Heath Franco

Heath Franco’s next exhibition, ‘Home Town Two’ is a sequel to his cinematically inspired video ‘Home Town’ (2004). In it he draws upon horror movies of the 80s and 90s, Ren & Stimpy cartoons, popular culture and memory to create the wild, grotesque characters that populate his video works, all performed by himself.

We spoke to Franco while he was in the midst of making this new work, which he first exhibited at Galerie pompom in Sydney earlier this year. And now the work has made its way down to MARS Gallery in Melbourne where it is currently showing alongside its precursor 'Home Town'.

Can you tell us about the location of your new work, ‘Home Town Two’?
‘Home Town’ and the new work, ‘Home Town Two’ are both filmed in Berridale. I was born in Cooma, in southern NSW and I grew up in nearby Berridale, close to the Snowy Mountains. It’s a beautiful place, quite haunting. It’s an in-between place, where everything is built around the highway. The idea of the outsider is in a lot in this work; people in a small town environment, where everyone knows each other; it’s a situation where everyone gets kind of set in their ideas on what you do and how you fit into the community. You can’t come in as an outsider and try to change how people act.

I’m dealing with the idea of an outsider in the landscape and the act of locking others out of it – or claiming their stake on a place. I don’t want to be too political about it or explicit yet, but that will probably come through.

Making ‘Home Town Two’ is like going back in time. Visiting Berridale in 2004 to make ‘Home Town’ was like time travel; I hadn’t been there for so long. So that is part of the work, too, revisiting at a different time, a different place. This second work is really a revisitation of a revisitation.

Why did you decide to make a sequel to ‘Home Town’? Why make ‘Home Town Two’?
I didn’t actually get to the point I was trying to get to with ‘Home Town’. I didn’t get to the real stuff I wanted to get to with that, it felt like an introduction and it even ended on a bit of a cliffhanger, in my mind. I have always had it in my mind that there might be another one.

This second work is an attempt to revisit the emotional aspect of ‘Home Town’, to address some things that happened to me as a child, without wanting to address them specifically. One of the characters that I work with in ‘Home Town Two’ is derived directly from real experiences or situations and it is all a bit more pointed in my mind. It seems the right time to finish it off, resolve the work. When I return (from the US), I can start afresh and begin a new body of work.

Given that it is a sequel, how does ‘Home Town Two’ sit alongside ‘Home Town’?
‘Home Town Two’ is even a bit darker than the first one. The ending of ‘Home Town’ goes to a pretty dark place and that is where the sequel picks up, or begins. We’ll see where it goes from there.

The sequel will have a different look, it will be more high-end quality footage, with really detailed images. I have been able to resolve the visual problems that I found with ‘Home Town’, where I was using cheaper, less high-resolution equipment. I have written all new music; I’ve learnt a lot, technically, in the last two years since making ‘Home Town’, so that will come in to the new work. ‘Home Town Two’ is not a rehashing of the old work, or a re-working; it’s the second part of that work, also the final part.

‘Home Town’ directly references cinema, with grand opening shots of the landscape and also a big soundtrack. I created a setting for the work at Galerie Pompom that mimicked a cinema, an art gallery made to look like a cinema. ‘Home Town Two’ is a sequel, and for this I’ve decided to play around with the idea of a home video. Although it is still a limited edition, ‘Home Town Two’ will have an edition of 240. It is much more affordable at that edition size. It is made to take home. I was thinking also about domestic technologies such as DVD or video cassettes, which are mass-produced. The gallery will be set up to look like a domestic space; possibly with a lounge, a TV unit with the screen that features the new work and the framed prints that form the exhibition also hung all around the space, as if they were holiday snaps.

Repetition is a constant in your work, from the naming of the works to the characters you create; you dissolve the boundaries between your works. For example, for the Australian Experimental Art Foundation, you brought together two prior works, ‘Wunder Closet’ and ‘Televisions’, to create ‘Alterland’. We worked together in 2015 on the ‘Deadpan’ exhibition, in which your new work ‘TV Set’ comprised elements of both of these prior works and fed into your subsequent work ‘The Rainbow Lands’ at Artspace, Sydney. Can you talk about that?
Yes, the characters that I create, they’re like materials, materials that I draw upon. And that also with the titles of my works, they can all easily get mixed up, like ‘Dream Home’ is a previous work and now we have ‘Home Town’ and ‘Home Town Two’. The word ‘home’ is a constantly recurring word in any titles I’ve made, it just comes up all the time. It is an intended repetition.

It started unconsciously but then I started to notice the patterns of the ideas and the pattern of the names and how it fits in with the repetition within the works. Other times I do variations on the characters as well, where they will be similar costumes or the same characters, but placed into new contexts or new footage. These are a bit like the relatives of that other character. I’m interested in the idea of alternate realities or multiple realities, in an imaginative way. I’m no scientist or anything like that. In physics though, it seems like the idea of alternative realities are possible, if not even probable.

When I am making work, a lot of decisions or characters are based on memories of the time, without being too explicit. I am using those experiences to give work meaning and also a way for myself to work through it. You can’t just pick a crazy character out of nowhere and throw him in a field and then move on to the next scene. It has to feel right on some level, have a resonance.

Music is very important in your practice. Can you talk about your current working process?
Yes, I put works together more like how you might put a song together. It’s about the rhythm and the timing and the pacing of it. For example, when you listen to a piece of music you analyse it in a different way to visual stuff; in visual works, in some ways it is always required to make some sort of sense. With music we are happy that it doesn’t need to make the same kind of sense. You can just enjoy it, go along with it. I always work alone. When I am working on characters, I put the camera on the tripod and get the costumes out. Also when I am shooting the environments too. I always work alone, walking around without the big picture in mind and staying open.

Given the cinematic and home video reference points of ‘Home Town’ and ‘Home Town Two’, do screenwriting conventions such as a “beginning, middle and an end” inform your work?
I’m trying to move my work out of that zone. I think that three-act structure does come into play sometimes, I try not to do it but there’s always a feeling of introduction, middle and some sort of climax. It is more like a climax than a resolution, as things don’t always get resolved. The resolution is always left to the person who watches it. Also, without a resolution, it keeps you thinking about it and that’s more exciting anyway. You don’t want to close the book.

What are your plans after exhibiting ‘Home Town Two’?
Just before going to the US, I will be working with the music video director Joel Kefali to gain an understanding of how to work with a crew, find a way to achieve bigger things with my work and also shoot on location. It will be great to see the way he works. I hope my work does change as a result of these opportunities

EXHIBITION
Heath Franco | Home Town & Home Town Two
22 October – 26 November 2016
MARS Gallery, Melbourne

Courtesy the artist and Galerie pompom.

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