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Filmmaker Laura Heit Experiments With 'Animated Installations'

You could say filmmaker and performance artist Laura Heit had reached a pinnacle in her career: co-director of the Experimental Animation Program at Cal Arts.

In 2011 she gave it all up to move to Portland, a move she still celebrates today.  

“Moving here has been great. I’ve made a lot of work since I moved to Portland. And part of that is not driving all the time.” And, she said, “It smells good! It’s a good quality of life. And that’s a good thing as an artist to be able to sort of enjoy your day to day. And, make space for yourself creatively.”  

Heit started her study of animation at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she created her first animated film, Parachute.

After graduation she flew off to London earning an MFA at the Royal College of Art. But Heit makes more than films. In 2000 she created The Matchbox Shows,  a tiny tabletop cabaret.

“That was the rule,” Heit said. “Everything for the show had to fit inside the matchbox. And I could only spend an hour on it. And I wouldn’t rehearse it. And I would just dump it on the table and perform it live. That’s how the matchbox show started. And I’m still doing them fifteen years later.”  

Recently she began creating installations, like Two Ways Down, an exploration of the quiet moments inside a natural disaster, recently on display at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum in Eugene.

“Animated installation is what I’ve been calling it,” Heit said. “That’s come out of a real desire to add the element of performance that I’m most interested in. So this idea that it happens and it only happens when there’s the presence of people there. But also that it can’t ever happen again exactly as it was.”

Heit’s latest films, Rover’s Eye and Apollo 6 make use of newly released NASA 16 mm film footage. She uses both stop-motion and hand-drawn animation, layered over the NASA footage, to create her own imagined versions of space.

Next month she flies off to Texas to premiere her new films at the Houston Cinema Arts Festival, along with her new animated installation piece, Hypothetical Star.

But don’t worry, she’s coming back to Portland. She kinda likes it here.  

Laura Heit was featured on Oregon Art Beat’s premiere episode, Thursday, October 8th at 8:00 pm on OPB.      

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