Mavi Phillips ‘Flora and Fauna’ – An Interview

Mavi Philips is an artist, filmmaker, and photographer. Blurring the lines between art, film, documentary, and fashion, she hopes to challenge visual storytelling and our ways of seeing. Flora and Fauna is about exploring how one can tell the story of clothes, the film depicts a surrealist dreamscape of four characters who play out their fantasies and secret desire, highlighting fashion’€™s ability to let us play out our inner selves.

A collaboration between Mavi and Hpsctch Supply, an uni-sex menswear brand, the film pays homage to female surrealist artist Claude Cahun whose work sought to break down gender roles, photographing herself in various clothes to constantly transform her identity, showing freedom of expression, and perhaps, the possible freedom of our own identity. KALTBLUT had a talk with Mavi.

KALTBLUT: Can you tell us a short bit about yourself, what do you do, how did you get into art?
Mavi: I’m an artist and filmmaker who spends her time between New York and Europe. My artist practice is centered on performance, mostly expressed through photos and text, while my films are divided between narrative and experimental ethnography. I also work on collaborative projects to create photo and video content for brands and musicians. Since a very young age, I’ve had a fever for creating and exploring myself, and parents who let me without any control, whether it was drawing, painting, designing clothes, dancing, acting. I often dressed up as various characters for the day – whether I was Japanese, an African tribesman, James Bond, or Madonna. Throughout high school I was a very serious painter and ended up at Parsons undergrad for Fashion Design, but my first collections were communist daywear based on Godard’s ‘La Chinoise’ and another on the Korova Milk Bar from ‘A Clockwork Orange.’ I didn’t feel like I fit in and needed something more creatively challenging. We didn’t have a film department, so I transferred to Fine Arts where I focused on performance art through video, I then left to study cinema in Paris for a year where I stayed for a few years continuing to make my own films.

KALTBLUT: What is Flora and Fauna about?
Mavi: ‘Floral and Fauna’ is a collaboration between me and Lauren Kathe of Hpsctch Supply, a unisex clothing line of select vintage and handmade accessories. I wanted to create something that both embodied the brand’s deeper mission, Lauren herself identifying as gender queer, and allowed me to explore themes from my own filmmaking. Hpsctch is launching a new line of leather garters and suspenders inspired by S&M wear, and it got me thinking about the duality of the self, our inner desires that we may or may not act on, or fit into the society norm, and how clothes can become a way we interact with these ideas. The film shows four characters playing poker interjected with private moments of the party goers throughout the apartment, leaning toward the obscure, all the scenes border on the real and the surreal, unclear whether they’re drifting thoughts of the characters or other moments in the party. As the film goes on, what’s real and what’s a dream becomes even more blurred, navigating the sense of our inner and outer selves, questioning the subjectivity of reality.

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KALTBLUT: What’s the most important thing you want to tell the audience as a filmmaker?
Mavi: I seek to tell stories that show humanities universality, unearthing mysterious worlds and levels of consciousness, capturing the sensuality of living and the landscape of the interior self, hoping to ask viewers to discover something within and without, enticing a primal self within that is unmarred by outward ideals. Within all my work, I intentionally blur the line between fiction/nonfiction, reality/surreality, inner/exterior, hoping that the slippage between these dualities will open viewers to the subjectivity of not only media but life itself, and that we must constantly question reality, society, and normality, because all are subjective, and therefore forever wavering, specific to culture and time, and to be weary of that.

KALTBLUT: Flora and Fauna is highlighting fashion’s ability to let us play out our inner selves, could you elaborate what that means for you?
Mavi: As when I was younger, I’ve always used clothes to play out different parts of myself. I feel we have more control over our lives than we’re aware, that life, and our identity, is a performance we create. I don’t think it has changed so much from when you’re a kid and you put on different clothes to play out who you want to be. Life is this constant journey for discovering ourselves from within and clothes a constantly moving canvas that allows us to express ourselves, a platform to work through and play out those inner questions and fantasies. I think we often get frustrated because society tell us we’re suppose to be just one kind of person that fits into a designated box. I think identity is always constant and always in flux and to embrace that. I chose to start the film with a quote by surrealist artist Claude Chaun, who also inspired the spirit of the film, because I felt it embraced this idea. “I is always multiple” signifies for me the playful freedom within our own identity, as both constant and in flux, as both individual and universal.

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KALTBLUT: I saw you’re also a photographer, which form of art is your favorite to express yourself?
Mavi: My ways of working are a string of beautiful lovers I can’t decide between. It’s less the mediums than having a dire need to explore my mental and physical self in relation to the world around me that in turn helps me study and understand the world itself. I feel each way of working needs the others to function. I came to be a photographer through performance art, the same way that I came to filmmaking. My experimental video professor in college, Susan Weller, taught us that the camera was an extension of the body. I think about the camera less as a tool than as an extension of myself that helps me capture my ideas. My photos keep me constantly watching, framing, day dreaming, my documentaries allow me to study humanity and explore my relationship to the camera, both allow me to create my narrative films, helping me understand how to better work with my actors and depict life. Most of my projects start as images in my head. It’s about creating situations or controlled limitations and then finding out what happens when the people and things all show up.

KALTBLUT: If there was anything you could change in the world of storytelling what would it be?
Mavi: When I look throughout history starting at the dramatic stories of Greek gods, the painted walls of ancient homes, and in today’s age, mass media outlets such as the internet, advertisements, film, books, etc, media outlets such as the internet, film, books, I see storytelling as something important to how humanity functions. These storytelling outlets acting as a very powerful tool that creates a mirror within the public sphere for people to see and understand themselves, often reinforcing the structure of our lives, such as ideas of morality and normalcy, whether it’s consciously or subconsciously. As an American, I see the majority of media fitting into very specific archetypes and formulas that all reinforces a very narrow way of seeing humanity. When we explore different ways to express ourselves and question those structures, we’re not only breaking down the media and the medium itself, but we open up the mind of viewers to think about the world in a new light and, perhaps, themselves. I always look back at films from the sixties and seventies and feel like we’ve actual gone backwards and more conservative in our ideas. There are a lot of people out there trying to shake things up, but the core problem, more specifically in the film industry, may just be distribution. Somehow the work only reaches a select intellectual elite rather than the masses where it could really ignite a change.

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