Andrew Thomas Huang: nature, aliens and the resurrection of FKA Twigs

An interview with American-Chinese director Andrew Thomas Huang on collaborating with artists such as Björk and FKA Twigs, connecting to his heritage and finding inspiration within nature.

Andrew Thomas Huang is someone that has never been just regular, proving himself time and time again that he is a creative force within the art world and beyond. Expressing his passion and interests through a deep immersion of digitally-rendered figures, puppetry, fine prints and surreal live action performance; Andrew has cemented his mark as a truly unique and pioneering individual who is definitely worth keeping on your radar. Just ask J.J. Abrams. Seriously.

I actually reached out to Andrew a few days after a very recent and special project of his became popular, in which to my surprise he responded almost instantly with great enthusiasm!! But due to exams, planning my 3-month trip to America and other errands, I’ve had to unfortunately delay the publishing of this interview. However, we are finally here and this feature is something that I have been looking forward to getting out for such long time as I couldn’t get enough of his saturated and phantasmagoric visions; and so with that in mind, I spoke with the artist about the creative process behind Cellophane, reconnecting to his roots and finding inspiration within nature.

Image courtesy of Andrew Thomas Huang

Since graduating from the University of Southern California in Fine Art and Animation, he has become a master at intertwining futuristic elements of future folklore, ultramodern queer cyborg and mystical surrealism; ultimately creating a universe of his own. Andrew’s imagination began to run wild through elementary and middle school when he was first introduced to puppeteer Jim Henson and his iconic 80’s films such as The Muppets (duh!), The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth; which originally inspired him to begin playing with his video camcorder where he would start creating stop motion. As he got older he got more into the fantasy adventure franchise of Star Wars which then further inspired his work “I would watch the behind-the-scenes making of those movies and try and replicate the process on my own. I started learning Maya and After Effects in high school and got hooked on building my own worlds!” Being such a diverse creative who works across an array of mediums, his catalogue of pieces and instalments stretches far and wide, however, when it comes to his favourite type to work with, he tells me “I think puppetry is the best combination of everything – performance, dance, bringing inanimate things to life, while also being sculptural and craft-driven”.

After his successful debut Doll Face in 2007, he has brought forth many other moving pieces; from his nine-part video series titled Flesh Nest, which explores and constructs a post-apocalyptic world inhabited by digital immortals “It is essentially my sci-fi Fraggle-Rock inspired trash opera, and so I built this project around the concept of afterlife. I wanted instead to construct imagery that had the same efficiency, weirdness and mythic vastness as a Hieronymus Bosch painting in which a multiplicity of characters and edifices are building up and crumbling down in the same hellish scrolling tapestry-like space. It was important for me that there is an honesty about the artifice of this universe”. To his newly short feature Kiss of the Rabbit God which premiered just a few weeks ago at the Tribeca Film Festival, where Huang explores his own personal identity, cultural heritage and queerness to which he proclaims to be a form of personal revelation.

The film follows a young Chinese restaurant worker’s journey of self-discovery through a sexual awakening, after falling in love with an 18th century Qing dynasty God named the Tu’er Shen (兔兒神) “This is my first narrative short in 10 years and also my most personal film to date! I started out directing narrative films, but left to pursue more art and experimental video-making. Rabbit God is my attempt now to return to narrative but more on my terms. The film is really a love story and I’ve never been brave enough until now to create a romantic film between two queer Asian men. So, this film in a way is a confession as much as it is a love letter to my LGBTQ+ Asian community”.

Everything about Andrew’s work opens up a portal to illustration of a digital multiverse- which hasn’t gone by unnoticed. He has championed a collection of awards and honours for his creative work, becoming more popular through music videos that he’s directed for the likes of Björk, Thom Yorke’s supergroup Atoms For PeaceKelela, Perfume GeniusSigur Ròs and many more; emerging through the mist. He tells me, Music videos are a wonderful medium to experiment and build worlds and draw people into the emotional message of a piece of music. I’ve learned nearly everything I know about directing from creating music videos: how to collaborate, delegate, communicate with a team of people. But, I would also say it’s my own personal work that has informed my videos. Doing the work on music videos has helped build my vocabulary of techniques to bring to my own work as well as my own practice that has fed the ideas that I bring to the music videos. It’s a two-way conversation! I need to know what each artist is trying to say and where they’re coming from in order for me to formulate a clear concept. I prefer to have personal conversations with each artist and really get to know them as people. I don’t like to go into a collaboration guessing what they’re going to like or what they’re going to respond to. Making videos with artists, in the best scenario, is building a relationship with them and dreaming the same dream together.”

Image courtesy of Andrew Thomas Huang

Back to the recent and special project that I mentioned earlier, just last month he collaborated with FKA Twigs on her emotionally charged single; Cellophane. A video that is filled with vivid mechanical creatures and bionic figures, accompanied by a blend of renaissance imagery and dystopian scenes, showcasing a contrast of life and death, birth and destruction. An idea that embodies a new chapter, to start anew and welcome a path-breaking world that hums with possibility; Andrew also added that it is an “miraculous Icarus tale: a dance-of-death striving towards unattainable perfection, the fall from grace and the fragility of putting yourself back together”. Alongside him and Twigs graced production designer Fiona Crombie, who was nominated for an Oscar last year for her work on The Favourite. “We really did have the perfect team come together on this. Cinematographer Dani Abello came on board who shot beautiful videos for Rosalía, and pole choreographer Kelly Yvonne, too! I actually started to develop the story with Twigs in June 2018, and then Twigs, Kelly and I would rehearse together in a dance studio in Los Angeles where we brainstormed to create some of the emotional and physical beats of the performance”

Since it’s release, Andrew has been extremely candid about the inspiration behind Cellophane, admitting to outlets that the concepts of the video stemmed from Twigs’ own personal struggles; from laparoscopic surgery that she underwent to have six fibroid tumours removed from her uterus, to public scrutiny and blatant attacks regarding her ex-fiancé Robert Pattinson. Yet, the formation of the video did not arise as naturally as the ideas behind it seemed to, the process to creating such a visually compelling film was complex as it was enjoyable. “I drafted my own visualisation and storyboard for a couple months before we shot the film in Kiev, Ukraine for two days. Fiona also worked with the Ukrainian team to build some beautiful sets, namely the 360° curtain world and the large clay pit. I edited the video myself and then worked closely for four months afterwards along with Analog Studio in London to create the visual effects”.

Taken from ‘Cellophane’.
FKA Twigs in ‘Cellophane’.

Despite the constant use of extraterrestrial figures in his art, it isn’t always deliberate, confessing “I actually always thought that Martians were kind of boring! (with the exception of the Martians from Mars Attacks). Extraterrestrials aren’t though, alien life is always fascinating…like the aliens in The Abyss or The X-files”.  yet, with everything that’s been going on in Andrew’s life, I concluded the interview by asking him what he does to unwind and how he finds new creative energy “Hmm. Detaching from society, for sure! And going into nature are the most nourishing things for me. My most vivid and connected moments in life have occurred when I’m hiking or by the ocean, or just spending time with my grandmother! I’m eternally working on the challenge of being present in the moment”.

Keep up with Andrew and his work;

Website- http://www.andrewthomashuang.com/Art.htm

Facebook Page- www.facebook.com/AndrewThomasHuangAndrewThomasHuang

Instagram: www.instagram.com/andrewthomashuang/

Twitter: @Andrew_T_Huang

Youtube Channel- http://www.youtube.com/andrewhu

Vimeo Channel- https://vimeo.com/user1293099

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Drama Films about PoC by Women of Colour that everyone should watch

A small list of some of the most talented women of colour directors within the film industry telling important stories.

Today is March 8th so we celebrate the political, cultural, economic and social achievement of women all around the world! Yay! 👭👩‍❤️‍👩👩‍❤️‍💋‍👩

So to mark Internationals Women’s Day, especially now during the post-Oscars period where there has been a buzz surrounding women and marginalised groups with Greta Gerwig being considered the best director in that category, Daniela Vega of ‘A Fantastic Woman’ became the first openly trans woman with a lead role in history to win an Academy Award and Get Out, which satirises the hidden racism of ‘good white liberals’ also won multiple awards making Jordan Peele the first Black director to win best original screenplay- the thirst for films made for and by PoC are at an all time high.

(Hold the applause guys, Historic achievements are a slippery thing: A ceiling is shattered, but the noise reminds us that the ceiling is there in the first place)

It’s time to recognise the extraordinary work of women behind Hollywood’s cameras; and, though this list is only a tiny portion of those contributions, these women’s creative achievements are certainly worth the celebration so I thought to create a list of films I personally find inspiring and empowering about the journeys of PoC made by WoC.

 

Real Women Have Curves by Patricia Cardoso (2002)

Real Women Have Curves is a charming and warm-hearted look at a Mexican-American teenage girl coming of age in a boiling cauldron of cultural expectations, class constrictions, family duty, and her own personal aspirations that defies popular notions about immigrant families. Brown girls, this is for you.

 

Watermelon Woman by Cheryl Dunye (1996)

“I’m working on being a filmmaker, the problem is I don’t know what I wanna make a film on, I know it has to be about Black women because our stories have never been told”. Cheryl Dunye tells us on the trailer as she’s candidly speaking into a camcorder about how queer women of colour should be represented in movies. And she does just that, writing and directing the first feature-length film to focus on African-American lesbians 20 years ago. So if you fancy a very 90s film, shot in a very fun style by a black lesbian specifically about black lesbians (even more specifically black lesbians in film) then add this on to your list.

 

Monsoon Wedding by Mira Nair (2001)

Following her sexy yet controversial Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love, Nair releases her strongest film yet, shattering stereotypes while being colourful, loud, feel-good and fun as hell. Sharing traits from Bollywood yet not being Bollywood at all, it’s a refreshing look at Indian life and is in a league of its own. Even better, it addresses globally relatable themes and concerns including the bonds of family and, most importantly, love.

 

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night by Ana Lily Amirpour (2014)

Just when you thought there was no gas left in the tank of revisionist vampire cinema, along comes this feminist semi-Iranian masterpiece. Combing horror, westerns and film noir, Ana Lily Amirpour’s debut feature, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, is a unique take on feminism, sex and obviously, vampires.

 

Belle by Amma Asante (2013)– Discussion about race, especially when you’re bi-racial is not something that is Black or White- literally. The mention of biracial people in history is seriously lacking and left me asking a lot of questions growing up about what certain time periods were like for those that were mixed race for years with no real feeling of belonging. Luckily, Belle is a very good historical piece tackling slavery, race and the class system in Enlightenment Era Britain. It’s also based on a true story, some closure for y’all.

 

Pariah by Dee Rees (2011)-

A personal favourite of mine; this movie tells an involving story that’s both urgently progressive and skilfully relatable. Although it adheres to the formula that comes with its genre, “Pariah” is a compelling and necessary study of a black, gay woman having to fight against prejudice to find happiness and acceptance. Dee Rees beautifully tells the story through pictures that is sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking and always tender.

 

Women Without Men by Shirin Neshat (2010)

This Farsi-language novel adaption gives a glimpse at Iranian women’s history and the richly cosmopolitan, intellectual culture that you never see on screen, it tells a story about a bunch of women with different background stories in Tehran during the 50’s who manage to a escape a life dominated by men throughout Mohammad Mosaddegh nationalist government’s power. One woman leaving an arranged marriage, a prostitute whose driven frustrated by her work, another leaves her home to join the street politics she hears outside, and eventually joining the Communist Party and an upper-class woman, married to a general, leaves her husband to live in a house in a fruit orchard she has bought. Go figure.

 

Thank you to all the women (trans women, femme identifying, queer, etc) who continue to work every single day – even by just getting up. Some days it’s hard, its always been hard – these past couple of years especially. You and your feelings are valid and real. But here’s a thank you to those who have opened up about their lives, who’ve been vulnerable and brutal and honest. This world couldn’t go on without you so keep telling your stories because they’re viral and there are so many of us who need to hear them and will miss them immensely if they’re not told. I know I will.

Jessie Maple