INTERVIEW WITH DAVID J TORRES II
Q. Have you always been interested in making art? What are some of your first experiences in making video art?
A. Art making was a part of my upbringing growing up. Aside from being in an art magnet program since my early years, I was extremely drawn to my father’s middle school drawings. He would create comics around characters inspired by his love of Marvel and DC comics. Reading his comics inspired me to begin the long journey of creating art, with the sole purpose of contextualizing a fictional world consisting of my own heroes and villains. As for my first experiences making video art (I don’t know if this counts) but as a kid, I was obsessed with the original Star Wars and Godzilla films. There was something about the handicraft nature of these works that still captivates me. Until my middle school days, I would create home movies of my own versions of Godzilla and Star Wars stories. Man, I wish I could find these…
Q. You said that “Riakman” was partly inspired by drawings made by your dad while he was in middle school. How old were you when you first saw these drawings? What did you find inspiring about them? Can you talk more about being engaged with this character over the course of your adolescence and adult life?
A. I believe I was in kindergarten when I read my father’s comic titled “The Spectacular Six”. Like most of his work, “The Spectacular Six” was very transparent on what its main influences were. This attribute of wearing your influences on your sleeve is something I come back to even today. While my father’s comic had a large cast of characters, it was not their presence that provided inspiration for me, but seeing a character my age obsessed with creating his own world, like I was. This was impactful because there were not many kids my age that showed any passion in making comics or art. This dialogue with my dad’s childhood provided me with a sense of purpose.
Q. Can you give a brief description of some of your main characters and what their role is in the mythology you have created?
A. For the sake of time I’ll narrow it down to the three main characters, those being Riakman, Rika, and Doctor Sliff. The main protagonist of my story, Riakman, and his sister, Rika, are two of the last remaining members of a race of warriors known as Sunkeepers. Forged from the Eternal Flame, the Sunkeepers are tasked with the duty of protecting Lord Ravik’s sacred realm - Runetech. In opposition lies Doctor Sliff, an unknown entity born from the Ash who holds dominion over the world of Runetech. The internal conflict that lies within Runetech focuses around the Eternal Flame, resisting entropy from the Ash. All three of these characters serve the purpose of conveying the themes and natures of the forces they were created from. In the case of Rika, one can see how these two opposing forces can relate to one another.
Q. Your work is highly collaborative, as you work with actors, dancers, and musicians to create your films. Can you talk about that process, and how collaboration changes or informs your projects?
A. Collaboration is my foil - it is something that always brings me out of my comfort zone. As someone who can spend so much time in their own world (sometimes more than they need to), the process of needing others to make my fictional world/characters a reality keeps me from reaching an unhealthy level of indulgence. Often, I encourage input from my production team regarding how something feels or how a scene should play out. I am a fan of working with small groups of individuals who have a basic understanding of what I want to express. At the same time, they maintain enough distance to give me feedback that encourages growth and specificity for what I need to say. For me, collaboration provides the ultimate platform for dialogue.
Q. The “Riakman” saga is such an expansive mythology. Can you talk about the process of creating such a large narrative arc, and how you edit this down into short films? What is the writing process like for you?
A. The process of creating my narrative arcs stems from the many stories surrounding my main protagonist, Riakman. I began creating this narrative when I was eight. These arcs are heavily influenced by how I feel about the world around me. Those are the two fundamental qualities that have allowed me to build my mythology. It then comes down to what I wish to say and who I say it through, that makes cutting down my stories into short films feel natural to me. As for the writing process, I tend to divide my time between expanding moments in the narrative or mapping out key moments that will transpire later in the story. When focusing on the narrative, I deal with the internal thoughts of my characters so that I have a greater context to why I am making the films. When it is time to create a script, I map things out visually rather than through words. This allows my characters and my fictional world to feel more tactile.
Q. Your videos are often extremely textural, atmospheric, and materially rich. Your process for making them is diverse - from acting, drawings, stop motion animation, models, etc. What is your relationship to material and how do you see your training as a painter informing the films?
A. Painting has always been about the process of “layering” and the world that is created from this act. Through reflection, I feel painting has allowed this perspective to seep into my editing process, especially when it comes time to problem solve. For example, one frame within my films may consist of 16-40 layers of images that each have their own element to express. Through layering these images, the time-based aspect of my films becomes denser - like the surface of a Phillip Guston or an Angela Dufresne painting. Because of my training as a painter, I feel I can have each frame have its own command on how it is read.
Q. What are some of your influences? What is the role of the sci-fi genre, comic books, video games, etc. in your work?
A. When it comes to the iconography and visual motifs I use within my work, I am heavily influenced by anime, video games, and manga. Video games such as Dark Souls have provided an important foundation for me to address the themes of the post apocalyptic and the fall of advanced society, through how I construct my setting. I get a similar vibe when watching Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. I feel the presence of a human touch that has long been forgotten when observing how Miyazaki depicts the fallen monuments within this film. Being exposed to these works has allowed me to understand the complexities of the sci-fi and fantasy elements that permeate my work. Both the sci-fi and fantasy elements play a similar role in fiction, which erases and reconstructs culture to a point where it is possible to ask questions that allow one to understand their place in the world. For both Dark Souls and Nausicaa, it is the subtext of a past culture falling due to calamity brought about by hubris, and the remnants of its ethos permeating a new world that motivates the player and protagonist to move forward, and find their purpose.
Q. You have said that you are “…interested in the illusion and delusional discussions that surround the complexities of the racial, sexual, religious, aging: old and young identities in culture…”, and that you use “Riakman” to investigate these identities. How do these topics play out in the films? Do you see “Riakman” as a politically motivated work?
A. I do see Riakman as being somewhat politically motivated. An aspect of what motivates me to create my films is to express my feelings about undermined or misrepresented issues within our political landscape. My newest film, Grandchildren of the Ash, is partly a reaction against Hannah Black’s Open Letter to Dana Schutz, written during the 2017 Whitney Biennale controversy. Emmett Till, being the center of this controversy, influenced the role Riakman played in my last film. There is always the internal narrative with a destination already written. However, current events and their effect on me informs a political viewpoint and understanding, present in the narrative of my films.
Q. Is there anything new (books, TV shows, art, film, etc.) that has been inspirational to your work lately?
A. Yes! I’ll narrow it down to five:
Make a Scene; Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time - novel by Jorden Rosenfield
Biomega - manga by Tsutomu Nihei
Hollow Knight - video game by Team Cherry
Made In Abyss - anime directed Masayuki Kojima
Hirohiko Araki ~ artist
Q. What would you say your view of the future is?
A. I feel we are in a time when our capacity to empathize is being challenged by the paradigms we have allowed to define how we represent ourselves and others, i.e race, gender, sexuality, aging old and young. My vision of the future echoes that of Captain Picard and Captain Sisko from Star Trek - hope for the advancement of all intelligent life forms to escape the inevitability of entropy through the act of empathy. But man…I swear…, this vision of mine is being tested everyday by who we have elected into office (among other things).
Q. Do you have any new projects you are working on currently?
A. I am currently working on the next installments of my Riakman narrative arc. I plan on releasing them in 2019. While I do not want to divulge too much information, I will say that I am excited to explore in depth one of the newer characters introduced to the story, Tian, a vagabond of sorts who travels the skies with his familiar Dusk (a crow like entity that transforms into the sword LifeEnder!). Also, I have been waiting to give Riakman his first real advisory and cannot wait to deliver something memorable in the upcoming double feature episodes!