Reassembled, reconsidered, remixed — an interview with PELICAN AVENUE

A couple of months ago I was commisioned by the lovely Thea Barkhoff, illustrator, designer and art director at Meiré und Meiré to conduct an interview with Carolin Lerch and Michiel Helbig of the collective Pelican Video which is part of fashion label Pelican Avenue.

Pelican Video was founded in 2003 when Belgian Michiel Helbig and Austrian born Carolin Lerch discovered, despite of their architecture and fashion background, their mutual interest in multi media. At first Helbig and Lerch created unofficial music video clips to explore the medium and try out ideas. They found out that the approach of music videos – meaning non-narrative audio-visual video work – could be applied to all sorts of fields.
The basic intention of Pelican Video is to challenge the unknown and to experiment with the possibilities of new media within a video format, rather than develop one certain idea or style. Although the productions are often commissioned, the duo never allows the purpose of the videos to override or suppress the artistic expression.

The interview has then been published in a book for the Design Department of the Akademie für Mode und Kommunikation in Düsseldorf designed by Thea Barkhoff.

Hello Carolin, Hello Michiel — please tell us about your background and how Pelican Video came to life. (And what is the story behind the name?)

Pelikaanstraat is the name of the road where we are living and where we also started working in the beginning. It’s the mainstreet of the diamond business in Antwerp and located between the Hasidic Jew and the Maghreb neighborhood. The street therefore got a multifaceted vibe and charisma, you can feel the glamour of the old days. The diamond trade is giving this district a sophisticated but at the same time dreary and dubious aura. Our apartment, too, was full of (empty) safes wired with old alarm systems when we moved in. This inspires …

How did the connection with the Design Department in Düsseldorf come up?

A friend of us told Gabriele Orsech about our work and hence initiated our first video workshop. And the students liked it. In our videos we try in to get a lot from very little; and this is what we want to convey the students. It’s your own commitment and creativity that counts and not the technical means.
After that we participated in the multidisciplinary exhibition “Vom gehen in viele Richtungen” [About going in many directions] in the KIT, which was curated by Gabriele Orsech and Bernd Ruzicska. It’s a beautiful, diverse and prolific relationship.

BERNHARD WILLHELM SS05 from pelican video.

What do you like about teaching? And: what part of your studies did you enjoy/gave you the most when your were at university yourself?

At the moment we are teaching both together and separately in all sorts of assignments.
When you are younger you don’t have so many possibilities of approaches for a separation between life and work. After you graduate “real” life starts and you realize that there are so many alternatives of doing something, even in a specific field. The older we get the more we enjoy to transmit our very personla knowledge, to share visions and to confront it with a generation that grew up under different circumstances.

In which why does fashion and architecture nurturing your video works — and vice versa?

Fashion, architecture, art … these are all forms of communication and a categorisation is irrelevant. In the meantime we have the impression that we are more like a part of a general artistic wave than a singular case. We are meeting more and more young artists, musician, designers, who are moving unbiased between different fields and who are not questioning if they respect the codes of their own discipline or not, or to which category they belong. To be interdisciplinary has become an implicitness by now.

What is the story behind the Pilot video? Was this really the first one you did? What did you like particularly in the process and the result that you decided to continue?

It was really the very first video that we did. Actually it was even before we founded our label and a school work by Carolin during her additional year of mixed media art in Ghent. Again; it takes lots of naivety and curiousity to create a home-made blue screen video in daylight! Perfection is unimportant; what’s important is a strong will and as much soul as possible to tell a story.

PILOT from pelican video.

“The basic intention of Pelican Video is to challenge the unknown and to experiment with the possibilities of new media, rather than develop one certain idea or style — […] Although the productions are often commissioned, the duo never allows the purpose of the videos to override or suppress the artistic expression.”

Does this mean your concept can be described by function follows form? How do you find the right balance between purpose and style?

In a way you are right; it sometimes happens that we find something visually interesting and one day we find a way to adapt it to a project.

I nevertheless noticed one characteristic element in your video works which could been as sort of a recurring style: the mirroring of images which creates beautiful kaleidoscopic-like effects. What fascinates you on this method?

To be honest we don’t really like using the mirroring effect too much; we find it a very easy, predictable and over-used effect; perfect symmetry is always impressive and the human mind understands it as beautiful. For us it just comes to life when there is something additional going on, like for example the clumsy imperfections of Bernhard Willhelm relativating it at the same time.

What tools do you use? And can you tell us more about the process of a typical (?) video production of yours?

We always look for new tools, thats the challenge! We are getting bored very easily and want to avoid stagnation and complacency.

WHAT WAS WOW from pelican video.

Your work often drifts into slightly abstract, surrealistic, or science fiction worlds. What are important influences for you?

Definitely science fiction movies. Donnie Darko is Carolin’s favorite, Michiel loves them all!

I’m fascinated about how effective you are in creating a certain atmosphere with the help of just one “simple” visual effect combined with a specific sound. Speaking of the latter: how and where do you find your audio material?

Michiel is a DJ, so all the material is there… but we feel more and more like creating the sounds ourselves or in collaborations with musicians; apart from the legal issues it can add a strength to a piece.

What important advice/lesson/experience do you wish you would have learned earlier in life? What is one advice you would give your younger self?

Never underestimate the craft! Ideas are important, but realizing them is the real power.

What are your plans for the future regarding both life and work?

Focus and doing everything at the same time!

Thank you!

Update: Here is the PDF of the final pages!