This conversation took place at D1 Studios on Gadigal lands (Marrickville, Sydney) on 31 June 2023.
Laura Castagnini: I feel incredibly lucky to witness you film the opening of The Dark Current. It’s a scene that you envisaged at the start of the artistic process, and you’ve held that vision despite the technical challenges. Can you describe the image you wanted to make and what you went through to create it?
Angela Tiatia: Today we shot the most technically difficult scene of the whole work. There were approximately 30 crew on set with two performers. We purchased a portable outdoor pool and brought it into the studio. The sides were painted black and inside we laid down black rubber flooring, a hydraulic lift and a platform covered with pink carpet, before filling it with water.
The camera was positioned up high, looking downwards onto our performer, Cassaerea Jesus, who was placed inside the pool on top of the platform. The scene opens with an extreme close-up shot of Cassaerea’s eye, which had a pearl inside it. The camera slowly pulls up, so we see more of her body, then the hydraulic lift dropped, and we see water start to appear around her. The camera keeps tracking up, so we see that she's floating in a big, deep, dark body of water. She continues to float and gaze straight down the barrel of the camera. The shot is all about the reveal.
I was on the edge of my seat with this shot. We could only do two takes. With each take we had to get the performer out of the pool, dry her down, get her into a dry costume, and then place her back inside. I was worried that we would not be able to get the shot within the time that we were allocated. But we got it! I still cannot believe we got it.
LC: It is an incredibly strong and seductive image. What was your inspiration?
AT: I was really thinking about my mother who passed this year in January. I was thinking about her and her generation of women who travelled from the islands to go to New Zealand or even to Australia. But in this case, my mum went from Sāmoa to New Zealand in the 1960s and I wanted to have an opening shot that was like a promotional image for that generation to come to New Zealand or to Australia. So, for me that image was the lure – the beauty, the perfection, the colour, the spectacle – to draw that generation into another homeland, into another place, another home.
LC: You conceived the film in three different parts that represent the past, present and future. Can you tell us about the part that reflects our current moment?
AT: I wanted the second part to be a conflict of sorts between chaos and structure and order. It hasn’t been made yet so it's all in my head right now!
I'm interested in social media and how it impacts our mental space and even our relationships. I want to try to make a work that speaks to the present moment where social media is informing a lot of what we do and how we think, even in the creative space. I even did some of my casting through social media! It is an amazing way to see how someone performs in front of the camera.
LC: Did you shoot anything from that part today?
AT: We shot one scene from the second part today. It was with Moemoana Schwenke, who has been a dancer her whole life and specialises in Sāmoan dance. She is a beautiful person and has a beautiful energy. I created the scene with those qualities in mind. Today we filmed her dancing with the water, sweeping her hand across it, looking up towards the camera positioned above. She performs the Taualuga, a traditional Sāmoan dance, but a very particular segment where the dancer is lying on her side. We shot it at 120 frames a minute, so it is super slow motion and just so beautiful. She did it all in one take.
LC: In addition to the live-action scenes you are shooting this week, the work includes animation created using the videogame software Blender. What will the animation look like?
AT: The animation will have a completely different feel and energy to the live-action scenes. I wanted it to be completely unreal, but real at the same time. It is currently being created by Tristan Jalleh, who is working from drawings of mine inspired by big colonial water fountains. But in this case, the fountain is made of ordinary, everyday objects like drinking cans and car tyres, and everything is frozen in ice. It is the opposite of the pool, which is all moving water. There is a moon shining down onto the fountain but it's being lit from underneath by a pink glow. There will also be people placed within that fountain structure; we will shoot them tomorrow in front of a blue screen, and Tristan will insert the footage into the animated world.
LC: This will be the third time you have used Blender, after first using it to make The Pearl (2021) and Murmurations (2023), the latter in collaboration with Tony Albert. What interests you about this software?
AT: It’s an open-source software, so it's constantly being upgraded and added to and it's free. I like the democratisation of the software. I also love the aesthetic quality of it, especially with that colour pink that I am using, everything gets a weird plastic look.
LC: The colour palette is very strong throughout this film. What drew you to this shade of pink?
AT: It's a very particular pink, a really deep pink. And to me, that pink is just pulsating with feminine energy. It's unapologetic, and it’s almost a bit hard to look at. In the past I've been so afraid to use colour in my practice. I remember a couple of times being shut down about using that particular shade of pink. But now I’ve matured as an artist and become stronger in my voice, I feel like, ‘You know what? I really wanted to use that colour back then and I'm just going to bring it out now’. But also, in Pacific Island culture and Sāmoan culture, there is a brashness in the use of colour. It's used with so much ease and confidence. I really wanted to embody that. I think this work is a deeper exploration of my connection to my Sāmoan culture.
LC: The Ian Potter Moving Image Commission offers the opportunity for artists to expand their practice in some way. How did this commission affect your approach to creating work?
AT: I'm so honoured and privileged to receive the funding and the support to make this work. It's a vision that has existed in my head for so long – maybe three years. It will be a real highlight of my career to make this image and present it to the audience.
This commission has allowed me to be brave and fearless and to explore ideas that I ordinarily would not have the budget to explore. I was able to work with a team that have decades of experience and who were able to help me to bring this vision to life. For example, for the first time, I have been able to merge sound recorded straight from set in the form of a scripted dialogue. Even just learning that skill has been incredibly valuable.
I’ve also been able to challenge myself as well as the team that I've worked with for a long time. They have been long time collaborators and it’s great to be able to work with them again for the first time since the end of 2019 when we made Narcissus. For me, my practice embodies or is more about the process and relationship keeping and building rather than only the result. We go through this huge thing together. We share this moment together, and then we just so happen to have this record, this document of what we made together at the end. That to me is important, but not as important as the process. When I'm working in that way, I feel like I'm able to be softer and more loving with the crew, as opposed to the stereotypical director who is perhaps less caring. I think a lot can be done through being soft and loving and just really seeing the performers as well as the crew. I think that's really important. I think we're only able to capture something really beautiful because of the trust in the relationship that we have.
LC: That reminds me, in the research phase for this project you mentioned you were reading one of my favourite books, All About Love by bell hooks. What about this text resonated with you?
AT: It actually took me maybe six attempts to try to read it all the way through! It was an important book for me to read. I have been grappling with the question of how I can make work emerging from a loving space. When I was younger, my creativity was perhaps more fuelled by anger. I think my mind needed to catch up to what my body and energy was feeling before I could accept the full book. It taught me a lot about the foundations of love, its values and qualities, in order to gain a holistic view. The main theme of my practice is the exploration of power, so moving from an angry space to a loving one has required me to explore qualities that I initially thought were not powerful. But love is powerful. Love is transformative. It is so incredibly powerful.