JENNIFER ELSTER’S BEING
By Elizabeth Patterson
The Being Experience is an intriguing piece of art that is more revealing than it appears. A cadre of celebrities that includes Moby, Terrence Howard, Famke Janssen, Liya Kebede, Questlove and more find themselves wandering around in the woods, seemingly with no direction, while artist Jennifer Elster films. Though this may appear to be the beginning of a horror movie, the results are surprisingly human, with each subject giving an unfiltered, authentic look into their thoughts. We spoke with Elster to learn more about what exactly her project is.
Elizabeth Patterson: The idea behind this film series is so original. What drove you to create it?
Jennifer Elster: My life. Myself. My upbringing. The desire to get through at the moment in time of creation. The need to understand myself and study behavior. The necessity to create. I take pride in creating something that is originally mine that will benefits others.
EP: You feature a who’s who of talent in your piece. How did you get such prolific people on board? Was there anyone you were surprised to get?
JE: The subjects naturally came together, somehow, though there was a lot of work involved in coordinating. Strange things were always happening. Coincidences everywhere. One day I wrote down on a piece of paper that Terrence Howard was my number one choice (on my actor list) for this series. Two days later I was in the Four Seasons conference area writing something down and Terrence approached me. Things like that happen(ed) to me all the time. Sometimes things are handed to me and I don’t seize, which is what it is. And sometimes it works out. Overall, I work very hard on what I care about, so organizing the subjects got a lot of my time at one point. There are many more subjects than what is mentioned in the press. I.e. I took Marla Maples in the woods (Trump’s ex wife).
EP: Why the woods? Why not a field, a car, a home? What specific reason drove you to this location, if any?
JE: The need for nature. I have lived in New York City practically my whole life, but being in the trees, with the trees, is a part of who I am. We all need it.
EP: You got mixed reactions from your stars as they wander around the forest, ranging from slight fear, to annoyance, to apparent appreciation for the experience to spend some time with nature. Were you hoping for this kind of authentic reaction? Do you think any of the reactions were more controlled due to the presence of a camera?
JE: One has to be brave, if they take themselves seriously, to step into my film and go into the woods. In regard to the awareness of the camera, there’s more to it than that and that is what you will see when the official series comes out.
EP: Your descriptions for the film have been fairly vague. Do you want to enhance mystery or do you simply want others to come to their own conclusions about it, free of influence?
JE: I sometimes do not even understand why I have been so vague, but it feels very inherent at the time I am being vague. Meaning many things. I wanted to preserve what is there and only give a little. I wanted people to experience something new. I wanted to understand the climate. And I wasn’t ready to give more. I didn’t feel the public was in need for this type of project, but now I think they are hungry for it. I work on my own clock and the timing feels aligned. I have a real home life and I have been fortunate to have done my work at my own pace and the pace has changed. A while back, I was so deep in my work, so deep inside of so many peoples minds at once, while going through my own stuff, that I got lost many times. I would use my work as a way to deal with my suppressed pain. That work pattern wasn’t proving to be efficient so I had to step away. That was a different engine. I have worked through very hard things in my own mind to be on a level where I can tell the stories of so many others in a big picture, genuine, unprecedented and unorthodox way. It sounds complex, but it is actually very simple. I’m in a magnificent space in my mind and the work coming out is natural. I have always said that this project will span time, and it has, and that will continue to be true. But there’s a lot coming soon and it will be fun to experience it rolling out. That’s what I’m figuring.
EP: Yoko Ono did the vocalizations for this piece. Did you always want her to do it, or was anyone else on the table?
JE: Yoko was another first choice. I wanted her to perform the vocalizations I wrote for the project, and she agreed. I remember I got the call when I was in a pumpkin patch in LA: “Yoko said she will do it.” I was very touched by it in a “fuck yeah” kind of way. When we recorded we got right to it. She was courageous, as I expected her to be, but it was interesting for our forces to interact.
EP: Is there anything you want to tell us about the film itself?
JE: Yes. I would like to clarify as my projects are often confusing and understandably so… the “vague” thing. There is no “film itself”. As of today some of my work is in the form of a channel. There will be an…IN THE WOODS original film series and that location of platform is to be announced. For now, tune into the ride. I believe it will be different from anything you have ever experienced, because it is unto itself. Come in open, if you will, to whatever that will be shared on the ChannelELSTER every Wednesday. It’s beginning.