Chanel Von Habsburg-Lothringen: Family Opera

CG: Can you tell us a little bit about your upcoming work Family Opera?

CVHL: Family Opera is a photography and film installation that investigates aspiration, persona and what happens when we don’t get the nurturing we need. On a different level it addresses how the personal documentary functions in contemporary art. I’m casting aspiring Hollywood actors who’ve experienced some form of parental abandonment as characters within the films. I’m very excited to return to filmmaking and working collaboratively with a cast and crew.

CG: You’re creating a new narrative around the power in family. You’re taking the nuclear family and reframing it. You’re hitting on a couple of really interesting things that I think a lot about in my practice, specifically about re-envisioning.

CVHL: Yes – that’s another way to think about it. I’m very lucky to have such a supportive family. My mom, my siblings, my grandparents, my partner Brian…they are my sources of strength and not everyone has that. Most don’t get to choose there family so they get to make it. They get to invent it.

CG: What is the process of filmmaking like for you?

CVHL: When you’re collaborating with so many different people it’s crucial to maintain your vision above all else, but when the situation calls for it to be open and receptive to your crew. Everything is contingent upon clear communication. I find that I am thinking about every single thing that could go wrong and plan accordingly. The bottom line is solving problems before they happen so that we can maximize time on set.

CG: That sounds amazingly fun and also very overwhelming.

CVHL: I kind of love that though.

CG: You have to leave enough room for chaos, but you also have to predict what that chaos will be.

CVHL: Exactly. What’s most important to me is working with people I trust and having a sort of psychic attunement with them. I find the work suffers if this is not possible. I enjoy being involved with all stages of filmmaking from pre to post-production, but sometimes I remind myself that I need to relinquish control. Worrying about production details can take away from time with my actors and that’s what I need to be focused on.

CG: So are you in editing stages right now?

CVHL: I’ve finished editing all of the footage we shot back in July. I’m getting ready in the next month or so to start shooting again. When everything is complete, there will be 10 shorts films altogether.

CG: Do you want to discuss your influences in making work like this?

CVHL: Art influences would definitely be Nan Goldin, Ballad of Sexual Dependency, Mike Kelley Day is Done, and Leigh Ledare’s Pretend You’re Actually Alive. Before we began filming I was deeply entrenched in the work of Rainer Werner Fassbinder. He was an incredibly prolific German filmmaker, completing over forty films, two television series and more, producing all of his work on extremely small budgets with some government funding. His mode of working really motivates me. His film, The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant was important to the look and feel of Family Opera.

CG: The research, in looking at some of your earlier photographs, your knowledge of art history and psychology is present. I get really excited when I can see that an artist has researched something they care about and it is visually communicated.

CVHL: I believe that’s one aspect of what we do as artists. We contribute to this ongoing conversation across time.

CG: I’m curious about the type of history you’re placing your work in.

CVHL: Most recently, I’ve started to envision the work as an anecdote to established power structures at play within culture. I’ve been thinking about women supporting one another and the strength and empowerment that develop through those relationships. You don’t always get to choose how your work gets understood, but you can frame it as much as possible.

 CG: Let’s talk about the Trunk Show before I let you go. Would you describe what happened?

 CVHL: To introduce Family Opera in it’s beginning stages — I rented a Cadillac Eldorado and sold ephemera out of the trunk just across the street from The Beverly Hills Hotel. 100 postcards were mailed out to guests with the date, time, and location of the event. The Trunk Show allowed me to occupy the role of artist, but also the role of gallerist in order to critique that relationship. Family Opera is such a large project and the Trunk Show came from a place of thinking through how to generate support when little to none is available.

CG: I think about these trunk shows and one of our mentor Liz Cohen’s favorite phrases, “You’re in charge of your own good time.” And this idea that sometimes we have to find creative ways to make the system work for ourselves, and the people around us, because it’s not necessarily set up to do that.

CVHL: Sometimes it’s hard and it doesn’t seem possible, but we really have to create the reality and relationships we want to see.

All images courtesy the artist © Chanel Von Habsburg-Lothringen.