Either You're With Us ...
By: Elaine Wolff

Double trouble: Leslie Raymond and Jason Jay Stevens combine audio and video to create the improvisational cinema as Potter-Belmar Labs.

Potter-Belmar Labs has already shredded the contemporary-videoart envelope beyond recognition, but the San Antonio duo will try to top their previous accolades ("blows away your expectations of new media" is oft-quoted) Saturday at Salon Mijangos with an improvised videoand- music performance narrated by the audience's collective (sub)conscious.

"This is a little bit of a hybrid of two ways that we've done it, and we've never tried this before," says Jason Jay Stevens, husband and musical partner of Potter- Belmar's visual half, Leslie Raymond. Raymond and Stevens moved to San Antonio in 2005 when Raymond became a professor of new media at UTSA, where she is introducing her students to the image manipulation that forms the core of her work. You can get a peek at the graduate level this weekend, when Potter- Belmar constructs a performance around "intertitles" - silent-movie description and dialogue - that attendees write on cards when they enter the gallery. The couple discussed their creative philosophy with the Current last week over a cup of coffee in their Southside lodgings.

Leslie Raymond: One of the conceptions people have is that what we're doing is specifically video art. It's hard to find a word for it, but the image is only part of it.

Jason Jay Stevens: That's why we call it improvised cinema. I sometimes compare it to jazz because we feel like we're two jazz musicians and we're kind of riffing off one another the whole time we perform.

Current: I feel that our generation is much better [than prior generations] at digesting non-narrative forms of art.Do you feel more excited about that because people can maybe relate to the art more, or does that make you want to push it to the next level? ... Now you see a lot of non-narrative image in marketing, so they must figure we can digest the message.

JJS: Certainly in the past couple of decades you can get by with a pretty loose narrative or an inconclusive narrative - that's something that I've thought about, how comfortable people are with a narrative that doesn't really go anywhere. Slacker was pretty remarkable when I saw it back in the early '90s, but now that sort of thing is almost commonplace. When we perform, and in our shorts, we do talk about narrative - the most primitive form of narrative is an introduction to some elements, an interplay of elements reaching a climax, and then something that kind of brings it back down again. So we can follow that arc; we raise tension and then release it.

LR: My tendency has been to work a little more abstractly, and Jason has his degree in writing, so when we work together there is a sense that he'll oftentimes try to describe a little bit of the structure before we get going, or as we're performing he'll try to regulate the flow, the timing, or the emotion, and I find that really challenging and helpful for me to reign in my chaotic abstraction.

I love the idea of using intertitles. It's almost like you'll get a Zeitgeist narrative.

LR: The thing that really appealed to me was being able to have part of my practice be in public with a live audience where there is an energy and something to respond to that's not necessarily concrete and tangible, and just get out of that isolation of the studio and be a part of something living.

When you are performing, how do you read the audience?

JJS: I guess I idealize that it's more a sensing of energy thing. And maybe it is just hearing rustling and stuff like that, but I'm idealizing us as being like deejays in that sense.

LR: I think that there is that aspect to it, that subtler energy thing, but it's hard to talk about that.

It's hard to articulate? Or it's hard to talk about because you think when you explain it people are like [makes a skeptical face]?

LR: It's the latter.

JJS: We maybe over-stressed that aspect of it, too. There's two tendencies, because there's also the tendency to just put on a show for the audience, and either you're with us, or you're not with us. I didn't want to quote that: Either you're with us or you're with the terrorists ... the tourists!

That could be a San Antonio T-shirt.

JJS: You're either with us, or you're with the tourists. I would say that's a hit. Next Fiesta.

©San Antonio Current 2006