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Chris Milk

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The Treachery of Sanctuary is an interactive triptych that shares a spiritual intent with the prehistoric paintings on the walls of the caves of Lascaux. In the mad, writhing illumination of a fire, they saw the origins and death, of dance, dissolution, and transcendence, of a human form.

The piece picks up where we left off dancing in caves 40,000 years ago, cultivating primal human experiences with new technology. There are no stone walls, plant-derived paints, or flickering flames. Instead, our longing to move, to dance, to express ourselves physically—to have our spirits seen and felt and understood—is answered with technological innovation. Our bodies are the most potent and universal of human languages, and in this piece, participants create something eerie and self-empowering, something both human and avian, with their own forms. Each panel in the piece represents a step on a journey. The panoptic narrative interpretation is of the universal human experience: birth, death, and regeneration. But it is also my intention to reflect the parallel experience of the artist as he journeys through the creative process. This parallel journey hinges on a religious concept. To create art requires an openness, a vulnerability of spirit, like the vulnerability that brings us closer to God. But the closer we try to get to what is higher and purer—to Sanctuary—the greater the risk that we’ll have to confront something darker—Treachery. Falling prey to the Devil's treachery in all its forms is an inevitability in the artistic process, as it is an inevitability in faith. But that destructive force is what allows for the rebirth of the idea, completing the creative transfiguration and, in the third and final phase, ascension. Inside the first panel, your body disintegrates into rising birds, representing the moment of conception both for the human and for the artistic inspiration. It’s pure and momentous and complete: a birth. As you move into the second panel, the birds that represented the purity of conception become brutal, assailing you with a thousand bloody beaks. Just as in our human journeys we face self-abuse, mistreatment by others, or exhaustion, so the artist faces the critical creative response. This panel is a manifestation of self-doubt, outside disparaging forces, or the impossibilities of the creative endeavor, swooping in to gore and suffocate the artistic concept: it is death. In the third panel, your form sprouts gigantic wings, representing transcendence in the human narrative. And just as death is a process of abstraction in the spiritual journey, in the creative journey the idea is transformed by the struggles of the process into something larger and more profound than its original. In the artistic death is transfiguration: life. What is interesting to me is the two-way conversation between the work and the viewer. The participant is an active character in the content and concept of the piece, and while the technology allows that interactivity, the emphasis is on the experience, on transcending past the enabling innovation to the spiritual immersion. It’s a universal, but personal, journey of self-expression, elation, transfiguration, and transcendence. And it changes every time. So each participation is a new spiritual experience, a new dance. Just as humans have always responded to live, improvisational music by finding a freedom in their own expression, so the piece will be defined for and by each of them, each time: a journey that breaks apart and celebrates emotional existence with a new physical language. — Chris Milk, 2012

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At a glance

Directing interactive experiences.

Name: Chris Milk
Location: Los Angeles, California, United States
Profession: Director, photographer
Notables: : This Exquisite Forest with Aaron Koblin (2012); The Treachery Of Sanctuary (2012); Rome: 3 Dreams of Black (2011); Summer Into Dust (2011) ) for Arcade Fire's Coachella 2011 set; The Wilderness Downtown (2010); The Johnny Cash Project (2010); music videos for Arcade Fire, Kanye West, U2 & Greenday, Audioslave, Modest Mouse, Chemical Brothers, and Gnarls Barkley
Connect: Vimeo
Photo by Jason Henry. Artwork Credits Project Concept and Direction: Chris Milk Design & Creative Direction: Ben Tricklebank at Punk and Butler Executive Producer: Jennifer Heath at radical.media, LLC Interactive Creative Production: Fake Love Creative Director: Layne Braunstein, Josh Horowitz Technical Director: James George Creative Software Development: Aaron Meyers, Brian Chasalow, Charlie Whitney Producer: Catherine Badger 3-D Animators: Chelsea Hash, Sean Thorpe, David Larkin 2-D Design: Caitlin Morris Audio Design: David Horowitz Special Thanks: Eyebeam