Video—Elemental Constellations, or, We Are Made of Stars

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Nico Wood, Southern Illinois University; and Ramah David Jihan Malebranche


About This Work

Elemental Constellations, or, We Are Made of Stars is a 16mm experimental film. This film explores the concept that all matter in the universe—from human bodies, to stars, to celluloid film—is comprised of the same basic elements.

Analog (as opposed to digital) media create “indexical relationships” to that which they represent, which is to say the medium and the content form an analogy (Marks 148). The grooves in a record literally correspond the audio data the album contains. The tiny images on a piece of celluloid film actually index the projected result. The hydrogen atoms in my body perform a similar function to the hydrogen atoms in the Sun. The cells in my body are an analog for the cosmos.

As digital media became the norm, nostalgia for the analog emerged. Our representations desire the artisan’s touch. Handmade, imperfect technologies reflect our bodily experience, and we relish this depiction of decay. We fetishize the artists’ fingerprint. The referent of the film to our fingers reprises our analogy to the stars. At the same time digital depictions alert us to processes of adaptation and transferal. Raw sunlight would melt my flesh. The atmosphere digitizes this warmth for me.

In order to produce this film, I sought simple, black and white images, such as planets, stars, the human body, and the periodic table. I printed these images onto transparencies, and then, in a darkroom, layered these transparencies onto unexposed strips of film. Using a flashlight, I then transferred these images onto the film and processed the film by hand. I spliced the film manually, and then digitized it. The only digital editing I performed involved setting the piece to music (by Ramah Jihan Malebranche) and manipulating speed.

Analog film production “follows the time honored pattern in which forms of aesthetic expression are valued most highly when they become obsolete or threatened” (Marks 147). As the medium of celluloid film progresses towards extinction, its artistic properties become more salient. Blacksmithing used to be manual labor, now it requires an MFA. Like the hand-thrown mug from the farmer’s market, we’ve come to lust for the analogy, for the mark of artist’s humanity, and to stoke our nostalgia for the days when we put our hands on things.

And yet, the craving for analog processing presses up against the desires for dissemination, for lack of waste, for ever-expanding interconnection. The magic of the physical is inevitably encased by the decaying ephemeral, and thus mediated by the transmutation of the digital. Digital sustainability dances with analog entropy, and the analogy remains: we are made of stars.

Work Cited

Marks, Laura U. Touch: Sensuous Theory and Multi-Sensory Media. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2002. Print.


Summary of Video

This film depicts abstract black and white images, atop a guitar-driven electronic soundscape. The images, though hard to decipher, communicate the concept that our human bodies are composed of the same materials as everything else in the universe, including the stars.


Nico Wood is a Ph.D. candidate at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. She works as a filmmaker, performance artist, playwright, and scholar. Her performance work has appeared in many festivals, including the Minnesota Fringe Festival, Burning Man Festival, and most recently as a headlining act in the Sideshow Fringe Festival in Nashville, TN. Her print scholarship has been published by the graduate journal Kaleidoscope. She is currently writing her dissertation on different orientations to experimental production across music, theatre, and film, and their contributions to experimental performance art praxis.

Ramah David Jihan Malebranche is a teaching interdisciplinary artist with a concentration in media, sound and music, based out of Chicago. Originally from the mountains of Haiti, Ramah teaches spectral sound arts including sound design, synthesis, MIDI Systems, music appreciation, and music theory courses at the college level. Aside from sound design, he also teaches private guitar and live, performative sound design to students of all ages and leads an acoustic chamber quartet named Wooden Rings, which plays original, concept music composed on nylon string guitar, clarinet, glockenspiel, electric bass, cello, banjo, and three-part harmony.


© 2013 Nico Wood and Ramah David Jihan Malebranche, used by permission

Technoculture Volume 3 (2013)