Interview with Francisco Irribarra

Meet Francisco Irribarra, Chilean artist and filmmaker from Concepción - South America who is currently working in a locked down WORM.

 Francisco began his residency in early February at WORM Pirate Bay. This interview stretches over two eras BC (Before Corona) and AD (Anno Digitale). Before the pandemic, Nataly Wood interviewed Francisco about his artistic process and experiences. Only a month later we are in a situation no one could have imagined. We felt it necessary to check in again with Francisco, who has the unique possibility to work in the enormous building of WORM, alone. Nia Konstantinova spoke with him about the impact the lockdown has had on his practice. Who are his artistic comrades in quarantine? And how does he see the development of his art practice in the new Anno Digitale?


(Nataly) Can you tell us about what brings you to WORM and what is the project you are working on in this residency?


Francisco BC: I thought that, with my practice, cinematography and painting are slowly immersing into one another. At this point I’m currently drawing with light. I’m capturing and burning on the celluloid the traces that light produces through movement. In some moments (more than just some moments) I get to enter the depth and the darkness, because I’m working in complete darkness. I get hooked with certain movements, certain strokes, certain shapes. I can get involved with the movement and the drawing through the light and with the light. After several days, I was reflecting on what I was doing. In reflection, I was telling myself – “Is painting becoming mixed with cinematography? Could it be that this is a turning point in my life where these two things are coming together for me?” – After thinking about it for a while I realised that they are not mixing. Deep down, what I see is a latent element of the olympic, the athletic, of body movement: through what it means to be working at WORM in constant action, drawing every 8 seconds, each frame in 16mm. The other day I was calculating: every 30 minutes I’m making 400 or 500 drawings without stopping, maybe more. Motion, motion, motion! At some point it struck me. When I was 17 years old I wanted to be part of the National Rowing Team of Chile. At that time this was my life goal: to compete at the Olympics. That’s what I wanted, my youthful desire. I was aspiring to be a professional sportsman and studying industrial engineering in Concepción (my hometown in Chile). I was not doing very well at university and my father came one day and said – “Francisco, Shake it up! You are only taking 3 modules and only passing one, what are you doing?”. I told him I was training but there were no consistent results. This seems quite logical to me now, because if you really want to achieve something like that you need to push yourself way beyond your limits. 



So… returning to drawing in the darkness with light, in that moment when I was moving (drawing with light), I remembered certain instances from when I was younger. For example, when I was rowing and couldn’t keep going. I was feeling tired in the boat and my coach would say – “Come on man! the last metres!” –  and then I would row harder! Now, in the dark, I am thinking about the precise mixture that is brewing at this [similar] moment. It would be the most logical thing for me. What I’ve been working on for the last 6, 7 years of my life is painting, drawing, cinematography. I was thinking how these could be merging in a technical aspect, in a very intimate way. I believe now this is also about … the olympic and the athletic. It is about the gesture, the movement and the stroke.  This is a breakthrough. This is my first project, my first sketchbook with lights. I sense this is the movement and the desire to break [my] limits. When you have been in constant motion for half an hour, and there comes a time when you get tired and time presses you. Then you realise you’re repeating the same movement. You look for another one and suddenly in that new movement, you discover a new idea. You keep looking, and pushing, finding new figures, new ideas. For example what is happening to me now having started with light, later I realised I had another flashlight with 9 lines, so a new stroke would appear. I told myself; “This works!”.


And when I started working with another roll I said “I’ll mix both!”. At that point I started using the movement with both arms and putting 2 flashlights together making more strokes at the same time. It reminds me of when I was a child. Grabbing 5 different pencils at the same time, ending up with a drawing with 5 lines of different colours, all mixed. That is what I’m doing now, mixing several flashlights. I think that’s the next step, start mixing 5 different lines in one stroke. That’s how it goes, that’s the search.

(Nataly) How do you see WORM and Pirate Bay in this experimentation process?


Francisco BC: For me, it’s definitely an experimental gym. That’s how I feel here. It’s a constant movement. There are people that come over to sing for example. Then they go and find something else to do and another obstacle will come… This is how I feel one “moves” through life anyway. At this point, I’m not active in sports. But I remember when I was younger, those moments when I had to break that barrier and didn’t want to continue, because my muscles were hurting and I was so tired. But I didn’t give up. Instead, I was still there pushing and searching; I think that’s how creativity and experimentation works. It is important to keep your perspective. To be able to look back on the things you discovered and put them in the present.  


This place makes me feel the vibration of an experimental gym. A place where people come to exercise. They try new things, develop muscles they didn’t know were there. They break fibres and make new things and grow. This pricks my attention and I find the idea very interesting. I think it’s only possible here… I think of Chile and I ask myself “Will it be possible there?”. There are so many motivated people here, in constant action all the time and those are the things that are nice to soak up. I feel grateful to be here. To have this space and be able to experiment. To paint without thinking about tomorrow. I’m just here thinking of how I’ll finish this… I have a total of 2 months.




(Nataly) What was your trigger, what inspired you to follow this path and discover the work that you’re doing?


Francisco BC: I am not sure, to be honest… but I do have a clue. When I was 19 years old I came to Europe for a while and I went to a museum. At that time I wasn’t very interested in images. In fact, I remember that when I arrived in Spain (still jetlagged) we went to the Prado Museum. I was absolutely not keen on the idea of a museum visit. But the person I was with was an architect and told me – “Francisco, how can you say that!? It is the Prado Museum! Velazquez, Goya!” Well, I had no idea who those gentlemen were. But, after this visit, my imagination was captivated. 


In my city we don’t have a museum, there’s the Concepción Gallery that has an interesting mural, but the permanent exhibition must have like, 10 paintings, there is no movement… it’s there all the time. My city is more of a musical place, you can find music everywhere but in terms of image Chile always had a disastrous history with it; from the dictatorship where everything was burned, until today, where a few months ago one of the most important cinemas in Chile was burned to the ground because the “pakos” (police) and people were fighting in the riots, they were throwing gas bombs and the place was destroyed. Now, where can a cinematographer go? It’s not easy to find cinemas with the elites, especially in Chile where the “the pig is badly peeled” (a saying for when there is no equal distribution of resources). Everything goes to a very closed group and the people who have the capacity to do something, make little groups and it’s only them, cousins of cousins, friends… and they only relate with each other and do their things, that’s it. There’s some independent collective groups that generate movement in a way or another, and I feel that’s where we have to push and from there to make movies.


I finished my career as an engineer at the age of 22 and then I went to Santiago de Chile, the capital city, to study cinematography at 23. I was in my first year of university, taking a subject called “History of Cinematography”, and the teacher projects Velazquez’s “Las Meninas”. I said: “Oh! I’ve seen this painting before!” I reacted to that image and I didn’t even remember, it happened when I was 19 years old when I went to the Prado Museum. 



Time went by while I was studying cinematography and I started to realise the power an image can have and how it can stay in your memory and little by little start working on you without your noticing. I was thinking about that image that popped out of my memory and made me reflect… “I want to get there”, to that point where I can find a way of being sincere and somehow be able to express and transfer something from myself, from my time, from this notebook that I’m writing which is my memory. Because as I go back, I can return to my images and remember what I was doing, the context in I found myself in. Even some images from my notebooks in Chile transport me directly back to how I felt or what I was thinking at that point; so the process of drawing transports me, that’s how I got here I believe… with the desire to draw and paint. I’m not interested in doing anything else other than making movies, painting and drawing and I hope I can dedicate myself to that for what’s left of my life. I realised that when I was rowing, one needs to continue moving on. And at some point, if you choose the right path, doors will open and somehow you get to where you have to be. Being an artist is to exercise.


I hope that in a few years when I’m at sketchbook number 5 I can generate that dynamic and put the painting in the cinema, in the cinematographic projection, take it to that place, take the painting, the movement, surrealism, neoexpressionism, abstraction to the film projection so that it can be appreciated in a pictorial way; those are the ideas I’m developing. They’re still very “young”, I still have to keep drawing much more, keep walking home at 3am thinking about how I’m going to do it, but that’s the process, that’s the fun part, and I believe that is super important. You have to enjoy the process, don’t leave it “unseen”, because that’s where the answers are.


(Nataly) How did you find WORM?


Francisco BC: Years ago someone told me that in the Netherlands there was a film lab in a bunker, but never told me where… Then an artist I met in Prague told me she was going to the Netherlands for a residency. After a while, I was searching for residencies and I found WORM’s web page, I saw that Pirate Bay occasionally arranged residencies: “if you have a proposal, send us an email and we’ll take care of everything else”. So I sent my proposal and five months later I was coming to Rotterdam to make a movie for two months! After this, I have no idea. Let’s see what happens. I have a visa to work in Germany and there are three other film labs over there. Hopefully, I can keep working in the time I have left, so I can combine all of this and project painting in a cinema, so that the viewer can get into a painting and leave the cinema wondering: “What did I just see? Is this a movie? Is it a painting? A constant drawing?”.



“Living between the flat and the lab”-  lockdown loneliness as a tool for artistic development. Francisco Irribarra, experiencing AD (Anno Digitale) at WORM.


(Nia) How did the lockdown impact your process? You told Nataly you see WORM as a gym where people constantly come to do things. How do you perceive the space now? 


Francisco AD: The loneliness, I think. Being in lockdown. Down and in. Because this is the basement of WORM. Now it is a lab, but it is the basement. And to be locked down in a basement with nothing more to do, because there was nothing more to do: not even go out. So basically my life is strictly reduced. And I am really thankful for it; just going home and coming to the lab. A friend from Chile asked me “How are you doing?”. I explained my whole life in these three sentences. I am living between my flat and the lab. I am riding my bike. And I am making a film in Rotterdam. That’s it. That helped me to be completely focused. No distractions, not even going out to have a sandwich. Because it is not possible, because everything is shut down. So, there is no chance to have any distractions. I am just here for long periods of time. I was working on the idea of exhausting my composition; to just push, and push and push. It is an Olympic way to find a new “stroke”, a new way to find something. Now I have the time to do that. I didn’t even have the opportunity to chat with someone. I still don’t have a name for the film. But I feel like this is a painting manifesto I am making with this film. Maybe it is too much to say that?! 


(Nia) Who are you collaborating with at WORM?


Francisco AD: I have to answer simply in the context of this pandemic. I am just locked in the FilmWerkplaats lab working on my own. But because the coronavirus appeared in March, everything disappeared from the streets. I am still wondering if Rotterdam is a ghost town or not. But a week ago Esther (coordinator of Filmwerkplaats) returned to the lab. 


(Nia) She can’t keep away too long! (Laughs.)

Francisco AD: No she can’t. She is working in one of the back rooms which has an optical printer machine and contact printer machine. As well as special machines to develop the film. So, I interact a lot with her and I am learning a lot. And now the film is starting to go in another direction thanks to that. There are a lot of machines here. They are pretty old. Let me show you.

Francisco takes his laptop and virtually walks me around the space. I see big, iron old machines painted with grey and green paint. They somehow remind me of military gear. Especially when I see the whole crew of Filmwerkplaats screening together, standing in a row next to one another. Each one holding the projector with the focus of a high ranking soldier, operating the old machines next to one another.

Francisco AD: So when I entered my first thought was…ohhh..what is this? So many weird machines. And you know in South America – no, actually around the globe – it is not easy to find spots like this. As Esther started to come back to the lab, I asked her how to use the machines. Before that, it was just me working alone in the whole building.  I don’t want to reveal too much right now. But those machines really changed the course of the film I am working on. You will have to wait and see when we can show the outcome. 

(Nia) How did your process with Esther work before the lockdown?

Francisco A.D: Well, it was quite random before. It seems like the whole place is working on a random principle. Esther is coming now for longer periods of time. The movement was quite random. But yes, corona is a huge blot on the timeline. It really transforms how we talk to one another, how we relate to space, to a community. I can’t really tell you how the whole lab worked. Like with anything, we started with small steps. When I just got here Esther introduced me to something that I didn’t know. It was a motor on the Bolex ( a 16mm camera working with film). With this motor, you can control the Bolex like a clock. You can do whatever you want. It is impressive. You can do time-lapses and take one frame. It is crazy. You can control to a minimum. 

(Nia) A lot of art institutions are moving their events online. Doing live streams etc. What is your view on that?  How do you see your practice fit in this new way of sharing work with the audience?

Francisco AD: I think Instagram is bullshit. If you want to turn blind go to Instagram and spend your whole day there. If you don’t? Then, don’t do it (laughs). But these days you do need to make a presence there. I will never show my work on Instagram. It has to be projected. Film on Instagram is like bad tomato sauce. Well, I will never show my films online. It doesn’t make sense, you can’t see the textures. But I do play with Instagram a lot. I try to make GIFs and also show stories from my workspace. It often feels more like a distraction though. I don’t know. 


(Nia) We don’t really know how long the lockdown will continue. In this context have you thought about how you would like to share your work right now with an audience and with other artists? 


Francisco AD: Yes. I have been thinking about it. Well, at the beginning I thought of the romantic idea of projections. I want to be careful with this because I am not sure if it will be possible due to the regulations. However, I want to have a very intimate space for a projection. I would like my films to be experienced and appreciated in that way: a romantic atmosphere with just a few people. Not the idea of a big cinema where you have a thousand people watching on a big screen. If you want to participate in the industry you do need to premiere at a film festival. But having an intimate premiere works perfectly for now. 


Being exposed to thousands or millions of people being glued to a tiny screen (coming back to Instagram) that does not attract me. It is not me. Now that I am working here I will project the film here for sure, for the people of WORM. And maybe everyone can invite only one person and that is it. I think it is romantic, dramatic. 



(Nia) I look forward to an invitation then! So, you come from Chile and despite the poor working conditions and government corruption, there is a vibrant DIY film community. Could you tell us something more about that?

Francisco AD: For me, the situation in Chile is a big joke right now really. Crazy things. If we speak about my film industry, I give you an example. My partner in Chile is developing film with phosphoric acid in his backyard. These people work from home, creating in domestic conditions. I used to work like that when I was living in Chile. We developed a film in our living rooms, just trying to find a way to do it with the limited resources we have. It is very dangerous. I do not recommend it. But yes, that is how it works. I hope when I come back to Chile to initiate something. I hope – as a film community – we can develop something like this (Filmwerkplaats). A place where we can share and grow. A network and a place where you can exchange and trade different equipment and knowledge or at least converse with someone who is as highly motivated as you are. 


To come back to the question about the lab. To have a space like this: a place to share and exchange ideas is amazing. I think the problem with the lab at WORM is that the members do not make many films here. You have to make more films here. The lab has a lot of members. Please, make more films. I can imagine all the machines working at the same time. Ahhh I think it will be magical: especially if people start painting on film. Ahhh the history of painting on film is so short! There are like, ten people. I want to have many more people to share my practice with. So I try to motivate people to get into it because it is the only way to grow to exchange ideas. That is why I was also thinking about the name, Painting Manifesto on Film. But it is too much (laughs). 


(Nia) I think often good artists are the humble ones (laugh). But you see yourself as a full-time artist and you had planned to travel around Europe. Those are now on hold and you are stuck in Rotterdam. How do you deal with these future plans at the moment?


Francisco AD: I have no clue really. I don’t waste my time planning so much upfront anymore. What can I say? I am from South America. I live in Rotterdam now and I have a work permit for Germany and I will have to go there at some point. One step at the time. I need to finish my film and this is the only thing on my mind. I don’t have time to do anything else. That is that. I am here. When I finish this, there will be more options. Now, this is my only option. 


(Nia) I see it also with myself. We have been programmed to plan so much in advance. But now I learn the true meaning of the saying, “Only time will tell”. 


Francisco AD: I have been thinking a lot about that. And I found these words from a Game: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, a classic! It was on Nintendo 64, I played it all the time. When I lived in Prague I was going to a bar and it had the Nintendo with the same game. It was winter so I spent a lot of time indoors. It reminded me of myself when I was a child. I found this quote; it is unreal how fitting it is to these times. The quote is: “The flow of time is always cruel. Speed seems different for each person. But, no one can change it. The thing that doesn’t change with time is the memory of younger days”. That is the only thing that I have actually: my jungle days, my friends from my youth and my family. So when you are here alone in a country working by yourself it is the only thing to keep you awake: the memories of younger days. 


Follow Francisco on Intagram

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