Post-Election Travel

Where do you go when the world around you is collapsing? You usually go to see your Mom in vague hopes to return to her womb and stay there until the bad weather blows itself out on its own.

So I packed 7 t-shirts and went to see my family in Latvia. They were happy to see me, dotting, fretting and cooking local delicacies for me. I ate elk meat sausages steeped in duck fat and when the family went to sleep, I stayed in the kitchen checking emails on my laptop and the panic inducing news about the president-elect forming his new cabinet.

But before long my secret was out.

- You used to make films, - my Dad said one morning. - Now all you do is read about politics.

- Why your laptop is open again? - my Sister asked at the second breakfast. - All those political news are making you sick.

- You know too much about politics! - my Mom shouted before lunch. - This does you no good. I can see clearly - it is an addiction. Stop it!

I cried and I argued that this was my vacation, that I also sometimes check business related emails and that social media is part of what I do as an artist. But more I cried and defended myself, more it became obvious to my family that I indeed had a big problem. They advised to fight the addiction. So I closed the laptop and didn't work on the Thanksgiving blog post I wanted to write.

They were right - all that crying I did in private during nights definitely was not healthy. Something inside me was falling apart to correctly reflect the falling apart world outside me.

Then I went to Poland, to Etiuda&Anima festival in Krakow.

It is a festival dedicated to juxtaposing animated films with live action and documentary etudes, with a special focus on students and their needs. I was at the festival in 2015, doing a presentation called "Autoportraitwhere I had to draw and show my creative process in front of 120 people. A nerve-wracking experience because I am no good at drawing (especially not in front of other people!) but the festival liked it and invited me back with "Rocks In My Pockets". They also asked me to compile and present 3 programs of the best New York animated shorts.

So now I was in Poland, a country that a year before had similar election results as we just had in USA. Instantly, politics became the main subject of any conversation I had. I wanted to know how Polish people, especially women, cope under a very conservative government.

- The politicians are changing the laws, so that is very bad, - one person explained. - But on every day level, the institutions and organizations like universities, festivals, support groups etc are still there, so you don't run into black holes of cultural destruction.

- Did you participate in the women's protests in early October? - I asked a young festival volunteer. The Black Monday had inspired me and gave me a hope that we can do something if important laws we care about are going under an axe.

- You bet I did! - she said. - I don't like abortions but banning them is not a solution, so I had to join the protest. And we won!

- The women won the Black Monday! - I told to a levelheaded projectionist. - So we, people, have power.

- Yes, but it was only one law, - he said glumly. - The government is repealing 100 laws a day and there is nothing we can do. Can't protest every day.

Nearly every screening at the festival was packed and films were excellent. The Best of New York Animation program had a great audience, too. In solidarity with Polish women I wore black each day at the festival. Maybe one day we'll need Polish women to show solidarity with us. What would be the color of our protest?

Presenting Best of New York Animation program at Etiuda&Anima

Presenting Best of New York Animation program at Etiuda&Anima

Surprisingly, a lot of people showed up for "Rocks In My Pockets" screening.

Crowd gathers at   Kijów Centrum   cinema before "Rocks In My Pockets" screening

Crowd gathers at Kijów Centrum cinema before "Rocks In My Pockets" screening

I was pleased, but also stressed out. What if those nice people hate the film?

- Why are you here? - I ask "Rocks In My Pockets" audience. - Why do you want to see a funny film about depression? Don't you have better things to do?

- Why are you here? - I ask "Rocks In My Pockets" audience. - Why do you want to see a funny film about depression? Don't you have better things to do?

We, as a society, are only as good as our artists who challenge us, train us to think critically. The moment artists stop to cry at nights about election results and stop caring about something other than their own success and creature comforts, we are screwed. 

But we also need festivals like Etiuda&Anima that are crucial meeting points between artists and audience. It probably works in little steps, too small to see from Space, but it is good to know it is there.

THANK YOU, Etiuda&Anima, for your work!



Peep in on My Animated Work at San Francisco International Airport!

Press release from San Francisco Arts Commission:

New Peephole Cinema Delights Travelers at San Francisco International Airport

Posted on September 29th, 2016

San Francisco Arts Commission brings Laurie O’Brien’s celebrated Peephole Cinema to SFO’s Interim Boarding Area B

Signe Baumane's "ABC of Travel": several same-letter families travel to a reunion.

Signe Baumane's "ABC of Travel": several same-letter families travel to a reunion.

SAN FRANCISCO: September 29 – Travelers passing through San Francisco International Airport’s Interim Boarding Area B can view a series of silent film shorts inspired by travel and the writings of Danish author Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875) through dime-sized peepholes. The installation, commissioned by the San Francisco Arts Commission, is the latest iteration of Laurie O’Brien’s Peephole Cinema, which includes satellite projects in Brooklyn and Los Angeles. SFO Peephole Cinema: To Travel is to Live includes six silent shorts by Signe Baumane, Kota Ezawa and Ms. O’Brien that will be on view for the next year and a half at which point a new iteration will be installed.

“We are thrilled to bring Laurie O’Brien’s Peephole Cinema to San Francisco International Airport,” said Director of Cultural Affairs Tom DeCaigny, “This is the first temporary multi-media installation the Arts Commission has presented at SFO and we are confident that travelers will enjoy discovering these wonderfully creative short films as they pass through the terminal.”

“The temporary Boarding Area B is an important step in our transformation of Terminal 1, and we are excited to feature this installation in the interim facility,” said Airport Director Ivar C. Satero. “Public art is an integral part of our airport’s identity; it elevates the travel experience and provides a sense of place to our facilities. We thank the San Francisco Arts Commission for this inspiring work.”

In 1891, Thomas Edison with the help of William Dickson created the kinetoscope, a large wooden box that when peered into through an eye-sized hole revealed a short motion picture. With the invention of the film projector, movie viewing evolved from a solitary activity into a social experience that gave rise to modern-day movie theaters.  O’Brien’s playful SFO Peephole Cinema: To Travel is to Live explores how, with the advent of the personal digital device, our collective experience of technology and entertainment has reverted back to a solo experience.

According to O’Brien, “Peephole Cinema invites elements of both the old and the new, the shared and the solitary experience.”

Signe Baumane: ABC of Travel (2016) and The Purpose of Travel (2016)
Kota Ezawa:  Supercalifragilisticexpialidocous (2016) and Moonwalk (2016)
Laurie O’Brien:  Emilia the Typist (2016) and Jack’s City (2016)

Oakland-based Kota Ezawa often reworks images from popular culture, film and art history, stripping them down to their core elements. His simplified versions remain easily recognizable and potent, the result of a process that illuminates the hold certain images have on their viewers. Working in a range of mediums such as digital animation, slide projections, light boxes, paper cut-outs, collage, print, and wood sculptures, Ezawa maintains a keen awareness of how images shape our experience and memory of events.

His work has been displayed in museum solo exhibitions including at Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, VA (2015), Albright Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York (2013), the Vancouver Art Gallery’s outdoor exhibition space Offsite (2012) and the Hayward Gallery Project Space in London (2007). His work has been included in group exhibitions such as, Out of the Ordinary at Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington DC (2013), After Photoshop at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY (2012), and The More Things Change at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA (2011 Ezawa’s work has earned a number of awards, including the SECA Art Award of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2006), a Eureka Fellowship from the Fleishhacker Foundation (2010) and a Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Biennial Award (2003). His work is included in renowned collections such as: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; MOMA, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco; J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, among others.

Laurie O’Brien is an artist working in video, installation, animation, and performance.   Her interdisciplinary media work is collaborative, interactive, sociopolitical, hand-made and digital.    She is interested in hybrid forms of expression that combine and defy definitions and categories.  Her animations, performances and video installations have been exhibited in numerous galleries nationally and internationally.  Her work often focuses on the blurring of fact and fiction.  A metaphor that continues to influence her work, the puppet, finds expression in unexpected forms with links to technology, identity, duplicity and deception.  She is an Assistant Professor of Visual Media in the Photography Department at RIT.  She lives in both Brooklyn and Rochester.

At the age of 14, Signe Baumane began publishing short stories in Latvia. She received a BA in Philosophy from Moscow State University, then started to work at Riga’s Animated Film Studio as a cel painter. With support of government grants, Signe made 3 animated shorts in Latvia, then moved to New York and spent four years working for independent animator Bill Plympton as an art director and production manager. In 1998, Signe received her US green card as ‘extraordinary ability alien’ and began making films at her own studio. In 2005 she became a NYFA Fellow in Film. She received two grants from the Jerome Foundation – one for her animated short “Birth”, the other for her animated feature “Rocks In My Pockets”. She also received 3 grants from NYSCA. Signe has written, directed and animated 15 shorts and one feature film, which collectively have been accepted in over 300 film festivals around the world and received many awards.

The San Francisco Arts Commission is the City agency that champions the arts as essential to daily life by investing in a vibrant arts community, enlivening the urban environment and shaping innovative cultural policy. Our programs include: Civic Art Collection, Civic Design Review, Community Investments, Public Art, SFAC Galleries and Street Artist Licensing. To learn more visit,

Penny Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series Speech (2015)

University of Michigan Penny Stamps School of Arts and Design invited me to give a speech at their Penny Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series on October 25th, 2015 (almost a year ago!).

My speech was called "Sex, Madness and Dentists" but when I got there I saw how many young women were in the audience and felt compelled to talk about my sex in a male dominated industry and my madness in the face of triple difficulty of being an independent artist, being a woman and being bi-polar. Dentists didn't fit in those 60 minutes.

Here's the video of the speech: