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Melody Attarha

“... if you’re going to travel, you have to find a way to make work while you travel! There’s never a perfect time. There’s never a day when you have nothing to do- there’s always some excuse.”

Interview by L. Valena

 Let's start from the top! What did you respond to?

I responded to a series of photos of sculptures that all looked very similar, but were different. My immediate response was that they kind of represented a body of water- a body of water made to be entered by humans. There were these little prongs that were like the little edge of the pool that you go in. The shapes were all different, and I got the feeling that the scale of these sculptures was pretty small- little hand-held size sculptures.

And what happened next?

I had some time, and was going to do an animation, and I just kept thinking about these little sculptures, and it was kind of brewing for awhile. I kept going back and forth between a few things- one of them was water, because they were blue, and the whole idea and the way they looked- definitely for me it was about water. But it was also very tactile, and I kept going back to the ‘feeling’ of these sculptures, and the way they would feel in my hand, and the way that I could tell that they had been handled by a human hand. There were tiny creases and marks on the surface- the texture they had was very tactile. I really wanted to touch them, and squeeze them! But it kept making me think of what it feels like to touch water, and squeeze water. I kind of brewed on that for awhile- the sensation of handling water, and being in water, and that kind of experience. It was interesting, because I ended up making an animation, but it was really much more process-based than anything I've ever made before. I kind of made it about interacting with water, and I found a process that involved me not actually touching water, because I guess the absence of doing that was a really interesting way of exploring that.

How did you do that?

I made this animation. Initially I pulled out the Play-Doh, and was making sculptures that really mimicked what the sculptures looked like. And I kind of liked those, but I wanted to take it a step further and make this about how I felt about them. And so I had a glass of orange juice that I had made that morning, and the glass left a puddle on my animation surface, which was all very thrown together- I didn't have my animation space set up yet. I just started to blow the residue from my orange juice on the desk, and just animated it. And it's funny, because usually I would want to control things more, but it was really fun to blow on the water and animate it- take photos and watch how I can kind of bring that feeling of getting to touch water to life, without actually touching water. I was really amused by that- being so close to the water. When you are touching water, it doesn't matter if your eyes are closed or open, you just feel it surround you. The way it moves, and the scale. And I think scale in the sculptures was so interesting because to me it represented a big giant body of water, but it also clearly was really small. So just zooming in really close to these drops of water- as a viewer you're looking at it. It can't be that big, because there are these drops of water, and I feel like if you look at my animation you can tell that these are small drops of water, but that's all you can see on the screen, so they're pretty big, and you don't even see anyone touching them. In the beginning and the end I put in my hand and I tried to give it a little bit of a character, so you could get the narrative that this is me, getting this satisfaction of the tactile sensation of handling water. But, the character is in the water. I always like to have kind of narrative storylines in animations, and getting these characters interacting with each other- these little splashes of water being blown around and animated, and seeing how that plays out was really fun.

I also didn't have any lighting, so I was working with natural light. It ended up working pretty well because I wanted that narrative of me dealing with water, and having the natural light gave it kind of a narrative arc. You can see the light changing, which to me gives it that sensation of time passing.

I agree- I love that. I love that you saw these sculptures, and you wanted to squeeze them, and you ended up making animation of water, but you did not touch it. The absence of your hands ended up being a very key component to you.

Yes! At the end of the animation I just stuck my hand in it, and covered myself with orange juice! And then I just had to go and take a shower. It was weird, and I don't know why I did that, I thought I would get some sort of satisfaction out of it, but I did not.

What was it like to make art like this on the road? Where were you exactly when you made this?

I had just gotten to Sao Paulo, and we had a week there to buy a stove, and buy a fridge. I had thought about what I wanted to do before leaving Boston. We didn't even have a bed yet, my boyfriend Pedro's parents were visiting, and I was about to leave for Tehran in two days. So, there I am, and I don't have a desk, and the desk was supposed to arrive, and I said I need a desk. There's no way to do an animation without a surface. The surface was really necessary, and I considered doing it on the hardwood floor, but that was just going to be bad. Luckily, I went to a used furniture store and found a desk, and it was supposed to arrive, but it didn't arrive because there was a gas crisis, and the trucks weren't going. The desk arrived the day before I went to Iran, and we had these backpacker guests from Holland visiting us. They were amazing people, but it was an interesting time to have guests, since we didn't have any furniture. And I was in a room, pouring orange juice on a desk, with a camera two inches away from it, and our guests were like "what are you up to...?"

So I shot everything. And then I needed to pack for my 1-month trip to Iran, and I hadn't been in 7 years, and it's kind of important. So I brought my computer with me, and I charged the hell out of it. I had been thinking about it so much, and I knew that I had the footage and could edit it into the narrative I wanted. I did the editing in the airport in Paris during my layover, which was fun, because I had a twelve hour layover. And then I sent it to you from my grandparent's house in Tehran. I'm very thankful they have wifi, but let me tell you: I was invited to dinner on my first day there, and I had to leave early, because people there eat dinner at literally 12 midnight. It was Ramadan, and I get it, but I didn't know people were going to be eating so late. I rushed home, and people there were like “After effects? Rendering? Premier? You're trying to send that in an email in Tehran? Good luck to you- it will take six hours!” There was no way- I had two hours to attach to my email! I literally had the laptop on top of the router, because I don't know much about wifi, but how much closer can you get? Luckily, it attached in 45 minutes, which is horrifying long considering it was like 70 megabytes.

But it happened!

Honestly, I don't think I could have done this if there was even one more event. But you know what? It was amazing. I'm so thankful that it happened the way that it did. I am so nit-picky that I drove to three places the day before I shot this animation, trying to buy the proper lighting, and thinking I was going to blackout my windows and have this perfect lighting. But you know what? It was so amazing to do animation with natural light- it's something you're not supposed to do. Ever. But I did it, and I don't think I would like what I did as much if I hadn't just let go of that variable. So, that's what it's like doing work on the road, I guess.

Dude, it is wild that you did this. I can't believe that you signed up when you did- I really respect that you just went for it, it's incredible.

I'm thankful for the opportunity. As people who make things, I think- if you're going to travel, you have to find a way to make work while you travel! There's never a perfect time. There's never a day when you have nothing to do- there's always some excuse.

What advice do you have for someone else?

Let it linger. I thought a lot about this piece. I thought I would be looking at the prompt constantly, but I took one look at the work, and it was burned into my brain. And then I spent some time just thinking about it, and thinking about it everywhere I went. Thinking about the piece in relation to wherever I was, and whatever I was doing at the time. I thought about the prompt in Boston- Pedro and I walked all over Boston before we moved, and I was thinking about the piece while we were looking at the river, and crossing over the Harvard bridge, and I was thinking about it everywhere. Let yourself go through your life, and see how the piece plays a part in your life. I don't get to know who made it, or where they came from, and usually that's my main focus when I'm looking at someone's work. So it was a lot about self exploration, and letting it come from me.

Call Number: Y11VA | Y15FI.atFo

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Melody Attarha is a stop-motion animator from Boston, currently based in São Paulo. Melody draws inspiration from early animators and likes to experiment with unconventional techniques. She also works with puppets, cut paper, and illustration.  You can see more of her animated work at