A Dangerous Supplement:
the process of London Tsai's sculpture

video film
7 minutes and 48 seconds

film credits:
videographer: Leon Liao
video editors: Leon Liao and London Tsai
writer : London Tsai
composer: Carlos F. Lopez
sound editor: Jeffrey H. Stern
film consultant: Jeffrey H. Stern

When Kristen Thiele visited my studio and saw all the tools that I've made to create sculpture, she immediately thought that it would be great to make a video to show my work process. It was that seed that eventually (though not without a good deal of effort) became this short film.

A few words about the title. "A Dangerous Supplement," is a Derridarean phrase. Often, people (artists included) feel that the work should speak for itself. In some sense, this is true, but then there are the individual "readings" of the work and then subsequent "rereadings." These happen in context and cumulatively. Thus, each reading is informed by the readings before and the information that is gathered in each process. "A Dangerous Supplement" is then an important component of this accumulation of ideas--it gives insight into an aspect of the creative act that is rarely if ever seen.

Hence, underlying the film is the general process of creativity. Here creativity is meant in the large sense, i.e., not limited to the arts, but also the creativity in mathematics and the sciences. How do we go about creating things whether they be objects or ideas?

There are roughly four stages in the creative process. These are called 1) preparation; 2) incubation; 3) illumination; and 4) verification. Numerous people that I've spoken to in both the arts and sciences agree that these stages are accurate in their own experience. For me, there seems to be a sort of "self-similar" nature to the process by which I mean that if you zoom into any particular part, you find within it more mini four-part processes. For example, the work from a certain period in one's life may have clear stages, but within that period there are many individual creations; and within those there are also more mini steps of creativity.

In the film, the long welding shots represent both the stages of incubation and illumination. These are overlayed with poems that I wrote over a decade ago when I was working in Beijing. The poems are mostly about childhood, young adulthood, and the things I experienced living in different parts of China. The point is that our work is in some sense the culmination of everything that we've experienced. Thus, the depth of one's work is related to one's experience of life. And in some way, my having spent six years in China informs my sculpture implicitly, if not explicitly.

This film was a tremendous collaborative effort. Fortunately, we had the expert guidance of Jeffrey Stern who generously gave of his time and helped us navigate the infinite possibilities of editing hours of footage into an eight-minute video. Of course, the film took us much longer than we ever imagined it would; Leon and I spent almost every Friday afternoon and night this Spring semester working on it.. Leon's camera skills, his Final Cut Pro fluency, his keen and quick mind, his can-do attitude, and his wonderful personality were truly pleasure to work with. Though on board from the very beginning, Carlos Lopez was given less than a week to score the music for this film. Inspite of his numerous obligations (graduating UM magna cum laude and parents visiting from Colombia), Carlos gave us hours of his time creating the amazing music to go with our film and my poems. It's a tremendous honor for us to have Jeffrey Stern, the expert of sound experts, to do the final sound mix. Lastly, I'd like to thank my wife for all the support she has provided to make all of this possible.