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interview: Mia Makela, a.k.a. VJ SOLU

filed 18 October 2005 | Chicago
by Jean Poole

The VJ today is an emerging artist archetype. Like an e-literature artist, the VJ works in -- and sometimes struggles with -- new media. Like a hip-hop artist, the VJ is often consumed with "mixology" -- seeking the right blend between music, image, and moment. Like a performance poet, the VJ performs in time before an audience. Like a poetry video artist, the VJ works in the cinematic domain hybridized with other arts. Some VJs aim purely for "eye candy" while others aspire to fine art. Many aspects of a VJ's work harken to arts often celebrated on

As VJs elevate the creation of video art toward performance at a real-time improvised pace, artists in related disciplines should be hearing echoes of their own work, coming back at them with more fantastic technology. The computer and attendant live imaging software, the DVD player, and digital effects units are standard gear in the kit of many VJs.

But visual improvisation, the ability to create original video art in the moment with little forethought, is beginning to approach the degree of lucidity practiced by hiphop spoken word artists and jazz musicians. Not long ago, such technology confounded improvisation. Today, it accelerates it. The massive amounts of customized technology needed ten years ago by performance groups such as EBN (Emergency Broadcast Network) have faded away, replaced by systems that are highly portable, cheap, and aesthetically flexible. As the conceptual processes underlying jazz have now come to electronic visualization in a broad manner, we can say that technology has changed, and for the better.

This is just the kind of transition in technology that signals a watershed moment, and enables the emergence of a new art. So now is a good time to get acquainted with the mixology if the image. To that end, offers a conversation with European VJ, SOLU, as she dialogued with Aussie writer and VJ tech' maestra Jean Poole.

- Kurt Heintz, editor

Representing the Finnish Pixel, Mia Makela, aka SOLU, has been busy in Barcelona. Aside from helping raise the live audiovisual roof in the last few years with performances, workshops and writings, SOLU has dived into many music, theatre and dance collaborations, has had experimental music videos screened in loads of festivals and added to DVD compilations, helps out with and recently launched in Barcelona. An apparent highlight of the recent AVIT-UK world VJ festival, samples of her work and writings can be found at her site,

- Jean Poole, interviewer

Jean Poole: What particularly interests you with live video at the moment?

Mia Makela: I find most fascinating the "theoretical" interest shown towards VJart lately. At least three books look like [they will be] published this year, one with questionaires collected from VJs around the world about their ways of working, ideas about the future, etc. Another book is VJtheory, which I'm really looking forward to as I'm writing my thesis at the moment on audiovisual realtime art. I found out that there isn't really written history for all this, as the history is like a net of influencies, artistic and technical, ideas from synaesthesis to early video art and from stroboscopes to Gesamkunstwerk.

I guess it all comes from the need to define this scene better, to make sense of it to the major public, even though I've personally liked the creative chaos we have been enjoying all these years. It's free from the constraints of being definitely art and being put into a nice package and sold to public.

Another interest for me is creating visuals for dance or theatre pieces or in collaboration with other creative practices, which use space more widely than a screen. I'm quite bored of the one screen -- one projector set-up and the two-dimensionality of it all. I'm really looking forward the day when the prices of projectors go down!

I've found inspiration in working with different kinds of music styles - I did visuals for a concert for violin and accordion and it really changes everything in the visual thinking ... the rhythm is very different, the visuals should float through time, video poetry.

What always interests me in live visuals is the potential this model of creation has, and all the possibilities there are still to explore in order to create amazing experiencies both to the public and to creators. While watching TV nowadays, it's easy to notice how little visual creativity is allowed in mass communication. What new formats are there really? At least in Spanish TV, nothing new or even experimental has happened during the last six years while I've lived [in Spain].

JP: What interests you about live audio-visual performance, as opposed to VJing to music?

MM: I've noticed my visual language is searching for similar musical language with a certain structure. Lately I've been thinking of making my own sounds as I'm more interested in soundscapes than ready-made music or songs. I've done more Live Cinema than VJing, and am more interested in collaborating with various musicians, such as Heidi Mortenson for Transmediale 2004 opening, Alex Bordanova, David Last, David Dalmazzo, DADATA. I enjoyed playing with David Last in Amsterdam. He does also visuals so we had a good connection. And DJ Rupture -- I made a video for him and now we are planning to continue collaborating, [it's] more like a design job, making visuals for his music, rather than building an AVworld together, which is what I'm looking for.

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