featured artist

Sami Pfeffer by Altered Esthetics

We welcome Sami Pfeffer to be one of our Featured Artists for the 2018 Film Festival: Force Majeure. They create uncomfortable spaces- consensually- to ask for and offer the vulnerability of communal healing.

Altered Esthetics Film Festival will feature Pfeffer’s work on Friday, June 1st.

Sami Pfeffer,  Ritual

Sami Pfeffer, Ritual

A lot of your work directly invites the viewer to interact or reflect. Can you talk a bit about why you think this type of work is important, and why you continue to challenge the audience?

I'm a multidisciplinary artist currently exploring intersections of gender, survivorship, violence, and the effects of trauma on the body. I make interactive work because I think allowing the viewer to participate passively can reinforce our tendencies towards spectatorship and encourage us to remain distant and disbelieving in response to actual harm. Through my work, I ask folks to to engage with their own discomfort in relatively safe settings, such as theaters and galleries, so that they have more capacity to recognize and response to those feelings in "real world" spaces.

Can you talk about the importance of the audience presence in your work? How is it elevated in this setting versus a solo viewing?

This is a great question. Most of my film work has been screened for multiple people at once. Only Cervical Exam, and now Ritual, have been offered as installations. I'm curious to learn more about which films are more palatable alone and which require audience solidarity.

Sami Pfeffer,  Untitled

Sami Pfeffer, Untitled

Some of your work can be hard to watch. What are you challenging, in concern to your body work? What are you asking the audience for and what do you wish they take away from their experience?

I agree that some of my work can be hard to watch. Often though, what's hard to view changes from person to person. For example, Untitled includes footage of me having what I call a DIY gender confirmation surgery- genitals carved into my upper thigh. There's real blood, real cutting. I usually sit onstage during the screenings of this piece and watch the audience experience the film. I have always contextualized my presence as an act of shared responsibility- I witness the audience’s discomfort and share it greatly; I struggle to sit still, I feel exposed and self-conscious, I get sweaty and shaky on stage.

Recently, I received feedback from some folks of color that this piece feels gratuitously violent, especially because I'm a white person watching others experience harm. I am sitting with this response because I am aware of the histories of gendered/genital violence enacted by white folks on people of color as well as the act of being white and passively watching others hurt.

Still, I also think that naming the piece as violent exposes biases often held by cis folks about how trans bodies should or shouldn’t be modified. For me, the piece is a reclaiming of a gratuitously violent aspect about being trans- being studied, particularly by the medical industry, and the daily humiliations and dangers I face when I seek medical care. And for me, the film itself does not depict violence. I am avidly consenting to the cutting and I’m surrounded by other trans folks (as opposed to mostly cisgender nurses and doctors) changing my body in ways that feel powerful, necessary, and accessible.

So I guess I'm hoping to challenge biases in general. My own and others'. Because bias is specific to individuals (and often general populations), the challenge I hope to offer is accountability to those biases. I hope that people examine why they feel uncomfortable viewing something and that they offer criticism with those reasons in mind.

A lot of your work includes the use of your own body. Can you speak to this form of storytelling, and why you choose yourself as the subject?

To me, art often violates consent. I make work about my own abusive relationships, for example, and I violate the consent of perpetrators by not asking them for permission to speak to experiences that we shared. I accept that violation because to not make that work would feel like a silencing of my own voice and in those situations, I prioritize my consent over theirs. In order to mitigate those violations though, I often center my body as a site for exploring my experiences with harm because feels like a way of acknowledging that my experiences may not align with someone else's, and ensuring that my work is grounded in my individual truths and not in universal declarations.

I also hope that by grounding conversations about shame, discomfort, or trauma in my own experiences, viewers are more supported in being able to explore their feelings towards those parts of being. I want to offer vulnerability as I ask for it.

Sami Pfeffer,  Cervical Exam

Sami Pfeffer, Cervical Exam

Can you give us some hints about the new work you’ll be screening?

Yes, absolutely. The new piece, working titled Void, is an examination of the losses sustained by leaving an abusive relationship. This piece involves removing, frame by frame, a lover's body from footage of us together. Often, this means removing pieces of myself when we overlap. When this relationship ended, I experienced the loss of this person, of our mutual friends who were unable to support me in naming their behaviors as abusive, of self-esteem and self-trust, and of community spaces out of fear of seeing this ex move through the world unaccountable to their actions. Also, unlike previous break-ups, I felt a lot of shame about the grief I sustained for this former partner, and so the film is also about the gradual subsiding of that shame and acceptance of complex feelings for someone who has hurt me.

Can you speak on the other films in your night (Friday, 6/1)? How do these films from local/ national/ international artists fit with your work?

When Chelsea invited me to curate my evening, she asked if there were any key themes to look out for as she went through the entirety of the submissions. I told her to send films my way that were hard to like/ deeply uncomfortable to view. Overall, I'd say that films I've selected challenge the viewer to engage with bodies in complex ways. I chose the title, Knots, for my evening because the films represent the tangles within which we find ourselves, especially when we avoid parts of ourselves that we hold discomfort and shame around. I also like that Knots sounds like nots,  as in have-nots, or cannots. The films in my evening represent bodies and concepts that are not valued in ways that I think they should be.

Sami Pfeffer’s work will be on view on Friday Night, Knots, alongside musician MIEHYK, as well as local, national, and international filmmakers.

Purchase advance tickets here.



All images courtesy of the artist.

Interview written by Chelsea Arden Parker, edited by Sarah Kass.


Reb L. Limerick by Altered Esthetics

We welcome Reb L. Limerick as one of our Featured Artists for the 2018 Film Festival: Force Majeure. Through language, voice, and collaboration, Reb L Limerick explores the weight of current relationships between humanity, sexuality, technology, and ecology.

Altered Esthetics Film Festival will feature Limerick’s work on Thursday, May 31st.

Reb L. Limerick,  Knead to Need

Reb L. Limerick, Knead to Need

A lot of your work intertwines nature with elements of the internet. Can you talk a bit about creating your own digital landscapes and what that intersection means to you?

What is The Cloud made of? Water molecules or pixels? Where does it reside? The sky or the ground? Last summer, HomePaige (ongoing artistic collaborator Paige Carlson) and WurldWideReb (my primary digital alter-ego) explored these questions through the creation of a 9 episode web series. Hard Drive chronicled our 18 day road trip around the western half of the US in search of a more intimate connection with our data. We visited Google data centers, an iCloud storage facility, and a supercomputer center, finding ourselves overwhelmed by the level of secrecy and the amount of resources needed to power these monuments. As a video and performance artist, the resources I use to create my artworks are often more abstract, harder to quantify or ethically analyze. I find myself placing trust in physical hard drives to store my files, finding power in my embodied acapella voice to tell stories and inspire catharsis, feeling more present when I’m offline. Yet, I stay up to date on Climate Change data and policies by endlessly scrolling Twitter, a company known for lack of transparency around their own carbon emissions. As caring individuals in love with blooming Lilacs and obsessed with our smartphones, how do we hold these contradictions?

Reb L. Limerick,  Hard Drive Episode 4: I’m Proud of My Cloud

Reb L. Limerick, Hard Drive Episode 4: I’m Proud of My Cloud

What do you wish the viewer will take away from your work in terms of environmental advocacy?

Hmm... I hope people leave feeling like CARING IS COOL. Not only is it cool, it is vital to the health of the planet and all living creatures who reside here. Once you care about something and make a commitment to it, your actions shift accordingly. Caring deeply takes on so many different forms. Three care-based practices I exemplify through my pieces in the festival are collaboration, listening, and speaking out! I hope people can leave feeling like they’ve made a new neural connection based on a sound, image, or moment of performative word play. I believe in the power of language to shift our daily actions. It may seem benign, but ever since I made the connection between the words “glitter" and “litter," I am more attuned to the presence of millions of micro plastic bits polluting our water, most of which are non-biodegradable toxic cigarette butts of course. I cannot expect people to leave the theater and quit smoking, but can hope that the presence of my work will inspire subtle epiphanies or energizing moments of reckoning.

Can you talk a bit on creating characters such as Ecca Echo, the ecosexual popstar, and using yourself to bring out different personalities?

Creating a persona is a way of giving myself permission to embody an altered version of myself. Through crafting a backstory, putting on a wig, and speaking through a fictional voice, I can explore my own multiplicity as well as connect with new audiences. Ecca Echo is a green-haired singer in a queer relationship with the Mississippi River. She practices Deep Listening down by the water, then echoes back what she hears to the world in catchy pop song format. When I slip on my green wig and enter Ecca’s headspace, I feel free to be the most eco-conscious, sensually-aware, glitzy, amplified version of me!

Reb L. Limerick,  Global Warm Ups (Episode 1)

Reb L. Limerick, Global Warm Ups (Episode 1)

Can you give us some hints about the new work you’ll be screening?

I am thrilled to premiere my first ever film! I shot it on Super 8mm and hand processed all three rolls from which it is comprised. I titled it Light Hunt because holding the big ‘ol noisy camera, stalking through the northern woods in fall, was the closest I’ve come to hunting prey. Also, because celluloid film needs to catch light to make an impression and render an image. My light hunter character wears really quiet shoes (sneakers)!

Reb L. Limerick’s work will be on view opening night, Glacial Recognition, alongside Inside Voice, Improvising Eco Systems, as well as local, national, and international filmmakers.

Purchase advance tickets here.


All images courtesy of the artist.

Interview written by Chelsea Arden Parker, edited by Sarah Kass.

Miranda Brandon by Altered Esthetics

Miranda Brandon is a featured artist in Altered Esthetic’s exhibition, Bad Neighbor, on view at the Southern Theater through March 11, 2018. With millions of dollars and years of preparation funneled into this one weekend, this group exhibition highlights community responses to the production of Super Bowl LII.

Miranda Brandon is an animal enthusiast and advocate. Her multimedia work challenges how we perceive the physical and psychological constructs of the world around us and strives to promote a greater understanding and appreciation for the interconnectivity between human and non-human animals. Originally from Oklahoma, Brandon moved to Minneapolis to obtain her BFA from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and later completed her MFA at the University of Minnesota in 2014. Since then, Brandon has received a Jerome Emerging Artist Fellowship, has exhibited work as a Showcase Artist at the Bell Museum of Natural History, and has been featured by Audubon magazine, while also teaching photography and participating in various volunteer activities in Minnesota. Currently, Brandon is creating new work as a Tulsa Artist Fellow, in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Miranda Brandon,  Impact (Nashville Warbler),  Composite digital photograph/ Archival pigment print, 31" x 44"   

Miranda Brandon, Impact (Nashville Warbler), Composite digital photograph/ Archival pigment print, 31" x 44"


Miranda, thanks for exhibiting with Ae! We are showing two works from your Impact series. Can you give us some information on the background of this project including your work with Audubon Minnesota?

I had previously volunteered at the Wildlife Rehab Center, in Roseville, and found out through them that Audubon MN was looking for volunteers for Project BirdSafe, which monitors for birds that have collided with built structures in downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul. I started volunteering with them and my Impact project grew out of that experience.

Below: A Palm Warbler that I found stunned, in downtown St. Paul, after having flown into a window. I removed him from the sidewalk, where he sat disoriented and vulnerable, moving him past the confusing downtown space and in the direction he was migrating. When I opened up his “carrier”, a very fancy brown, paper bag with some rolled up paper towel for perching on, he was still relatively disoriented so we hung out together for another 15 minutes until he was able to collect himself and fly away.

This bird was found during one of my monitoring walks for Audubon MN.

Miranda with a Palm Warbler

Miranda with a Palm Warbler

Can you tell us more about your interest in animals and animal advocacy? Why are these subjects important to your work as an artist?

I’ve always had a general interest in animals and grew up around dogs, rabbits, cats, and, at one point, a horse. But more specifically, this interest began with a conversation I was having with a friend, in 2008, in which he was telling me about the seabirds that were being found dead with stomachs full of plastic debris that they were scooping out of the water, mistaken for food. This propelled me to find a way to help at a local level. This lead to volunteering in the avian nursery at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, then later for Audubon, then later still, at the Raptor Center. My volunteer experiences have been instrumental in thinking about how we affect and connect with other species. I feel, in our culture, that there is frequently a palpable disconnect with the natural world which creates conditions for abuse. So, for the last several years I’ve been exploring ways to create connection opportunities, raising awareness for whom space is co-occupied with and creating ways for humans to create new joint narratives across species.

While your work is clearly informed by animals and nature, your pieces more specifically address the interaction between humans and the rest of the natural environment. Could you speak more to this relationship that you explore in your work?

Cohabitation is something we need to be much more conscientious of and flexible towards. As human population, and settlements, continue to expand tolerance for wildlife diminishes. In my work I’m trying to generate the circumstances for greater awareness and empathy for who we live with. Text is coming into my work more and more as I’m exploring how language primes us to perceive and behave in specific ways. For example, labeling an animal a pest gives us permission to manage the bodies and overall population of that species and justifies whatever means necessary to do so. But how do we determine who is a pest? The highly adaptable and intelligent coyote is considered a pest. While coyotes may present as a nuisance, disturbing our trash cans, pets, and livestock, where should they go when we continually encroach on their habitat? They keep adapting and filling niches that were left open by the wolves we eradicated, while we fail to adapt to their presence. We have decided to call them pests though, suggesting they have no value - a conditional worth we are continually learning (the hard way) is impossible to assign with our extremely limited understanding of how everything is connected. Another way coyotes are described, by biologists, is “cosmopolitan”. This is a term applied to species that are especially adaptive and flexible regarding the habitats where they can live. Humans are very cosmopolitan too. Does this, therefore mean, that another way to think of humans is as “pests”?

Do you see your art as a form of advocacy? What do you hope audiences take away from your work?

Yes, I do see my work as a form of advocacy. I’m asking viewers and participants to become more aware of who they live with, to consider the labels they use and how that drives their attitudes, and to embrace the idea of a shared, interconnected, narrative. This is a way to publicly ask others to be more invested in the diversity of their physical surroundings and to encourage kindness towards those that we don’t understand and can never fully understand.

Miranda Bandon,  DIY Animal Populator , 2014

Miranda Bandon, DIY Animal Populator, 2014

Miranda Bandon,  DIY Animal Populator  (alternate view), 2014

Miranda Bandon, DIY Animal Populator (alternate view), 2014

Why does photography appeal to you as a medium? What other mediums do you work with in your practice?

The appeal, of photography, has changed across projects and I try to work in whatever medium I feel best serves the idea, to the point where I’m not working, strictly, within photography at the moment. Impact, two images of which you all are currently displaying, and DIY Animal Populator, both use photography but in different ways.

In Impact, photography created an immediacy to the images, despite the birds being photographed in my studio, as if I was staked out near a window just waiting for a bird to fly into it. The appearance of capturing the bird, or birds, at the moment, or just after, fatal contact is made with an illusive, silently reflective surface offers an unsettling presence and urgency to the images. It’s like photojournalism, in a way, in that it intends to bring the viewer into that space and time, in ways that other mediums are less capable of doing because the hand of the maker is too apparent, whereas the hand of the photographer is always there, choosing angle, distance, lighting, focus, and framing, but those choices don’t register as strongly, or at all, when we look at photographs.

In DIY Animal Populator, photography is particularly useful in that I’m photographing these two-dimensional paper cut-outs of animals. You have to get it at just the right angle for it too look right. As an installation this project, visually, works very differently. I’m also interested in the accessibility of photography though, or the ability to make a photo. Today, most people have the power to make a photo sitting in their pockets, inside their smartphones! So this project was also interested in opening up the act of making a photo and sharing a photo. Using an individual’s photo library or a shared image on social media as a way to artificially bolster our experience and interaction with certain animals, creating memories of positive engagement and excitement as well as creating a greater visual presence for some animals that could offset a condition known as the “shifting baseline syndrome.” This syndrome describes when we gradually accept fewer and fewer individuals to constitute a specific population based on a lack of awareness of previous population levels, allowing for continual losses.

Currently, I’m developing a body of work called Object State in which photography plays but a very small role. The work is still growing but currently it is based on ways the natural world is marketed to us. Objects have great agency in this work, using digital drawing and pattern design and thinking about homemaking through home accessories and interior decorating. Other types of retail-like objects have made their way into this work as well, like sculptures from discarded (waste) fur displayed in a West Elm-chic manner.

Miranda Brandon,  When Violence Becomes Aesthetic , Discarded/waste fur, plastic, thread, wire, glue, wooden shelves, and digital drawings on handmade pillows, 2017-18

Miranda Brandon, When Violence Becomes Aesthetic, Discarded/waste fur, plastic, thread, wire, glue, wooden shelves, and digital drawings on handmade pillows, 2017-18

Do you have any upcoming projects or exhibitions we should know about?

I have a couple things in the works and scheduled for this year. As a Tulsa Artist Fellow, I currently have work up in a group show at the Philbrook Museum of Art, in their downtown space in Tulsa, OK, until March 4, 2018. I’ll be out in Wyoming during March, at the Teton Artlab, and will be giving a presentation on my work, as well as opening up my studio there, sometime during the third full week of March. I’ll be back in Tulsa, OK working with Philbrook again, at their main campus, to stage an interactive, outdoor, pop-up installation from my DIY Animal Populator project, on May 12th. I’ll also have a solo show at VisArts, in Maryland, that will be up from June 1st - July 1st.

Where can we find and follow you online?

I just recently updated my website and it can be found at: www.mirandabrandon.com.

I’m also on Instagram @ordinarylastname, which is my primary account, but also have a seperate Instagram @diyanimalpopulator, for my DIY Animal Populator project.


All images courtesy of the artist.

Interview written by Sarah Kass and Ella Kampelman, edited by Sarah Kass.