Filmmaker receives national art award

Deborah Statman

Deborah Stratman, filmmaker and UIC associate professor of art.

Filmmaker Deborah Stratman, associate professor of art at the University of Illinois at Chicago, works in experimental methods and arcane subjects, yet her films speak to viewers so eloquently that she has earned a string of fellowships and awards.

The latest is a United States Artist fellowship, established in 2006 by the Ford, Rockefeller, and other foundations and awarded annually to about 35-50 artists in nine disciplines: architecture and design, crafts, dance, literature, media, music, theater and performance, traditional arts and visual arts. The fellowship offers each artist $50,000 without restrictions on their work.

“You feel a certain responsibility to try to make work that matters when so many people are trusting your work,” Stratman said. “Having a grant like the USA award is fantastic. I feel like they really support artists by affording them conceptual space to take bigger leaps.”

Her latest project is the one-hour “Illinois Parables,” which will premeire at the Sundance Film Festival in January — her fourth film to do so. She describes it as 11 vignettes that look at “the confluence of faith and technology, with a recurring theme of exodus.” Stratman says it grew from her 2009 film, “O’er the Land,” which considered the link between American definitions of freedom and defense but stopped short of examining religious freedom.

“When we’re faced with something we don’t know, we tend to look to a belief system to explain it — it could be faith or technology,” Stratman said. “I was curious about who or what we end up endorsing or blaming when we make those choices of how to believe in something. Faith impacts, and is impacted by, governance.”

Stratman’s body of work is eclectic, from “Hacked Circuit,” which demonstrates how sound effects might have been devised for a Gene Hackman film, to “Kings of the Sky,” which portrays a Turkic-Muslim troupe of tightrope walkers in East Turkestan.

She also works in sculptural installations. Her “Sussarati” is on view in the Lincoln Park Conservatory’s Fern Room through Feb. 29. It uses electromagnetic switches to create vibrations that make some ferns quiver amid a series of faint tapping sounds.

Stratman has exhibited her work at MoMA, the Whitney Biennial and the Centre Pompidou, and at film festivals like Sundance and Rotterdam. She has received Guggenheim and Fulbright fellowships, a 2012 Creative Capital Award, and a 2014 Herb Alpert Award in the Arts.

She is the second UIC faculty member to receive a United States Artist award. The late Doug Garofalo of the School of Architecture received the honor in 2006.

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