Artists on Art: Marissa Nadler on Jan Svankmajer’s “Darkness Light Darkness”

Robert Kloss



When I think of Marissa Nadler’s music, I often think of the covers of her two most recent albums, July and Strangers—stark, black and white—which seem to capture the mood of her dark, beautiful songs perfectly. Deeper still, when I listen to her records I am returned to New England cemeteries that I love so well. Perhaps it is the haunted loveliness of her voice that shows me mist and shadow and headstones cracked and worn. I don’t know. Likely it is the power of her music to bring the listener into a dream, so gorgeous it is almost painful. For me those dreams are inevitably of gray skies and gray rolling waters and rain darkened brick walks alive with the dead. – RK


R: Can you explain why you chose “Darkness Light Darkness”? What was first encounter with this Svankmajer’s work?

M: I have become increasingly interested in claymation and certain types of animation that truly show the human hand. I’m decidedly not a fan of CGI and really like Svankmajer’s work because it shows how with patience and the human hand, you can truly create majestic worlds that can parallel the magnitude of human imagination.

We’re living in such a fast-paced world, and because of that, I tend to gravitate towards slow art. I know how hard claymation is and how devoted you have to be to come up with anything even remotely good.

Would you describe “Darkness Light Darkness”? I’d like to see the film from your perspective–as close as we can come, anyway.

It is a claymation animation of a body putting itself together. The body parts, made of clay of course, slither around the “set” and comically put themselves where they out to be. It’s like a high art Mr. Potato Head. Personalities are given to body parts that normally don’t have them. For instance, the ears are flying around outside of a window like birds before the bodiless hands take them. The short film is equally playful and grotesque. The tongue, slimy and repulsive, slides along the floor before finding it’s home. I personally really love how disgusting some of his work is. Humanity is equal parts beauty or horror, and I like my art to have equal servings of both.


What qualities do you see in Svankmajer’s work that also exists in your own?

Well, I can only aspire to one day make this kind of claymation. Svankmajer is truly a master of his craft. I was so inspired by his work, though, that I did teach myself how to do it. But, thematically, I think Svankmajer employs a lot of black humor in his work. And I do have a similar world view that pokes itself out in my own songwriting.


More specifically can you point to one of your own works to illustrate qualities you find compelling in “Darkness Light Darkness”?

My video for “All The Colors of The Dark”

Finally, do you approach claymation in the same way you listen to music?

I approach all my art forms with a specific purity of intent- or at least I truly try to. And I do think that he does as well.