Nothing is What it Seems is a short documentary film in the form of video art with no fixed narrative. The film observes the use of nine unique neon art installations as the primary protagonist of the film, leaving the story completely open to interpretation. The film is Olivia Steele’s first venture out of static neon installations and into the art of motion picture. Steele aims to expand and push the boundaries of neon and nature through a compelling combination of environment and technology.
Shot with a DSLR and Phantom Camera, Nothing is What it Seems utilizes a variety of photographic styles including slow motion and time lapse The film was shot in Nashville, Tennessee, AKA Music City USA. Landscapes featured in the film exude a distinct palette of textures and unexpected emotions. It features a number of long tracking shots through a nature sanctuary, a metal junkyard, an abandoned barn, and a landmark railroad, to name a few.
The various scenes that host Steele’s enlightening acumens lend themselves to a striking contrast of beauty and mystery. There is something about the safety of a nature sanctuary, the solitude of an abandoned barn, and the nostalgia of an old tattoo parlor in contrast with the neon statements that invite the opposites to attract. She evokes a series of unsuspecting emotions, both personal and cultural, part wistful and part unruly to elucidate that distinct combination of modernity with nostalgia, which is ever present in her art. A symphony of contrast summons the voyeur to consume and experience the art in a rather unconventional fashion.
This composition of video art reveals a tale of an eternal search for truth. The film speaks to the innate human struggle between Truth and Power and the illusion of Control. “It’s all about the lies we tell ourselves, about ourselves.” Blood is thicker than water— or so it seems with a plot that involves a mysterious family scandal born of a deadly car accident, plaguing the very ties that once bound. It suggests a compelling personal perspective on grief and expression: a train crushing the handwritten words of lavender neon glass “I changed my mind” precedes a shot of girl perched on a farm fence in a wedding gown clinching a sawed off shotgun. Alongside of her reads the electric text, “Nothing is what it seems.” The piercing words “I miss the person I wanted you to be…” quietly illuminate a lush green forest in solitude.
Scenes of neon statements in nature are layered against a soundtrack of sacred medicine music as though to conduct a journey of ephemeral art. As suffering is transformed into beauty, the film captures a sacred process of initiation by way of delving into the spirit world to access ancestral knowledge and uncover inconvenient truths that hold the key to resolving karma and trauma, which every human has the power to unlock.
“ Power is the strongest of all enemies. We are no strangers to the fact that all things are subject to interpretation, and whichever interpretation prevails at any given time is a function of power, and not of truth. ” This being human, we all witness and experience the endless struggle between power and truth. I was led to the conclusion that Nothing is [really] what it seems, as a result of a recent plot riddled with betrayal and deceit played its hand on the home front. One must dig deep to uncover the inconvenient truth and to recognize that ignorance alone is the source of all suffering. Just as abuse of power comes as no surprise, the bill always arrives. Power may be winning for the moment, but the truth will rear its foul face with time. By using the art alone as a primary vehicle for communication, I am able to expose aspects of the undeniable truth, where it has otherwise been scorned. “
- OLIVIA STEELE