Jun 1, 2022 | Featured, Interviews

  •  Healing Ray is a performance that the Madrid-based artist, filmmaker and architect Jorge Suárez-Quiñones Rivas, together with the musician Ylia, will be presenting in the Desbordamientos section. It includes three 16mm projectors and sound created live. We talked with him about inner calm, analogue cinema, filming in a healing way, about thunder and lightning, and more.  

First of all, can you tell us how the idea for Healing Ray came about? I’m interested in finding out what led you to investigate the healing power of images.

Looking back and considering even my early works, I am aware that my work has a lot to do with experience of the present, understood as an awareness of the ‘here and now’. With the perspective given by the passing of time, I now see my works on video, especially the group of three Yohei, Amijima and Gimcheoul, as films that clearly show the difficulty of experiencing the present, since the past and the future are constantly intermingled, affecting both the image and the sound.  

On starting to work in super 8, the filming process itself became an active exercise in awareness of the present, since in-camera editing somehow demands it. Without my realising it, filming and relating to the world through the camera had become meditative practices, and hence potentially healing practices for myself. Then I began to think about how to include the other parties involved in this healing process: the people filmed and the people receiving the images when they are projected.

The first step was to condense an act of healing into a 16mm reel. Guillermo Pozo (who is present in all of my films) and I have had some experience for several years in energy mobilisation therapies, first as receptors and later as practitioners. He agreed to be filmed performing a self-healing session. This camera-mounted Ektachrome reel, courtesy of Pablo Useros, was my contribution to the collective work of portraits that came out of the workshop I was teaching at the LAV school at the time, “Blocks of Condensed Present”. That became a Healing Portrait that would serve as the basis for Healing Ray, which it is now a part of. 

At this point, having already filmed a small ritual that had resulted in ‘effective healing’ (however minimal) for Guillermo (he heals himself) and for me (through the meditative activity of in-camera editing), I proposed to amplify the process. I imagined, on the one hand, involving more people in the healing practices, so that Guillermo could interact, healing and being healed by another being. That is when Mireia Ferri, a mutual friend with whom we have shared experiences related to healing, came into Healing Ray, forming part of the central and final reels of the 7-reel process that makes up the first part of Reel A.

On the other hand, I wondered what form the images might have that could result in some possible form of healing for the audience. Of course, I was confident that simply viewing footage of healing events could have a positive effect on those receiving the images, albeit as parabolas . I then thought that, if I already had the healing content, what was missing was the healing forms: filming the healing ‘in a healing way’. I delved again into my personal experience and set out to use some psychotherapy practices I experienced myself as a patient, such as EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) and EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques), to translate them into forms of cinema. I had always felt an intuition that those therapies were very precisely staged and could be translated into formal variables of rhythm, colour, movement, filming speed, duration… So the Bolex became the ideal instrument to condense these variables frame by frame, and thus to be able to relive them in front of other people, trusting that a certain degree of healing, however minimal, could take place. That was how Reel B of Healing Ray came to be.  

Did you think of it as performance from the outset? How did that idea evolve?

The performance format gradually appeared during the creative process as it became evident. 

At first, I envisioned a single-channel projection in which the material from Reel A (films of acts of healing) would alternate on the editing table with the material from Reel B (films intended to heal through form). However, I never got to visualise it clearly: I only saw compact blocks that said nothing to each other in a linear temporal succession. 

Nevertheless, I did imagine them coexisting in space and time, creating a dialogue like part of a musical score, like two lines varying their interactions, sometimes intersecting more, sometimes more parallel, each one visible from a different source of light, from a different position, somehow conserving their integrity and at the same time open to being affected. They were presented as part of a choreography to be performed in the present, to which a third light source was quickly added, which was not made up of images already filmed but instead rhythmically emitted particles of pure colour according to the interventions and decisions made live. 

That is how the expanded proposal arose, with three projectors that make materials from three different origins visible, which are activated live and interact with each other in time with the projection, all organised on a gradient that goes from black to white, passing through the seven colours of the visible light spectrum in which they all collaborate. 

In this way, I feel that the materials are preserved like living organisms, open to new possibilities and interpretations in the present of each projection. In that sense, the experience of Healing Ray in (S8) will be completely new. 

How did you come into contact with Ylia’s work and what interested you about it?

Pedro Portellano and Gonzalo de Pedro contacted me while they were preparing the 2021 RAYO Expanded Visual Arts Festival. I told them about my film project about healing, which at the time only contained Healing Portrait materialised, and they wanted to support its development for the presentation in RAYO. 

RAYO is a festival in which visual creators work together with creators from the spheres of music and sound. Pedro had the ingenious intuition to connect my work with that of Susana Hernández (Ylia), and he showed me her music. From the first listening of her EP Dulce Rendición (Sweet surrender) I felt a special connection, and I could see why he had suggested getting in touch. 

I felt a very strong cinematographic side to her music, dream-like, that coexisted naturally with another side more rooted into the earth. Without knowing anything about music myself, but moved by her work with sound textures, I imagined her process as being similar to mine in that I felt that both she and I were aware that we were working with materials, through physicality. I was especially moved when I seemed to distinguish her voice on some tracks, modulated, executed and processed in different ways. I saw videos of her live performances, surrounded by different devices and instruments, and her presence conveyed a lot of power to me. As I told Susana at first, on a very subjective and personal level, I could feel a connection with healing in Dulce Rendición, something that I don’t know how to explain but which manifests itself in rhythms, frequencies, specific kinds of sound processing, and even in the imaginary world conjured up on reading the titles of the songs. 

Looking back at our exchange of emails, what I told her before saying goodbye in the first one I sent her seems very prophetic, since the ray goes through Healing Ray in all of its forms and manifestations, and it seems that the collaboration was blessed from the very first moment: “I began writing this email listening to Dulce Rendición again; it started to rain halfway through the album, your music ended and the thunder started, and is still going on. I think that’s a good omen!” 

How did you articulate the work together?

It was a very special process. Although I already had a lot of notes, outlines and structures on paper, I had not yet started filming when the first contact took place. Hence, we were able to share all the phases of the production process for the images and sounds, even if we were in different cities far apart.

The premise I had in my head regarding the sound was that it would have an effective role in healing, on the same level as the images; that it could induce a state of inner calm, of reconnection with one’s own body and internal pulse, of communion with the present. I was interested in working consciously with the intrinsic qualities of sound frequencies as much as possible, just as with the images I was considering the different wavelengths of the visible spectrum of light and the influence of colours as forms of energy. In this sense, the fact that Susana was able to talk and collaborate with CSIC (Spanish National Research Council) researchers during the sound production process was very enriching.

We started by sending each other playlists, songs and videos, sharing examples and ideas about healing music, trying to find a common spectrum between our personal universes, a certain tone around which we could move. The existence of Healing Portrait also served as a guide for us at first. I remember that Susana tried to lay the recording of one of her last live sessions over it, and the result of this overlay of two materials with apparently such different origins was very exciting, as if it already possessed a certain automatic logic. 

As I was recording reels, I was also describing the filming processes and the images that I had sought (and that I hoped to have set in the emulsion), because until everything had been filmed and developed we would not be able to see the result. Based on these descriptions, Susana began to work and do trials, gathering textures and sounds, making field recordings, thinking about possible instruments and structures… It was a very intense creative process, which began by exchanging emails and continued through video calls, voice notes…

 It was very special to be aware of how the images and sounds were materialising in parallel yet at the same time intertwined in some way. When I had finished filming and all of the developed reversal film reels finally reached me, I created a homemade screener of all the material in LAV. In a digital timeline as a simulation, I arranged the reels in a primary structure of two screens, and shared it with Susana. It was truly exciting when she gave me the first track of sound, already adjusted and produced exactly for the images. The energy emanating from the synchronisation of the images and sounds was indescribable. They put each other mutually in relief, amplifying their power, generating a true synergy that at the same time respected the individuality of the visual and sound sources, without a hierarchical order between them.

Very painstaking work followed on from that, in which the general structure of the performance proposal was adjusted based on the interaction of sound, image and the space for the representation. The work was above all one of rhythm based on adjustable variables: all of the instruments and devices involved in generating live music, three screens, three projectors that can be turned on and off independently, black glue between reels, all of the third projector’s elements, possible positions that each element could take in the space… And finally we met for rehearsals at the Cineteca a few days before the presentation at RAYO. That time was essential, because everything is more intense and real when it’s live. Each and every trial we ran was exciting. Significant restructuring and changes also came about so as to put the finishing adjustments down to the last millimetre, leading to something like a very measured complete choreography but at the same time open to the surprise of the live show, since both Susana and I have many variables open to improvisation depending on the energy of the present. When the performance came to the public on 4 July, I think we both really felt the healing ray pass through the hall.

I had never worked in that way, completely entrusting the sound of the work to someone else. Right now I am not able to understand the images of Healing Ray playing without Susana’s live music.