I set the basis of the art piece: A father’s life’s work would be represented by the chopping of a tree. The embattled women in his life watch on as he guides the family’s path through his will and work. The destruction of nature has a paralleled effect on these women. The man chops until he reaches a humanlike vein in the tree. Feeling threatened, he attacks the vein as it continues to shoot forth blood. The women remain strong and survive him. The doubt planted in his mind will ultimately lead to his insanity or his death. All his sins, past, present and future possibilities, some real and some imagined, flash before his eyes as he closes them for a final time.
The source material really connected the idea of this relationship struggle and battle of the sexes being at the core of this story of man versus nature. It is a man’s realization that he has very little of the control he thought he had in his life and in his relationships. Women have the ability to create and men are left with the power that a patriarchal society gives them to try to control them. By the end, the story begins to represent science and reason versus faith and religion, a struggle as ancient and confounding as the battle of the sexes. Or, it might just be a story about a man chopping at a tree.
And Gauguin’s “Where Do We Come From?” laid a groundwork that allowed me to frame the short with scenes that focused on newborn life and innocence, gender and awareness of sexuality, quest for knowledge and a man on the verge of death, or insanity, mirrored by his memories as a child.
Before submitting the piece, I was already personally pleased with the final result. The project itself was a major catharsis. The block that had been weighing me down was lifted and I was already inspired to write and create more art. In early October, the creators of “Gesamt” announced the artists whose work was chosen as part of the film. More than 400 individuals worldwide sent in 501 submissions, and 142 artists were chosen. Fewer than 20 were chosen from the United States, and I was thrilled to see my name among the selected artists.
Soon after the announcement, they released the trailer for the film, now called “Disaster 501: What happened to man?”, and I was overjoyed to see multiple clips from my piece featured in the minute-long teaser alongside so many talented artists’ work.
Hallund, the director of “Gesamt,” said of my submission, “Justin Hilliard’s work excited me because of its visual and symbolic strength. He clearly wanted to tell a story and courageously transgressed taboos and let us enter the mind of a broken man. It was a complex piece of film, which denied the American moralizing and played competently with the seduction of religious manipulation on the psychology of man. It was homage to Lars Von Trier’s ‘AntiChrist.’ The theme of sexual violence against women and children by the hands of a self-imposed male Christ-like figure is a proud baby step towards depicting the souls of the fathers who rape.”
Regrettably, I was not able to attend the film’s opening at the Kunsthal Charlottenborgin Copenhagen in October, but I will make it a point to attend the Stateside premiere. The producers behind the project intend to have it tour other festivals and museums before any official distribution is explored. I’m proud to be a part of this project along with so many other original artists from around the world. I can’t wait to see their work in the finished film.
But this was such a freeing experience that it has led, for me, to an overflow of inspiration. And for that I can only thank Von Trier, an artist who truly understands the great freedom in limitation.
Watch the NSFW trailer for the Von Trier/Hallund project as well as Hilliard's complete short (also NSFW), below: