Masha Vlasova’s inspiration for her short film “Her Type,” came from a familiar source: Her mother.
“We were sitting in her kitchen, and (my mother) finds so much joy in new technological development,” says Vlasova, an assistant professor of studio art at Wofford College. “She happened to download FaceApp on her phone and was really excited about playing around with it.”
FaceApp uses filters to allow people to look younger, older or present as a different gender.
“She took a picture and she put a male filter on my face and just had this wonderful, unscripted response, because with the male filter I look like my father, who’s been deceased for some time and they’ve been divorced for a long time,” Vlasova says. “She was kind of like, ‘Oh my gosh, here’s my ex-husband looking back at me through this ridiculous application.’”
Vlasova worked with her mother, who is a Russian immigrant and a professional actress, to recreate that reaction in a 4-minute film, one that took only two hours to shoot in her mother’s kitchen. She cited her mother’s representation of women’s sexuality after the age of 40, a topic that Vlasova described as “taboo,” as one of many reasons she enjoyed creating the film and finds it exciting. She also expressed that she enjoyed working with her mother, not just because of her professionalism as an actress, but also because of her eagerness to help her daughter out of love.
In the summer of 2019, Debora Faccion, artist and Ph.D. candidate at Binghamton University, said of “Her Type” that, “Vlasova’s perception of her own work assigns to digital images powers of persuasion that can reshape our experiences with others, even in intimate relationships like those between mother and daughter.”
“Her Type” and “The Imaginary Kaleidoscope,” another short film by Vlasova, have been selected for a host of domestic and international experimental film festivals, including BLOW-UP Chicago International Art-house Film Festival, Barcelona International Short Film and Video Festival and London Experimental Anti-Festival among several others.
The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed the way that film festivals are conducted and how viewers interact with the artists behind the films. Vlasova, however, found a silver lining in the transition to virtual festivals.
“I probably would not have been able to travel to a lot of these festivals to see other people’s work and to engage in conversations or panels,” she says. “But due to the pandemic, everything is online, and there’s a little bit of a silver lining there where I’m able to actually see what my peers are making, what programs I’m curated into, or to participate in Q&A sessions because it doesn’t require my physical presence.”
Vlasova says her brand of filmmaking, classified as experimental rather than commercial, is characterized by “a kind of DIY aesthetic and (is) something that is very playful, and is not meant to make money or make big money and is not meant to entertain necessarily, although it certainly can do both.”
Despite the smaller audience that follows experimental film, Vlasova also made it clear that, first and foremost, her filmmaking process is about creating art that she is happy with.
“It’s always what I’m happy with,” she said. “You can’t predict what audiences want to see. What’s the point?”
Perhaps no other experience that Vlasova recounted better characterizes her self-satisfying approach to film than her journey of collecting footage of animal lawn sculptures. While at a conference in Ithaca, New York, she talked about being enraptured by a sculpture of a green-eyed cat and felt the need to film it.
“I did not know why I was attracted to it, but it made sense in that moment to pull out my little camcorder and to film it,” she says. “It sort of became an obsession to track down or, whenever I saw a yard sculpture to just film it. I didn’t know where it was going, I didn’t know what I was going to make with it, and I would say (that) maybe four years later, I had hours and hours of footage of various yard sculptures.”
That four-year project turned into an 11-minute film that also made it into a couple of film festivals, validating Vlasova’s belief that inspiration often comes from being present in the moment.
“If I were to make a suggestion for someone to look for inspiration I would just say pay attention to everything all the time and just be as present as possible and allow yourself to pay attention to things without figuring out why they interest you,” she says.
Wofford is the fourth stop in Vlasova’s teaching career. She said it has been enlightening to teach at a variety of schools both large and small.
“You really get this really broad perspective of what education looks like in the United States, and what art education looks like in the United States,” she says.
Vlasova says her own education allowed her to “break out of a socioeconomic bracket that I was born into.” She views education and teaching as a means of creating change in the world.
“The more I do it, the more I’m convinced that that’s where change can really happen,” Vlasova says. “Societal change, political change can happen in the classroom – can happen in the arts classroom, where I ask of my students to get very vulnerable, to speak from their experience, to attempt to create an experience for their viewer, which are all incredibly difficult things to do, much harder than memorizing a poem or a formula.”
For now, Vlasova’s attention is on three documentaries, one of which is an eco-critical documentary set in the Boundary Waters on the border between the United States and Canada, and on finishing her work with yard sculptures. Moving forward, however, she still has aspirations of returning to New York and reconnecting with the Russian population where she grew up, hopefully coming away with a film about Russian actors in the United States.
As far as Wofford is concerned, Vlasova continues to work with students to uproot the “myths” surrounding art and inspiration.
“Art has all of these mythologies in our society,” she says. “You either have inspiration or you don’t. You’re either good at art or you’re bad at art. You’re either born talented – a Mozart, a Picasso – or you’re not. …Sometimes, it’s just a matter of doing.”