Studio.Public: A Conversation with Evan Mann
I remember the first time I walked into Evan Mann’s Redline studio and being perplexed by all of the stark white sculptures made from mundane objects. There were suits and helmets, sculptures of all types, and then among the landscape of white was a burst of fluorescent green from the adjacent green screen backdrop. Evan’s studio was set up for creation, production, as well as post-production, but at the time I was so dumbfounded by the amount of visual imagery that I just walked out.
Fast forward a year and Evan and I are working together in a classroom at Bruce Randolph High School, where he is the visiting artist for Redline’s EPiC Arts program and I am his assistant. We are working with these high school students to create costumes which will be used to make a short film combining handmade suits, urban landscapes, and each student’s own language in the form of spoken haiku.
After this experience, Evan’s residency at Redline ended, and his work moved further north to his studio in Loveland. I reached out a few weeks ago to connect with him once again and gain a little more perspective on his studio practice, his current work, and where Evan, and the team of Otherworldy Productions, is headed next.
Always an artsy student, Mann received his BFA in Printmaking from Colorado State University. With intentions to find a way to create work and still make a living, Mann moved to Rhode Island to attend Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) where he received his Master’s in Printmaking with a set course of becoming a college professor back in Colorado.
Printmaking to him was a form of art making that had potential to create a sustainable living via mass production, but as Mann finished up his degree his course for life took a different route as he found the world of video and filmmaking calling to him. While at RISD Mann rediscovered video as an artistic medium, falling in love with the entire process of making a film: “it was sculpture, it was drawing, it was sound design. It was playing with narrative and time and light and sound and taking all these universal macrocosmic sort of forces and manipulating them like clay.”
"Printmaking makes you start thinking in layers,
and I think video is very similar to that."
He views this as a natural shift in thinking from his background in printmaking as “printmaking makes you start thinking in layers, and I think video is very similar to that. You have to think through so many different layers and technologies … there are artistic and creative decisions that have to be made along every step of the way.”
This shift from printmaking, painting, and drawing into the world of video allowed Mann’s work to be seen in its natural state for the first time. In an art world that is so based in technology and social media, video was a perfect medium to present his concepts and ideas. Rather than seeing a reproduced photograph of an original work, viewers were now able to see his films via video platforms such as Vimeo, which Mann now describes as his gallery. Viewers can view film as film, not a reproduction of the original object.
This world of objects and false assumptions of reality are what instantly come to mind when I imagine Evan’s work, but this is not the direction that he intends to proceed in looking forward into his career. Viewing himself now more of a filmmaker than a fine artist, Mann created and runs Otherworldy Productions, a “mixed-media, commercial video production company that supports artists, musicians, agencies and brands through visual storytelling and design.” Most notably, Otherworldy Productions has created a commercial in collaboration with ClifBar for the Olympic Games and has worked with companies such as RXBar, Arapahoe Libraries, The Ramble Hotel, and was the grand prize winner of the Samsung 4K Challenge with their film “This Mountain” (below) which is one of the most poignant, touching pieces of film and views of artistic life and process I have seen since viewing “Life in a Day” last year.
Otherworldy Productions was created out of a struggle that Mann faced entering the world of fine art, producing sculptures and films, hustling his work, networking at exhibitions, and applying for shows, for what, in his opinion, had very little reward.
“I felt like I never quite fit in the fine art world, but I didn’t know it at the time. I had so much pressure on myself to try and make a living as a visual artist … my work had to provide for my family, and that was something that I really wrestled with. I worked myself to the bone trying to make that work … I would sell stuff, but it just never seemed to fit, and then when I started dabbling in video … I started really falling in love with the process and the media and then this sort of wonderful thing happened where its like, if I was able to learn all the programs and how to use cameras, then maybe this is also commercially viable and I could start a business and make a living doing this.
I discovered video could be both very commercially viable and it could be creatively viable. When I started my production company we started making money from commercials, and every year our revenues have grown and now I’m able to provide not only for myself, but I have two full time guys … they make their living under a company that I started, and that to me is a whole other level that I never really expected. It brings a lot of joy as a filmmaker, as an artist, but also as a businessperson.”
His short films now function as a means of creative outlet as well as commercial marketing for his business. But with perfect situations like Mann has set up, come certain pitfalls, most importantly in his case is exposure.
Voyage of the Galactic Space Dangler (above), a short film that took Mann over two years to complete, was an instant success when it was released, gaining traction by being a Vimeo Staff Pick and being featured on Short of the Week. This short saw a lot of views within the first few days of its release but after that Mann says its exposure “tapered off … and it was like it never happened.
As an artist, getting that type of exposure was really cool, but then you feel like the world just kind of moves on because there is just so much other content to consume” leading to questions like “how do I distinguish myself, or why am I different, what do I have to contribute that’s not already there?”
This creates thoughts about failure as an artist, as well as what defines success. Following three short films that were all staff picked on Vimeo, Mann released two ‘failures’ that were not staff picked and did not gain attention, but which did lead to Mann needing to “redefine what success is” which for him is now as simple as “if I’m able to make something.” He now creates his short films with a new intention, which is to “meet and collaborate with other people. I have to know that success is not defined by who promotes my film, or says its worthy of X, Y, or Z.
I think it’s healthy for artists to face that failure because it really forces us to question why we’re doing what we’re doing. Is it for the validation of others? And I think for most of us it is.”
So where does this leave Evan Mann as he moves forward, now creating work for himself, allowing him to create work for others and in turn support his family and the families of his employees?
Evan is now delving deeper in the world of narrative filmmaking, explored through works such as “Voyage of the Galactic Space Dangler” and his newer short “Bear Dance” (below). “I need to find the medium of art that is capable of saying what I am really wanting to say versus it just appearing as pure abstraction to the viewer,” which to Mann means focusing more on the story, dialogue, and characters in a film, and moving away from the focus on the materials. He now uses “materials as props for vignettes to shape the narrative” giving them context and purpose by illustrating “a concept in the most practical, tangible, tactile way.”
Eternally inspired by installation artists such as Tara Donovan and Sarah Sze, Evan’s objects now function as an “homage to my fine arts background while still saying ‘I’m moving forward into narrative, and yet I still want to make these little objects that could exist on a pedestal in a gallery.’”
His explorations into narrative have landed Evan at a point where he is looking deeply into human experience, mainly an experience which is clouded over quite often: death. Expect to see Mann exploring this aspect of the life cycle further in his trademark style of humor soon, utilizing spaces such as yoga studios and props like jelly doughnuts to explain and explore the concept of death.