catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 2, Num 7 :: 2003.03.28 — 2003.04.10


Sculpting light and sound

The healing blessings of film making

As a painter and sculptor who accidentally became a filmmaker, I felt like I was beginning the world again. Film came into my life like a baptism—a breathless going under; then on the brink of suffocation, being lifted into air and reborn as a new thing. I was in a time of tremendous grief over the death of two people very dear to me. I was no longer satisfied with art objects that just sat there or flatly stared back from a wall. I wanted to create something that existed in time that seemed to have a life of its own. I chose film. With next to no formal training, I unknowingly ventured out into a new life as an experimental narrative filmmaker.

My first film, Pruning, is a self-portrait in a bathtub. It dissects and stretches a moment of grief into five minutes. Its internal spaces, both physically and psychologically, compose an intimate poem of loss. Using optically printed and hand-bleached footage, time and space are manipulated and abstracted to reveal one woman's response to two deaths. It was during the course of making this film that I realized that the intensely personal could become universal. I also realized that I had become addicted to the process of filmmaking. Pruning did well at festivals and I decided to make film the primary medium of my art.

Each film has been a sort of controlled experiment where I set specific boundaries and then give myself room for intuitive play within the edges. It is important to me to provide the most content with the least amount of information. I seesaw constantly between the rules I've made and the risks I want to take. It is the only way I know how to arrive at the poetic essence of things but still have a structure on which they can float. It has been especially satisfying to create using so many disciplines I love: writing, cinematography, sound design, painting and editing. As with my painting and sculpture, it is a process of collecting, deconstructing and reassembling. But it is the element of time, and the sculptural yet intangible nature of light, with which I have fallen in love.

Light travels through celluloid, over the shadowed heads of people, in a dark room till it smacks the screen. Images and sounds move in a vulnerable space. They show up and they leave. It is intimate and controlled, like telling secrets. Film has a life of its own, yet is nothing more than light and sound—things one cannot hold or contain in any real way. The medium of film seems to fit the abstractness of the psychological, philosophical and spiritual subject matter to which I'm drawn. I think this is why my films, so far, have dealt with the themes of life and death; brokenness and grace; human longing and relationship; the illusiveness of memory and the telling of secrets.

My most recent film, Walking In His Sleep, is the telling of a family mystery and secret. It is a twenty minute documentary exploring the two stories of how Jack Guest, my grandfather, died. Almost sixty years ago his body was found on railroad tracks north of Oxford, England. Was his death accidental or intentional? My grandmother, Hazell Guest Connolly, reluctantly tells one story. The second story is told simultaneously through police investigation notes, newspaper clippings and other documents. I have just started sending it to festivals. My next project is more ambitious—a feature length drama with actors. Again I feel like I am beginning the world; but that is the nature of growth as an artist.

Chelsea Guest Perez is a painter, sculptor and filmmaker who graduated from of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). Her work strives to find the balance between humanity and grace. She is a working artist whose work has been shown at galleries and film festivals in the United States and Canada.

Chelsea recently joined InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and works with art students at SAIC. Their group is called In Context: integrating faith and art. Her experience as both a Christian and artist allow her to balance the unique aesthetic, conceptual and spiritual needs of students. Much of the outreach and mentorship of this ministry happens in the context of lectures by visiting artists and theologians; art excursions and discussion groups; related film and video screenings; juried art exhibitions exploring a biblical theme; and conferences. As a Christian in the secular art world, Chelsea is aware of the challenges Christians often face when trying to integrate faith and art.

Chelsea is looking for other Christians in the secular art world who would like to reach out to young art students as a visiting artist, volunteer or InterVarsity staff worker. You can contact Chelsea regarding her art or ministry at


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