The Steady Hand of Vanessa Marzaroli

In his book titled Digital Baroque: New Media Art and Cinematic Folds, Timothy Murray writes about a concept of time inspired by new media art, describing time as always “in-between,” always split between past and present, with one side twisting toward the past, the other launching itself toward the future. “To be 'in' the machinic state of time,” Murray writes, “is to be confronted with the touch, turn, vision, and thought of the interval, the in-between, as the recombinant turning of time.”

A compelling embodiment of this “recombinant turning of time” occurs in a lovely new music video by Vanessa Marzaroli for the Cinematic Orchestra's “Lilac Wine,” a song originally written in 1950 and performed by artists as varied as Eartha Kitt and Nina Simone, and more recently by Jeff Buckley. The three-minute video opens with sweeping pen strokes as a camera glides backwards, words gently appear, and then a bird takes shape, crafted also by lines of black ink. Flowers, branches and delicate designs gradually come into clarity and then disappear, a peacock's massive feathers shimmer, and the piece unfolds in a swirl of time as hints of story take shape.

A frame from Vanessa Marzaroli's video for "Lilac Wine"

Still from Vanessa Marzaroli's video for “Lilac Wine” by the Cinematic Orchestra. (click to watch)

“As I was reading the lyrics,” explains Marzaroli, a director at the Los Angeles-based multimedia design studio Blind, “it really felt like a love song, with someone expressing his or her thoughts. I liked that expression of the inner self, and it seemed like something that could be written in a journal, and I wondered, if it's handwritten, how can you push this even further?”

Marzaroli has been trying to push things further for a long time. She grew up in a musical family in Los Angeles, where her family moved from Thailand in order to support the musical education of Marzaroli and her sister. She attended the LA County High School for the Arts. “I had always studied classical piano, but by high school, I was bored out of my mind!” she says. Marzaroli explains that the classical musicians in her school spent a lot of time alone practicing for hours and hours. The visual artists, on the other hand, would hang out together having fun: “They were always socializing, and they looked really cool, and so I switched to visual art. I just knew right away that I wanted to do some kind of graphic design.” She tried illustration for a while, and static design, but motion intrigued her the most. “I think I just have a short attention span. I wanted to work on things that were fast and exciting. I wanted to work with moving images, and I wanted to direct and work with other people.”

Frame from Vanessa Marzaroli's video for "Lilac Wine"

Still from Vanessa Marzaroli's video for “Lilac Wine” by the Cinematic Orchestra. (click to watch)

While her description of her interests would suggest a body of work filled with frenzied imagery, Marzaroli's videos and motion graphics tend to be far more subtle. She served as creative director on the music video for “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley, for example. The piece is similar to “Lilac Wine” in working through a specific premise— ink blots, from which images appear and disappear—and in allowing the semblance of a story to unfold slowly in time. With a promo for “Worst Case Scenario” for the Discovery Network she melds live action and graphic illustration, nicely using typography to annotate the footage. Indeed, Marzaroli's use of type is often dazzling.

Frames from Vanessa Marzaroli's video for "Crazy" by Gnarls Barkley

Frames from Gnarls Barkley's “Crazy” video, for which Vanessa Marzaroli was creative director.

“At Blind, we do a lot of commercials, which are driven by images, but I really like working with typography, so if there's a project with type in it, I gravitate toward it,” she says. Asked what interests her about type, Marzaroli answers succinctly. “Fundamental design skills depend on core skills with typography, layout and composition. Anyone can come up with imagery, but good design depends on really core skills.”

Frames and storyboards from Vanessa Marzaroli's "Lilac Wine"

A frame and storyboards from “Lilac Wine,” directed by Vanessa Marzaroli. (click to watch)

Marzaroli was invited to create the music video for “Lilac Wine” by the agency Exposure for a project dedicated to the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martens. The agency was looking for 10 visual artists to make videos for 10 songs suggestive of the brand, and the version of “Lilac Wine” by the Cinematic Orchestra was one of the selections.

“What's nice about this piece is that it's not over the top with 3-D or greenscreen,” says Marzaroli. “It's not super dense or super fantastic. Instead, it's is just an appreciation of the fine lines and core elements.” She admits that it was a challenge to find the appropriate kind of fluidity for the piece. “It took us a while to find the right voice, tone and rhythm because we were just dealing with lines,” she explains. “The lines had to meld with the Spenserian calligraphy, and I worked hard to connect the story together in a seamless way, and I also worked hard to direct the team. I had a vision, but to articulate that to a group of people working with me, making sure that they're seeing the same vision, can be hard on a project this specific.”

The resulting video does boast a kind of seamlessness, and it is perhaps this quality ­—of continuous unfolding—that makes it resonate as an apt depiction of a contemporary notion of time as described by Timothy Murray. The piece takes us through the usually unnoticed intervals of time, and crafts a series of visual vignettes that are evocative both of the lyrics that tell of being “hypnotized by a strange delight,” and of a sense of hovering, suspended between past and future as it unspools around you.