Interview with Helena Bulaja, part II: Tesla had Internet in his head!

December 18, 2009

This is the second part of the interview with multimedia artist Helena Bulaja entitled Tesla had internet in his head! Read here the first part…

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What do you think about electronic readers, such as Kindle, compared to printed books?

HB: Since we are all slightly becoming cyber nomads, I think in the future we will be more like real nomads. We will have to move literally more and more because of our work and in order to fluctuate through the space faster. I look at my kids today; they are not so much attached to books, like my generation used to be. They are already growing up in the world that prepares them to buy less stuff; they already live in the world of electronic readers.

helena_laurie.jpgTesla team with Laurie Anderson, photo by Mare Milin

That’s why I think that the world collapses in this consumerist way, because the idea of gathering is becoming negative, because it complicates your moving. Electronic readers will probably endanger the book because the paper becomes more expensive, the same as the production technology.

These are the reasons why the book is endangered, but still I think that book will always be an object of worship. I adore my bookshelves with all these books collected there for years. I think the society will force us to give up from it, more than we want to by ourselves.

With_Terry_Gilliam_Frankfurt_EDIT_Ves_Fest.jpgTesla team with Terry Gilliam, photo by Mare Milin


I have a feeling that you have been started to work on film on Nikola Tesla completely intuitive… you have picked up artists and theoreticians from different backgrounds, but they are emanating the same energy… Marina Abramovic is doing something completely different then Terry Gilliam, for instance…

HB: Yes, they are starting from very similar ideas and common ethical principals. When I started to work on Tesla, it happened coincidently, long, long time ago. The idea was growing slowly. A friend of mine, musician from my previous project who had lived in New York City at that time, had asked me to recommend him some book related to our region. I did ask him if he had ever heard about Nikola Tesla. He told me: No. I was like, is this possible?! Then I sent him Tesla’s biography by Margaret Cheney.

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But then I thought, well… maybe my knowledge on Tesla isn’t so big, and I ordered the book for myself too. So, it turned out that we both had started to read it at the same time and synchronously started commenting chapters from the book via e-mail. It was really fun to have this kind of group reading.

Then interesting things started to happen to him: he was reading a book in subway; an old man approached him and started to talk about some biographical details about Nikola Tesla. Complete strangers began to approach him talking on Tesla, or his friends would immediately talk on him.

To us here, knowing Tesla is a part of our elementary culture. What were your experiences with the artists you interviewed for the film?

HB: What was interesting is that from the beginning we had this feeling that very few people knew about Tesla, after some time it turned out that most people actually knew even details about him. It turned out that Tesla is like electricity. He’s all around us; we just have to plug in electricity to see. After that, we decided that we want to do something about Tesla, although we weren’t quite sure what exactly. A documentary?! But somehow, we weren’t pleased with the idea of documentary making. It was too big and already said.

marina_abramovic_tesla.jpgMarina Abramovic, photo by Mare Milin

We decided that I should make the structure of the project, and I thought that it would be interesting to ask people who inspired me in art and life, what they think about Nikola Tesla. It turned out that Tesla was a strong foundation in their work, something that holds them to be what they actually are, from Marina Abramovic to Terry Gilliam. So, it’s that what you just said; people that apparently have different poetics, but who are absolutely equal in their art and honesty. Devotion to the work – this is the thing they all draw from the work of Nikola Tesla. Seeking the way to communicate your idea!

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Tesla had Internet in his head! He had this drive to help the world, to share his knowledge, pain or beauty, so that the world could move forward. Similarly, this is something I personally have found in his work. It was a fantastic experience, meeting all these people who have been my spiritual and creative parents in a way. I grew up on their work, and when I came to them I have felt the same wondrousity in their eyes. They are all 60-year olds, now.

bulaja_ekipa_Japan_1.jpgPhoto by Alistair Keddie

Was it difficult to reach them?

HB: No, not at all. I did all communication via their web addresses. And they were all simple and professional. When you deal with Tesla, then you deal with him in all segments of your life. Things just come to you. We were all around the world with this project. You have to be ready to sit in aeroplane to accomplish the task. Of course, it wasn’t an easy project.

A beautiful thing regarding this project is happening right now during the work on interactive part. I work with an excellent programmer Bill Weimann from Arizona, he holds a patent on polymorph bases. This is automatically linked to stuff I would like to do, connecting lots of small clips and films that will be recognized and gathered into a coherent cinematic piece of few minutes, based on strong abstract user input.

with_Bill_Weinman_on_Grand_Canyon.jpgBill Weimann and Helena Bulaja


You gave them some guidelines, and the programme makes your own film from it… film that will be different… and interactive every time…

HB: Yes, yes! But it has to be strongly structured, because I don’t want an experimental film exclusively. After we did the editing, we had to separate all the elements as subjects, predicates, adjectives… Weiman also entered into our project on his own initiative. He came to us thanks to Linda Weyman, the organizer of Flash Forum and my first Flash award. Meanwhile we became friends, so she connected us with her brother. He’s one of those guys raised at the dawn of the Silicon Valley.


Since your team is completely international and scattered around the world, most of your communication happens via web… How do you manage to coordinate all this?

HB: Very easy. Although, ‘Mechanical Figures – twentythousandcycles.NET’ were made sufficiently in physical world. I wanted to use stop animation and beside this, we had so many things to research outside the Internet. So, we did animation for almost 2 years. I have Canadian-Scottish team, my composer is in Germany… Bur every two months we managed to have some of them here in Zagreb, working then for some time together.

Tesla_Production1.jpg

In this project I really wanted to have a personal contact. On my previous projects initially it was easier to solve everything via web. With Tesla everything was different. Everything depended on vibration we would establish and how we would inspire each other to move forward.

Any future plans with the project in the context of media and technology? Something new on the horizon… Will there be stuff based on Flash or something else?

HB: We will work on iPhone application for Tesla and re-adapt the project for web. The project consists of three complementary media forms: interactive film, web site and screening / performance. Everything will be made in stop animation, no Flash for now.

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Tesla has already been included in the latest book by Steven Withrow ‘Secrets of Digital Animation: A Master Class in Innovative Tools and Techniques’. After that we are jumping into new project about one kitty.

Helena, Thanks a lot!

p.s.  Croatian version of the interview will be published on the  portal Kulturpunkt.hr within several dayz, among many interesting interviews and articlez there…

3 Comments
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  • ivana
    December 20, 2009 @ 4:43 pm

    Great interview! It was pure joy reading a conversation between two fantastic ladies!

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