Photo by Andrew Clinkman.
Julia Dratel is photographer, filmmaker, writer, producer/organizer and DJ who grew up in New York City and lives in Chicago.
She frequently collaborates with musicians on visual work, with recent projects including a video installation with The Weaving Mill,
a music video with Mind Over Mirrors, and album art for Devouring the Guilt, Ken Vandermark’s Marker, and Circuit Des Yeux.
She is also currently the in-house video producer at Thrill Jockey Records.
Dratel's current solo show "Intellectual Property" (at Elastic Arts in Chicago) features "ruminations and queries into trauma and memory, capitalism and social control, kinds of information and kinds of taking up space, family, and portraits of the living and nonliving."
Heated Stone. Photo by Julia Dratel. All other photos and installation shots by Julia Dratel.
Can you introduce yourself and tell the readers of the Media about your work as a photographer, filmmaker and in music?
I’m a photographer, filmmaker, producer/organizer, DJ, I do some work for record labels as you mentioned, and also do some work on behalf of defense teams for people fighting incarceration…it all kind of folds in on itself. Even the legal-related work I do, it’s often multimedia-related and involves dealing with video needs.
I'm drawn to experimental documentary photography/film, and I do a lot of collaborative work with other visual artists & musicians, like album art and music videos, that I feel usually still have a tinge of that. I like working in a improvisational way - with mistakes, broken gear. Even when I'm doing studio work, I like using textures and backdrops that ground it to something outside the image, like a blanket, rather than studio paper.
Elastic Arts, the gallery where my show is taking place, is also a venue, mostly for experimental and improvised music, where I sometimes organize live programming — mostly noise shows and community workshops (have actually organized one there with Jes who's interviewed elsewhere in this issue!). The visual arts curator-in-residence Kim Alpert asked me to do a solo show - it has been really cool experience to explore being a part of Elastic in this other way and re-experience the space, but also challenging and vulnerable in terms of choosing how to take up space in this room that carries its own history and community that I'm very familiar with, and used to being more behind-the-scenes.
Your show includes photographs, videos, and written work, which speaks to the multidisciplinary nature of work you’ve done in the past. How do you feel like all of these different mediums/fields/experiences seep their way into your photography?
That’s a good question and one I think I’m still working through all the time. I would say that part of it is photography is my go-to form of processing the world… It was the first medium I felt comfortable in as a regular visual practice that made sense to me and also one that I was getting into as a lot of other formative experiences were happening as well, cataloguing the world around me in the wake of some violent experiences at a young age and also coinciding with a time when I was learning about myself politically. The way that photography disjoints time and perspective is also really powerful to me, and specific how it kind of both builds and destroys a sense of control, memory vs reality, living vs non-living, and I like exploring that tension, especially since I’m often working with spaces and subjects I’m close with. Working with text, images, and sound (in my videos), I want to explore the limits and powers of each medium, and having them interlock though I’m not always doing it consciously… Sometimes I’ll have written a poem, and taken a photo of something I was experiencing or seeing or a feeling I wanted to preserve, and realize they are both trying to get at the same thing. And even if neither can fully capture it, it can be therapeutic, for lack of a better word, to get lost in that inability in the space between them.
Life Saving Trees
How did you decide on the name “Intellectual Property”?
Specifically in the case of this show, I had gathered an initial set of images, and they were all kind of disparate in time and place - I thought about calling it “Julia’s Photos”, like a randomly titled file on a computer or phone. When I initially chose the phrase “Intellectual Property” as the title, it was partly that feeling of trying to make sense of these images I had amassed over time and also somewhat out of a self-deprecating urge to choose a title that evoked material creative baggage in capitalist language in this profane way — I was into the mundane and legal but knee-jerk icky quality of the phrase, and especially in the context of showing solo work in a gallery for the first time I felt like I had to run right towards it instead of deny it. And the more I thought about the phrase, the more it informed my final selections of work in terms of thinking about what non-physical context or ideas can be gleaned from physical space, or vice versa.
how can you lose
Is there one piece that you feel really speaks to the greater themes of the show?
There’s a piece called how can you lose -- once I figured out that piece, the others in the show started to click in how I was going to assemble this specific collection of work, in terms of the idea of negotiating internal and external worlds. I took it from my dad’s apartment building in New York in the middle of the night -- it is always incredibly bright in that neighborhood, the neighborhood I grew up in, because there are all these office buildings that keep all their lights on all night, so you’ve got these peepholes into massive spaces, that are weird and empty and lonely but also representative of so much money and power, surrounded by the night. And they’re spaces I’ve seen over and over, that I would see while I’m falling asleep, or you know, trying to. And it’s so indicative of what is considered worthwhile under capitalism, especially to these companies running these buildings. Such a huge amount of resources that could be elsewhere. But it’s not like there’s a sign that says “here are our ideas about the world”, it’s just embodied in the physical space. And that’s something that I like to explore. The constant light in the space also works to make people think it’ll always be there, especially if you’re seeing it from the street, it can feel so insurmountable. But taking it from above, it becomes dollhouse-like and so empty and fragile-looking, and I wanted to play with those power dynamics as well through light and perspective, and how we can see ourselves in relation to these physical spaces and what they represent.