This video was first published in 2011, before Cailleah Scott-Grimes went to Japan for the first time. Here it is re-published with questions by Fabiana Fondevila, an Argentine journalist, and responses by Cailleah.
Fabiana (by email): Tue, 10 May 2011. Hello Cailleah, Its nice to meet you. I am a journalist from Argentina and I’ve been interviewing your father about his work with ritual. He sent me the video you filmed with that very interesting exchange you made in preparation for your trip to Japan. He said you would be willing to tell me a little bit more about it. Is that so? I will be very grateful to hear your side of it, and your feelings regarding your father’s research on ritual. If you’re game, just say so and I’ll send you my questions. Thanks! Fabiana Fondevila
Cailleah Scott-Grimes (by email): Of course I would be happy to discuss it with you. I should have time in the next few days to answer your questions. I am so happy to hear that you found the video interesting. I was initially unsure of how it would come across to other people because of how personal it was. Since the completion of the video I have also been keeping a record of other people’s responses to it, and these have become a very valuable component of the project as well. I have read the interview Q&A you did with Ron, and I am excited to become involved! Thank you and talk to you soon, Cailleah
Fabiana: Here are my questions: 1. How did you come up with the idea for this very original ritual? 2. How did you feel while doing it? And, mostly, how did you feel after you finished making it? 3. Did you watch the video as a family? Did you show it to other people right away? 4. How do you feel about making your trip now? 5. What is it like living with a “ritual-making” father? 6. Would you care to tell me of any other rituals your family has undertaken together? Do you refer to them as rituals when you do them? 7. Have you or your brother proposed or initiated rituals before? 8. Would you describe your family as particularly spiritual? 9. Can you see yourself creating rituals (baby namings and such) if you were to have children in the future? Sorry, I get carried away with my questions! Thank you so much for discussing all this with me. Warm regards, Fabiana
Cailleah: 1. How did I come up with the idea? Good question. First of all, I should mention it started off as an assignment for a studio fine art course simply entitled “The Body.” This was an interdisciplinary course which was designed to open up ideas of the body beyond the classical (for example, life drawing) and into the realm of the grotesque, the phantasmagorical, the emotional, the cultural and the psychological body. Our projects were all very open-ended and began mostly with a thematic starting point designated by the professor. In this particular project he asked that we address the idea of “presence and absence” in whichever way we wished. The idea of doing something with my dad, and a strange fear of his death, came to me almost immediately. I had a fear of his absence although he is still here with me. The problem was, I had no idea how to execute this idea. It seemed awkward, too emotional and personal, and I felt like it would be hard not to get over-invested in the outcome of the project– an attitude which I find dangerous for artists. Anyway, after some discussion with the professor, I decided this was the right project to pursue. He offered me good advice. He said don’t think about how to start the project. You will get too bogged down, and you won’t be able to come up with ideas. Just start the project. Don’t plan it. Just do it. So I began that evening with a Skype call to my dad without having any clue what I wanted to do. The idea progressed from there–from our discussion. It became clear we would do a collaborative piece with video and audio. It would have something to do with acts of protection in relation to one another, probably through some kind of material creation. That is all we were going on. By the time I had decided what I wanted my dad to do, he had already filmed his entire part of the piece. I was shocked at first, but then I thought, no, this the right way to do it. So I went ahead and filmed my part without ever watching his part. Finally, I watched all the footage and edited it together. I found it incredible how much continuity there was between what we did, consider that we did not plan it out.
2. At the beginning of the piece I felt kind of lost. I think this comes across particularly in the Skype conversations with my father that you see at the beginning. I was self-conscious and didn’t know how to begin. While I was filming the piece, I went through several different emotional waves. At first, I felt kind of matter of fact and was searching for words with which to explain myself. I set about my room looking for cues, objects or things which I thought would inspire something. Eventually I printed out all of these “fears” on paper and things began to materialize. I was at home alone so at least I had the freedom of privacy. I started to get really, really upset at one point and turned off the camera for a little while. Ultimately I decided that crying antics were unnecessary to getting the point across in the film. I feel like you see an honest depiction of how I felt, but you don’t need every minute of that for it to be the truth. I actually felt the best once I stopped talking completely and just worked to finish the sewing. I found the most comfort in leaving it to my hands. That is perhaps why the video editing process was actually exciting for me. Sadness or distress was replaced with the creative process; to me, editing is like a puzzle whereby you have to feel your way around the edges of different shots and phrases and see how they might fit together. Ultimately, I cannot say the piece erased my fear, but it transformed it. I would not be happy thinking it was some kind of therapy art piece. What it has done is it has allowed me to bring something out into the open which I could not vocalize. This is what art is. I do not really make a big distinction between life and art. This was the first artistic film I have made which had true personal relevant significance and honesty. When I think about somebody “dying too early,” I have to ask myself what it is I think they or I will be missing. Part of what is important to me is that my dad understands who I am in my creative form. This piece allowed us to collaborate and learn about each other in this way, so for that reason I think it was successful.
3. My family did not see the piece right away. Actually, I showed it to a close friend of the family first in a cafe and I got a very personal response from her. That was, I think, the day after I completed it. Following that I showed it to another professor whose own studio practice is in video art, because I really valued his opinion as someone else working in that medium. Finally I showed it to my class and then uploaded it to Vimeo a few days later so my family could watch it. It didn’t matter to me that certain people would see it first, only that they would be able to see it at all. My parents spread the link to many family friends, and from then on I got a slew of responses–much more personal and detailed than I could have hoped for!
4. This is a funny question, because the timing of the video was very fateful; even though I felt pretty good after having made it, my birthday came a week or two later and that morning I awoke to the news of Japan’s devastating earthquake and tsunami. Suddenly the tables had turned and my parents became concerned about the safety of my going. A few months later, I confirmed that I would be going, and I feel quite fine about it and rarely worry for my own safety. Perhaps I am more fearless than I should be. I should note, though, that these feelings about my dad arose before I ever decided to go to Japan, so they are not inherently connected. Perhaps the idea of travel just enhanced it.
5. As for having a ritual-making father, I must admit it was a long time before I really realized we did things that other families didn’t do. It’s not that I thought, “Oh, everyone must do rituals” but it’s more like it didn’t occur to me that certain things were unusual until I left home or spent more time with other people’s parents. When I lived in Switzerland near the end of high school, for example, I noticed how absent or distant some of the fathers seemed. It made me uncomfortable and made me miss having a dad who was playful and creative and who made special occasions of things beyond the consumerist holidays. The best part is that there are parts of my very distant childhood I remember very well, since we made sure that particular times or events were unique in some way. I really value that.
6. There are many family rituals we have engaged in over the years, but I suppose one of my favourites was when we used to take out this giant rainbow dragon kite out on the Easter weekend and fly it in the park. Each year we inscribed the names of people who had passed away that year, and with the kite celebrated their lives and their new version of freedom out in the fresh air among the flowering buds, freshly come to life. This was something simple, but so perfectly effective and peaceful. Many of the other things have centred around events like graduations, birthdays, accomplishments, and each one has its own special new innovations. Ritual is a bit of a buzz word in the household, so if we referred to something as a family ritual it would likely be with a hint of humour.
7. This is a tricky question, mainly because I find it hard sometimes to define what a ritual is. I cannot really think of an instance in which either one of us “proposed” a new kind of ritual to mark an event. That being said, I think we both take interest in maintaining some of the family rituals we have done for several years. These also include things which many families do, like planning birthday celebrations. Usually there is some kind of innovation on our part. For instance, a lot of the time we make things for each other to mark special events. I have given my family paintings or have made funky shirts with a ton of different materials. Actually, one year I made my father a vest–the one that appears in the video with all the patches–and that is probably subconsciously what gave me the idea of sewing the words into the shirt for the video piece.
8. Overall, I would not consider my family spiritual. Perhaps my parents would state otherwise, but my brother and I make up 50% of the family so I get to say no! Would I say that my parents have a very profound respect for things spiritual? Yes. Would I say that my family in general feels a significant connection to the rest of the world and intrigue about its creation? Yes. But I would not say we are spiritual. Religion is something I have always rejected, no matter how fascinating from the outside. I know that spirituality is not supposed to be necessarily religious, but I have not found any context in which I would be comfortable saying I am spiritual.
9. I have definitely been instilled with a desire to mark big transitions or to celebrate exciting things, regardless of the social norms where I live. I might not call them rituals or do any research so as to make them any more “authentically” part of any particular tradition. But I can envision myself inventing all kinds of celebrations, mainly because I like to bring people into my home and I like people to remember things. I want them to feel as though certain moments stand out. Children can be especially wonderful in these circumstances because they often lack the self-consciousness that inhibits creativity. They could probably come up with better ideas than I could! So I suppose the answer is yes, I can see myself doing things in the future, but for now they would remain unplanned. Perhaps I will come up with something in two years because it will be my 25th and my father’s 70th birthdays. Sorry, my answers are very long! I got carried away.