For composer Nathan Felix, diving into experimental film stems from his belief that switching up art forms gives him more room for expression, even as he constantly explores and realizes his musical ideas.
His first film installation is showing through the end of the month at DAMAS Gallery and Studio in the Blue Star Arts Complex.
The installation, called [nothing], is minimalistic and haunting, a deep and patient rumination on emptiness, alienation, the notions of watching and being watched, and the social construction/corruption of identity. Does it ultimately, as the title suggests, amount to nothing? That would be up to each individual who experiences it to decide.
On Friday night, Felix and the two subjects of his installation, Shelby Guevara and Marcos Cervantes, will be in the gallery for a reception and a live performance that pairs with the multi-video installation.
Felix, 38, got his start in the arts in Austin, writing for and playing with various bands, most notably The Noise Revival Orchestra. The project, which went on indefinite hiatus in 2010, found Felix melding ornate orchestral sensibilities, a prelude to his more recent compositional work, with punk and indie rock.
In 2016, Felix started the unconventional musical outfit From Those Who Follow the Echoes (FTWFE), a large collective of singers and musicians, that brings pop-up choral/classical concerts to nontraditional spaces – sometimes with little warning. FTWFE and Felix’s other recent works and performances find him exploring classical music forms full on, but bringing to bear a punk ethos and DIY approach.
In October 2017, Felix directed the performance of a progressive opera performed on a series of VIA buses as a part of local Museum Month festivities.
For Luminaria 2018, the same year that saw him receive the Artist Foundation’s Tobin Prize for Artistic Excellence People’s Choice Award, Felix presented a headphone opera called The War Bride. The unique form allows audience members to interact with performers and take in the music on headphones.
Some highlights from Felix this year include a 16-show run of the headphone musical Seance in Orlando for the Fringe Festival (May), a number of performances of pieces he wrote for multiple pianos that took him as far as Denmark, Spain, and Australia, and orchestral arrangements for one of the late psychedelic-rock legend Roky Erickson’s final shows (March).
Felix also has several new musical endeavors on the horizon, including a series of headphone operettas which will be performed on Nov. 7 at the McNay Art Museum in conjunction with its exhibit Picasso to Hockney: Modern Art On Stage.
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Suffice it to say that Felix’s creative itch is in a state of constant overdrive.
“My mind is pretty messed up and chaotic,” he said, half joking.
“I had 20 jobs before I was 20 years old and got fired from most of them, even once from a volunteer job. My brain dies a little every time I walk in a bank or a store or an office, and early on I thought this is no way to live for me.”
He is also driven by the “fear that both my desire to create and my persistent drive will die at any moment.”
Felix describes his installation, a series of four short, experimental film pieces inspired in part by art house and Scandinavian film, as “a stream of consciousness that comes and goes and disappears.”
The idea, according to Felix, is to explore the notion that consciousness itself “is nothing, or even suggesting or raising the conversation that we are nothing.”
Indeed, not much happens in the videos, which focus frontally on their subjects as they stare into the camera while mostly just sitting there. In one video, the subject begins to shave his chest. In another, the subject can be seen vomiting a milk-like substance.
While he feels that every viewer will experience a unique reaction to the installation, Felix intends his installation as an exploration of “the subjects of rebirth, reflection, re-appropriation, and voyeurism.”
“The voyeurism component is executed using old media to create a world where we are in a loop of a real-time social media world,” he said, “where we are constantly watching and being watched and, to take it further, we are even being watched as we watch.”
Ultimately, Felix feels that his installation can lead people into “questioning whether we are the ones in control of the evolution of social media or if we are simply a herd of sheep made to believe we have agency in our lives and choices.”
He said he carried the images portrayed in the installation in his head for more than a year, adding “I try not to question why or where they come from.”