Kathleen Quillian, in person - 2010, 3:05, Animation, Oakland

Through stop-motion animation, “Wasteland” follows the path of the industrial food system from field to table and back and shows how the industry operates at the expense of the health of the society it was designed to nourish.

Kathleen Quillian received her MFA in New Genres from the San Francisco Art Institute in 2003. She makes collaborative multi-media installations and performances with Gilbert Guerrero as well as individual work in single-channel video and animation.


ATA: What sorts of materials drove the idea behind the piece, and where did you gather the materials for the animation itself? How long did it take you to compose the sound for the film?

KQ: I was doing a lot of reading and researching on food and agricultural sustainability last year. Michael Pollan's book "The Omnivore's Dilemma" in particular was a big inspiration behind the animation. The book is divided into three sections in which he talks about three different models of agriculture. The first section on the industrial agricultural system (which is the standard system for the U.S. and the one that provides the majority of our food products) is the one that "Wasteland" is concerned with. I learned that corn is the primary ingredient in most of our food mostly because it is cheap, easy to grow, easy to store, and can be engineered into a proprietary product by the big corporations that drive the industry. I also learned that corn is the main ingredient in the diet of industrial cows for the same reason it is the main ingredient in our diets even though cows can't digest corn (their stomachs can only handle digesting grass). So cows get sick on the corn diet (the ulcer depicted in my animation is not an exaggeration) and they are pumped with all kinds of pharmaceuticals which makes its way into our diet which is very beef-heavy. The rest of the food that is offered to us on grocery store shelves and fast food restaurants is designed in laboratories (like cheese-flavored cheese puffs? what is that??) by corporations whose primary interest is making a profit. So the result is a nation of overweight and sick people living in a landscape that is polluted and depleted of natural resources supported by an illogical and unsustainable agricultural system. I won't even go into the dilemma of the poor farmers who are stuck in this system. You'll have to read the book to find out about them. It's really an incredible and ludicrous situation our agricultural system is in and it's something that most people just don't think about, even though food is right there in front of us every day. We just don't think about where it comes from, how it got there and what exactly it is we are putting in our bodies.

I gathered the imagery from magazines and from pictures that people have posted on the Internet. You can find so much online, it's amazing. People will post pictures of just about anything. And maybe not surprisingly, by the time you get to the end of just about any search, it all turns into porn. I swear, you can search for "hamburger" and you'll inevitably find porn by the end of it. I've been collecting pictures for several years and I have all the images filed away. Most of the fun of putting an animation together is looking for the imagery. I get really carried away by the details (like, I don't know if anyone will notice that there is a brain in a jar on the shelf in the doctor's office, but I'm okay with that). The least fun part, to be honest, is actually making the animation. It's kind of brutal, actually. The sound was probably the easiest part. I got most of the sounds from a web site called freesound.org. There's a whole community of sound and foley artists who love recording sounds and posting them online for people to use in their projects. The sounds I didn't find (like "corn flying through air") I created myself, which isn't as easy as it may seem. So I'm grateful for the freesound.org community to have done most of it for me.

Interview by Liz Wing of ATA

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