almost robotic. They seem to exist in a specious present, and like our perception of time, it’s really just a temporal illusion.

I’m certainly a product of what came before me and the world in which I live. And my work is a product of all the people involved in the production of the source materials I use, past and present—I just share a credit. The work I do occupies my mind and it gives me tremendous pleasure bringing it out into the world. It’s nice to think that some fragments of this work might survive in some digital public domain of the future. However, due to the ephemeral nature of technology, they are more likely to one day be lost without a trace, and I’m fine with that, too.