|▲ Rob Santaguida talks about his work and his JFAC residency Photo courtesy The Jeju Weekly
Rob Santaguida looked like a man whose internal clock had been thrown across the international date line. He had just arrived in Jeju, and it’s been twenty years since his last visit.
When he was younger, his family made the usual local trips. And then there was that epic family excursion - a massive, three-month adventure through Asia. He was 15 at the time.
His family of six rambled through Japan, Korea, and the Philippines. It was a watershed event in his life. However, when he returned to Canada he found that he had lost the taste for travel. His family too - they didn’t travel together again after that.
For a long time he thought he’d never leave Montreal.
However, while producing his short film “The Avenuers”, Rob received an out of the blue email from a German filmmaker. He was 27 years old and had no idea everything was about to change.
She was in Montreal because it was the home of her favorite band. Their chance encounter resulted in not only a friendship that continues to this day, it also authored a major new plotline in Rob’s life.
She’s the one that convinced him to submit his films to festivals around the world. She also urged him to apply to artistic residency programs. He did and later that same year he found himself living in Germany.
In addition to a period of new professional and creative growth, Rob also rediscovered a passion for movement on the grand scale.
“I love travel now. It’s stimulating and challenging - and most of all uncomfortable. I think it’s important to move outside of comfort. It demands something fundamental from you,” Rob explained.
Rob has spent much of the last 8 years moving between Hamburg and Montreal.
During that time he’s farmed a sizable acreage of awards, fellowships, and grants, not to mention freelance work, exhibitions, talks, and a prodigious number of screenings at over 250 festivals around the world.
Jeju will be the eleventh residency on his curriculum vitae.
|▲ Photo courtesy The Jeju Weekly
He’s returned to Jeju as the first foreign participant in a Jeju Foundation for Arts and Culture’s (JFAC) program to expand the island’s expressive capacities.
A nonprofit established in 2001, the JFAC made its International Artists Residency Program a core project for 2017. Three artists from around the world will stay on the island over the course of three, 3-month residencies from April to December.
Each resident receives free accommodations, a workspace, roundtrip airfare, and opportunities to conduct workshops and exhibitions.
Rob will be using his time here to find places he visited as a child, knitting together archival pictures and footage with the sites as they stand today, navigating a stream of consciousness, crisscrossing the island, filming memories as the happen, forming a narrative out of experience itself.
His exploration of film has always been about this investigation of self-consciousness.
He’s worked with fiction filmmaking and screenplays, but the experimental, personal approach is what challenges him time and time again to continue to explore, create, and record.
“Being willing to expose yourself is important,” he explained, “I’ve often found myself on the edge of giving up. I really respect filmmakers who dedicate so much time and effort to their projects, and continue to do so even when they fail.”
Not only does Rob’s work challenge the traditional narrative structures - attenuating expectation and anticipation in favor of heightened intimacy and immediacy - he is also trying to reach out past the story to touch a living moment with the viewer.
“Emotional connection is difficult to begin with. To be able to set an intention of hitting that point of resonance, and then get someone to feel it - that’s the moment I hope to create.”
Of course, this can be an elusive quality. He remembers a time in the Ukraine when his film “Miraslava” was selected by a panel to be included in a human rights themed festival.
Sitting in a vast, gray, utilitarian cinema with about 1000 other people, his work was actually booed upon completion. And when he went up on stage for the “meet the director” segment at the end of the night he watched 300 people stand up in unison to leave.
We laughed about this seemingly crushing censure as he unpacked the experience.
“Maybe if it had happened with a work I felt less confident about, or if it had been earlier in my career, it might have hurt. However, this particular piece really shouldn’t have been in a film festival about human rights. Other movies explored overwhelming topics of personal challenge, whereas mine held a lot of observations about pretty normal, daily life.”
Experiences like this are, of course, part of the vulnerability inherent in sharing one's self with the world.
As an artist who has so consciously decided to explore personal questions, while at the same time trying to reduce the aesthetic distance separating the audience from the art, Rob has put himself in the path of something, uncomfortable, challenging and yet stimulating.
His art is a lot like his traveling.
It’s all in service of a deeper understanding of something not easily put into words. A mirrored surface we all understand implicitly, but often ignore as we rush from one task to the next.
These discrete moments of our lives - reflected back to us in a series of still frames, projected in such a way as to provide an illusion of movement - reveals a mysterious motive force which is perhaps more authentically who we are.
For Rob Santaguida, this force is the foundation of expression and the guiding principle of his work here on Jeju.