VOICE, a performance art movie is in the house

I have made autobiographical art about mental illness for twenty five years, including sculpture and solo theatre. One of my friends and theatre collaborators told me I’ve made so much art about it that I’ve almost cured myself of bipolar disorder. By the time I began working on VOICE, a performance art movie, it wasn’t autobiographical anymore. I was able to make surrealistic fiction about a middle-class woman who is so clueless about mental health that she is too embarrassed to tell her therapist that she was treated for an eating disorder as a young woman; a woman who is so out of touch with her inner self that her psychoses leave the planet without her. Also, the woman has had artist’s block since college – that’s not me! When the movie opens, she is a shell and her life has fallen apart.

I could never let my life fall apart like my character does. That’s not in my makeup. But I could also never let myself be vulnerable and as open to change as she is. I envy her vulnerability. I’m sure I’ve BEEN as vulnerable as anyone else; but as soon as I FEEL vulnerable, unlike the character in my movie, I become aggressive instead of falling apart.

This year, VOICE made me what is probably one of the best friends I’ve ever had. Her response to the movie has me in tears every time I think about it because she made it so personal. I believe that a work of art is not completed by its maker, but instead continues to be made by its viewers.

Years ago I toured a solo show about me and a mean voice that started inside my head when I was 8 years old. In the show, I play myself and the voice fighting constantly for control. When you’ve been living like that for 40 years, you can’t help but have a sense of humor or you’ll REALLY go crazy. But my audiences were usually dead silent in what I thought were the most deadly funny parts of my show until one night at the Midnight Sun in Olympia, Washington when the 15 schizophrenic outpatients I’d sold discounted tickets to, laughed so hard that I kept having to stop the show and I forgot some of my lines. That was art continuing in the viewer. My BFF making me cry about her response to VOICE is art continuing in the viewer.

A movie that I greenscreened by myself in my livingroom about a bipolar woman in therapy whose psychoses abandon her for outer space was such catharsis that I have to let it go – I have to let it continue. Thanks to Onlineum for spurring me to expedite subtitles so that VOICE could be part of Onlineum’s launch this past week.

VOICE, a performance art movie is in the house. https://youtu.be/SGJ4LnEDW2s


VOICE, a performance art movie (English subtitles) is playing on Onlineum

I am so happy that the new online museum, Onlineum, is featuring my performance art movie VOICE through November 23, 2017. ‘A bipolar woman’s psychoses begin touring outer space …’ @ http://www.onlineum.com/exhibitions/

Artist’s Life 101: I would be nothing if not for all my failures

I have been quite grateful for all the artworld rejections I’ve ever gotten for the past week. ​

On November 1, I got an email saying: “We really like your work. We were wondering if we may suggest screening AND SO I SAID piece, we think it would go better with the overall flow of our program.” I submitted KILLER JANE, which is 13 minutes, to this festival – the other movie is 5-1/2 minutes.​


If you participate in the art world in more than one medium long enough, you will find yourself in the same sort of situation in more than one medium. I can recall exactly how upset I was the first time I submitted two sculptures to a competition and my favorite was passed over while the other won me a prize. That experience did not make any less awful the night my scene partner and I gave a staged reading of my first two-person monologue and right afterwards the artistic director of the venue said to the audience: “I think this should be a solo performance and (pointing out another actress who was in the audience) [she] should do it.” They had to scrape me off the floor that night.​

And then there’s the more than once of we-love-your-work-but-we-haven’t-made-our-final-decision-yet; and you wind up not getting selected. It takes years and years and years of rejections to recognize semi-finalist or honorable mention as currency.​

So with all the rejections, disappointments and in my face ego battering under my belt, I laughed and told myself: “Don’t get too excited about maybe getting into this festival – you know the drill.”​

I was going to write an essay about it however it turned out. I have been trying to get into art venues in Montreal for 20 years in three of my mediums. And I wish I could be there when Burnt Experimental Video Art and Film Festival screens AND SO I SAID.​

Artist’s Statement – October, 17, 2017

I applied for a high profile grant/fellowship last month. It’s not a matter of whether I get selected or not (I won’t), it’s a matter of my having that much faith in my work. Faith in one’s work is important.
I have sold a lot of sculpture for someone who was a career paralegal at the time. I have been paid as an actor more often than the average for someone who was a professional sculptor and a career paralegal at the time. Two of my plays were produced at no expense to me by an Equity theater, which is a lot for someone who was a touring actor, a professional sculptor and a career paralegal at the time.
I have sold sculpture, been paid as an actor and received grants, fellowships and residencies. I am at a point in my career as a filmmaker when one SHOULD be applying for grants, fellowships and residencies. However, since I’ve had grants, fellowships and residencies in other art careers already, I am 101% sure that while grants, fellowships and residencies might increase my profile in the artworld, they mostly will not help the work itself like they did in the past in my other art forms.
Theater folks will understand what I mean when I say I’m concerned about “legitimacy.” Non-union actors likely don’t have agents or managers, especially actors like me who work in “small theater,” which one of my art dealers whose husband was both SAG and Equity called “community theater.” Theater folks will also understand why I say “ouch.”
Because I have developed as filmmaker mostly on my own, I have been concerned with, distracted by, obsessed about achieving legitimacy, professionalism and mastery of tech in a way that people who’ve been to film school (whether they finished the program or not) probably don’t. Continuity, in my opinion, is the measuring stick of professionalism in film and also is at the heart of the craft. I believe continuity is never completely mastered because it is an art in itself and therefore, like any art, is always a higher goal to be achieved You learn continuity by doing it – no book can teach it to you – and I have suffered and slaved over it and lost sleep over it. However, my work is being recognized as peer work through official recognition by film festivals that are part of The Industry.
I often tell the story about an art professor I was chasing before I met my husband. He came to the opening of a two person gallery show where my new body of sculpture was being shown. I asked him what he thought of my work – I knew it wasn’t his cup of tea by the way he looked at it and I told him I knew that. But his response to my question was: “Well, I didn’t think you were stupid.”
It’s important to me to keep putting my work before film festivals because  I have faith in my work and I know after having achieved maturity in other art forms that I am approaching maturity as a filmmaker. I want to contribute to what I’ve always called the “body of thought” because I know that while I’m not always right as a filmmaker, I am not stupid.

Creation, a performance art movie in progress: A playlist of pre-production videos

CREATION is a mythology based on Mbombo, the creator god in the religion and mythology of the Kuba of Central Africa, who created the world by vomiting various parts of it.

I am in the pre-production phase of CREATION, composing a live action storyboard through a process of creating and uploading pre-production worldbuilding, story and character development videos.

CREATION is shot splitscreen and chromakeyed; and montaged with shots from the natural world. There is no dialogue (vocalization and singing are improvised) and the movie will be subtitled and or intertitled as necessary. The sound of the world of the story will be gathered as much as possible from the characters’ movements and mixed with found sounds to enhance the ambience.

Sylvia Toy Art Films on Etsy

Sylvia Toy Art Films

THE SPINSTER (2013) is a performance art/video art single-channel movie about an office worker who lives to draw in the classical style. I used Method acting to develop the character by drawing every day for two months so that I could draw on camera without cues, diagrams or even anatomical models. Except for a few minutes of documentary style footage taken my husband, this is a one-man movie. The movie was shot on first-gen Canon Vixias, except for the street scenes, which were shot on a Flip.

THE SPINSTER is obsessed with the Mannerist painter, Jacopo Pontormo. ‘Pontormo’s Diary’ is the only thing she has on her IPod. The words seem to put her in a trance.

The Spinster lives alone, sleeps wrapped in a blanket on the floor of her apartment in the only space that’s not covered with art supplies, rolls of paper, monographs of Renaissance art, and her own drawings. She lives mostly on eggs & salad, just like her spiritual mentor, Pontormo.

This project was inspired by a painter Back East who bought gallons and gallons of Cerulean oil paint at a closeout sale in Chelsea way before Chelsea was cool. A huge sheet of paper covered with Cerulean figures reminiscent of Pontormo’s and Michelangelo’s drawings hung permanently in his living room. He could not go a day without drawing. The Spinster can’t go to the bus stop without drawing.

I discovered something very interesting about this character during my late shoots. She is not unhappy and she is not having a midlife crisis – so, that could not be the theme of this story! After drawing almost every day for months, and being in character on camera for 40 minutes straight drawing life-sized versions of what’s in my Moleskins, I re-discovered true contentment. The only thing that could cause The Spinster to have a midlife crisis is a pencil lead shortage. She lives in joyful existential oblivion.

“Sylvia Toy St. Louis is a true artist, struggling the same struggle every artist has fought. I’m right there with her. Her characterizations are true to heart and she fills the screen with words that hone toward the truth that she finally reveals.” Review by Tess Collins Ph.D.

THE SPINSTER (Color/Stereo 26’32” USA 2013) is available on signed/dated, plain label DVDs.

QUEEN (2014). A Butoh inspired performance art short film by African-American filmmaker, Sylvia Toy. A mute, solemn priestess dressed in white conducts a birth ritual in a room draped in white to an unseen congregation, while strains of Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 fill the stark room. As she silently performs her sacred duty, her actions are projected in a split screen by a shadow of herself.

This video was improvised on camera without any rehearsal period after being planned for about 13 months, during which I collected eggshells and designed the set.

Constructed of: soil, eggshells, cotton, nylon, makeup, acrylic, acrylic latex, egg cartons, rice paper, freshwater pearls, water, Jojoba oil, porcelain cup, tape, felt, craft paper, light, human, bamboo.

Reviewed by Stella Brown: “This is the new film maker to watch!”

Signed/dated plain label DVD (Color/Stereo 9′ USA 2014)

#performanceart #videoart #audiovisual #Sylviatoyindustries #montage #Butoh #AfricanAmericanArt #ritual #limitededition #DVD

“before chill” (2014) was selected for 2016 Creative Arts Film Festival, won Honorable Mention for cinematography and was nominated for Best Director. This movie is a video poem about aging/the changing of the seasons. It was inspired by the signs that winter is about to happen here in San Francisco, this town that “has no seasons.” Just like everywhere else that I’ve lived, however, there is a pungency, a dryness in the whispering breeze that will grow into a raging wind in a few weeks, a stillness and a beautiful pearlescent sky. I shot this movie on my way home from dayjob as I the scenic route through San Francisco’s beautiful Civic Center. I edited this movie in first-gen Splice on my IPhone. What a lovely way that was to begin twilight.

Exploring “being human” through improvisational acting means finding my throughline as a character forms and tells its story on camera. It is boggling how often that character is not who I planned for it to be before I turned on the camera. That speaks volumes about “what is humanness.”

Available in a limited edition of 10 plain label, signed/dated DVDs.

#text #san francisco #performance art #experimental film #video art #dvd #iPhone #african-american #Sylviatoyindustries #Sylvia Toy #video poem #disposable film #DVD

THE BLUE LADY (2015). What happens in an 1830s South Carolina farmhouse between two house slaves and their mistress during Master’s final, horrible hours of dying a painful death. A one-woman movie by African American filmmaker, Sylviatoyindustries, who created the script through improvisation, played all three characters, designed and sewed by hand the Romantic era gown worn by the plantation mistress. Most of movie was shot in front of green screen and the background montages were based on months of research about the Antebellum (pre-Civil War) era. The set included handmade heirloom objects and authentic replicas of household furnishings from the period.

Mature themes.

Reviewed by Tess Collins, PhD: “I had the privilege of watching early versions of character development for this film, and now, the final product gives me chills. SylviaToySt.Louis plays the virgin/mother/crone in 1830s South Carolina as the hateful Master Henry who has violated all three women either physically or mentally lays dying in the next room. His screams background the women as they contemplate their “place” in this life. The innocent and fanciful Lolly whose child-like movements are like a dance through life. There’s no hint of the horror of her life. The narcissistic Missy plays as much to the mirror as to other characters as if her reflection is a confirmation of her existence, only moving away when her long held secret is finally revealed. Long suffering Elizabeth is the bedrock of the household, putting Henry in his place at the expense of her own body. The three women weave a spell of what women must do to survive this life and what they will do to live it on their own terms. Brava, Sylvia!”

Screened at Eisentrager-Howard Gallery, 2016.

Signed/dated plain label DVD (Color/Stereo 40′ USA 2014).

PASSAGES, A MYTH. Three sibling deities rule the world from the firmament. When the king of the god’s youngest sister kills a Human for using language, the king absorbs the corpse into his body and becomes pregnant.

The setting is the firmament from which Sum’o the King of the Gods, Sum’i the Arbiter and their younger sister Sum’a the Enforcer rule the world. There has been ongoing conflict about the Humans between Sum’o, who spends his time in meditation, and Sum’a, who has an ego and temper more like a Human. When Sum’a kills a Human during a dispute over the Humans using language in violation of the laws of the gods, Sum’o, in his grief over the loss of a life, absorbs the Human’s corpse into his body and becomes pregnant.

There is no dialogue. There are inter-titles preceding each scene.

Reviewed by Tess Collins, PHD: “Performance Art at its finest. In this 25 minute film Sylvia ToyStLouis tackles the Gods/Goddesses. We all suspected they were just another dysfunctional family who comes together in the end for the greater good. This time humanity plays its part in changing the Gods rather than the other way around. It’s a nice reversal. Other than the terrific characterizations, there are some cool special effects and killer mummys in the background that I hope make future appearances in her films. Watchable, intriguing, and keeps you wondering what will happen next. Gods and Goddesses are an unpredictable lot. Passages, a Myth shows how they grow. I almost say “roll”, that too.” Soundtrack, “Birth of the Incarnate,” https://soundcloud.com/sylvia-toy-st-louis/birth-of-the-incarnate.

An excerpt of “Passages, a Myth” was selected for Fest Miden (Greece) in 2016 and screened on Visual Container TV (Milan) in 2017.

Signed/Dated plain label DVD (Color/Stereo, 24′ USA 2015).

#performanceart #chromakey #videoart #audiovisual #Sylviatoyindustries #AfricanAmericanArt

THE HARPY (2016) is an “invented” mythology about a goddess who was put in a coma by her sisters for disagreeing with them about the governing of The Humans. This is the first in an ongoing series of films (Vimeo playlist @ https://vimeo.com/album/4126992. The ongoing story of The Harpy is, ultimately, an exploration of what “peer” status is in society and how that status is affected when a member of society rejects decisions or standards that have been agreed upon or accepted by their peers as a group.

In the Harpies’ world, law and punishment are relentless – in the end, the offending sister is condemned to a 10,000 year coma; when she awakens, her entire species including her sisters have become extinct. The story is also an exploration of whether in the big picture society allows itself to be affected by dissension/protest, and if so, whether the result is a positive or negative impact.

This split screen improvisation was created in front of a green screen and shot in a 2 stationary camera setup.

THE HARPY is discussed in this essay by Cathrin Gordon, Artist Retrospective: The Unsung Genius of Sylvia Toy, bit.ly/0711SToyReviewAtMed.

Selected for Bucharest ShortCut Cine Fest in 2016. Selected for The Videoperformance, Art Web Gallery, in 2017. An multimedia, live adaptation of “The Harpy” has been streamed in 2nd Online Performance Art Festival, Budapest, (2016) and Rewind Performance Festival, Jakarta, (2017).

Signed, dated plain label DVD. (Color/Stereo 09’45” USA 2016).

#performance art #chromakey #splitscreen #videoart #audiovisual #Sylviatoyindustries #montage

The Cape Experiments by Sylvia Toy (2016-ongoing series) are performance art events improvised in a large, greenscreenable cape. These scenes were shot in Cold Creek, Nevada USA, which is located in the Toyabe National Forest near Mt. Charleston. Music in this video was created and sung by Sylvia Toy.

The Toyabe National Forest is outside Las Vegas and my in-laws have a summer home in Cold Creek which is surrounded by the forest. It is dry, clear, clean and crisp. It is the desert; and for me, the most beautiful place on earth. We have such a short time to be on this planet; and that that time is, relative to the universe, the blink of an eye; and that, unlike the rest of the animal kingdom, we are mystifyingly oblivious to how marvelous it is to have the rare experience of being alive in such a cold dark place as the universe. Spending a week in the forest refreshes me and my perspective on my place in the universe.

Soundtrack https://soundcloud.com/sylvia-toy-st-louis/the-cape-experiments-by-sylvia-toy-toyabe-wind-2016.

Signed, dated plain label DVD (Color/Stereo, 02′ 05″, USA, 2016)

#performanceart #chromakey #videoart #audiovisual #Sylviatoyindustries #montage

THE VICTIM (2017). This is a monologue about abuse, fear, bullying and courage.

My parents were friends with a couple who had terrible things going on in their home: the husband molested all five of their daughters on a regular basis as soon as they could walk. He was a former opera singer who had become a chef after the opera company disbanded. He died peacefully in his alcoholic sleep when he was in his sixties.

He tried to molest me several times, I think. But I only remember one specifically. It was on a holiday in the summer, the kind of holiday when we were at their place for a barbecue. He was cooking – it is true that he made the best barbecue sauce in the universe. I was five and my mother finally would let me go alone to the bathroom at their house. I was on my way down the hallway when he caught me from behind and stuck his hand down my pants. I am my parents, Mr. & Mrs. Clean Freaks’ daughter; and I did not think about danger; instead I was worried whether he was going to wash his hands before making the sauce after he stuck his hands down my pants.

He asked me if I swore not to tell. I said “No.” He asked me again. I said “No.” He asked me why. I said “Because my mother won’t let me swear.”

My mother never could keep her mouth shut – especially when people were trying to push her around or if she thought they were going to try to push her around. I am sure she knew that man couldn’t/wouldn’t keep it in his pants, and I knew she yelled at him all the time.

That man let me go and never touched me again, to the point of acting like he couldn’t stand me in front of my parents. My parents had made, and were keeping, that world safe for me. We should all be vigilant all the time about keeping the world safe for children and any other vulnerable people.

Signed and dated plain label DVD (Color-Stereo 04’04” USA).

#performanceart #chromakey #videoart #audiovisual #Sylviatoyindustries