CRAFT CUBED WINDOW WALK: ISABEL AVENDANO HAZBUN AND NATALIE ERIKA JAMES

The Window Walk program is a key component of Craft Cubed Festival, offering the general public opportunistic encounters with some of Victoria's best artists and makers in public spaces.  Furniture designer Isabel Avendano Hazbun and writer and director Natalie Erika James have contributed an exciting exhibition that showcases the intersection between craft and film housed in the iconic Alpha 60 Flinders Lane Chapter House concept store. The exhibition features insights into the contribution of art direction and set design in contemporary cinema - and how custom props are often included as 'actors' in their own right within narrative construction .

Craft recently caught up with Isabel and Natalie to find out more their collaboration, how they married such seemingly dissimilar making methodologies and their favorite horror movies.

RELIC CHAIRS BY AVENDANO-HAZBUN

RELIC CHAIRS BY AVENDANO-HAZBUN

You’re both established makers in your own right – one of film and screen media and one of contemporary craft practice. How did your collaboration come about?

NEJ: I met Isabel through my brother who is also a woodworker and was sharing a workshop space with her. It was such a great fit given Isabel’s background in sculpture and prop-making in theater.

IA: I was sharing a workshop with Natalie's brother Chris at the time. I guess he thought we would work well together and he put us in contact with each other. I loved the project. I am a huge fill buff and horror is my favorite genre. I think I said yes right away. 

You describe your work together as an ‘intersection between craft and film’. Could you tell us more about the development of this project? How did you marry these two processes and did you discover similarities in your methodology?

IA: Natalie came to me with the script and a mood board and she explained the ideas behind the film and told me that she needed a collection of chairs made for it. I then read the script and did some research about dementia and more specifically ho the slow progressive degeneration of the mind affected people making art or just making. This plus the script helped me come up with a concept for the chairs. I made some sketches and together we decided what the best options were for the film Nat wanted to make.  

And Natalie – how did the physical reality of the works impact on your initial vision for the film?

NEJ: I don’t think it was too much of a departure from what I had originally planned! Isabel had done several drawings throughout the design process, so I had a good idea about the direction we were heading in the whole time. It’s certainly a big, eerie moment in the film that a lot of people comment on and remember. I knew while writing the script that the chairs were one of the key elements that would determine whether the film would ‘work’ or have the desired impact on audiences. That’s why it was one of the first things I put into motion during pre-production, and I’m so pleased with how they turned out. Isabel really blew it out of the water.

CRESWICK has garnered a number of accolades and has screened both locally and internationally since its release – Natalie, what are you plans for expanding upon this story and bringing it to a wider audience?

NEJ: So we still have another 6 months or so on the festival circuit with the short film, and then plan to have it up on a specific online platform that curates horror films. But CRESWICK was actually conceived as a proof-of-concept for a feature project called RELIC, which has the same tone, themes, and setting. It’s actually an entirely different story, following three generations of women – daughter, mother, grandmother – as the grandmother transforms into something ‘other’ through her aged dementia. We’ve gone through several rounds of development funding through Screen Australia and Film Victoria over the last year and a half, and are currently in casting/financing stage.

STILL FROM CRESWICK

STILL FROM CRESWICK

Isabel, your Relic Chairs are used in Creswick as a powerful tool to contribute to the development of the plot, themes and tone of the film. In the film, the chairs are made by one of the characters and represent a slow degeneration of his mental faculties. Can you describe how it felt seeing your work taking on a new ‘character’, as the artist behind them?

IA: I waited to watch the film on the big screen and it was pretty surreal watching something that you make take a life of its own and become something even bigger, become part of a story. My favorite thing was watching the actress react when she first sees the chairs. Also, when I was coming up with a concept for the chairs and especially when I was making them I tried to imagine being this guy being someone else. 

Your work already has a slightly surreal aspect to it – owing a lot to the fact that the chairs themselves are non-functional furniture. Did the final visual aspect of these come immediately to you when given the brief, or did you find the pieces presented themselves to you slowly, similarly to the maker in the film?

IA: I came up with a concept for the collection of chairs and an idea of what they were going to look like. IN the film they show the degeneration of the character's mind, and so visually I wanted them to represent the man himself, that is why they are bone-like (the back rest of the chairs look like a rib cage and a spinal cord), besides they had to be weird and unnerving the film is a psychological horror after all. Once I came up with a method of manufacturing them (they are all made exactly the same way except for the last one, same joiner, same sit and later carved) Once I figured this out I could really indulge in producing the chairs one at a time and in order from the original to the last to really show the progression of a man losing his faculties

And purely out of curiosity and as fans of the horror genre in general – could you both share with us some of your favorite films in this category?

NEJ: I’m a massive fan of films that sit within the psychological horror realm, that really have an emotional, character-driven core with thematic complexities. Along those lines, some of my favorite films include The Shining, The Orphanage, Rosemary’s Baby, Don’t Look Now and maybe more recently, It Follows. I also agree with Isabel - Audition, Kill List, and Wake in Fright are phenomenal too!

 IA:

POSSESSION BY ANDRZEJ ZULAWSKI (1981)

DEEP RED BY DARIO ARGENTO (1975)

THEKILL LIST BY BEN WHEATLEY AND BENJAMIN TAYLOR (2011)

SANTA SANGRE BY ALEJANDRO JODOROWSKY (1989)

ROSEMARY'S BABY BY ROMAN POLANSKI (1968)

WAKE IN FRIGHT BY TED KOTCHEFF (1971)

THE AUDITION BY TAKASHI MIIKE (2000)

MAMA BY ANDRES MUSCHIETTI (2013)

FULL EVENT LISTING: ALPHA 60 AND ISABEL AVENDANO AND NATALIE ERIKA JAMES

VIEW CRESWICK TRAILER HERE