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Off-Off-Off-the Grid

Last July, video artist Mika Rottenberg and sculptor Jon Kessler traveled to Botswana to shoot a film for their performance art installation, "SEVEN." The film screened at Nicole Klagsbrun Project Space in New York for Performa 11 this past November. Here, they describe their experience off-off-off-the grid for our Winter Issue travel feaure.

The way I work is very random, wherever I go. For this project, my collaborator Jon Kessler and I knew we wanted to go to a far away place, so we started by putting our finger on a map, which landed on Botswana. 

I actually circled Botswana three times before I found the setting for the film. The first time I went, a friend and I rented a car and I was looking for this kind of clichéd poster-like African landscape, and when I arrived I realized that it doesn't really exist--it's just a lot of bush. That classic African poster image is not so easy to find. 

We were starting to get worried because we couldn't find a location, but we stopped in this tourist hub, Maun, and someone told us about this place near Gweta, so we drove there and that was it. It was nothing basically. It was kind of going to the other part of the world to find nothing. Because it looks like flatlands; this cracked, dried, wide place.

There was no electricity, so we took these showers from buckets of hot water in the light of the moon, which was such an amazing  experience. We were living off-off-off-the grid.

We ended up shooting two or three hours away from the village in this little cattle-post. When we filmed we literally had to chase the sun. Because you see it so big coming up and coming down, and because it is so flat you really feel the earth circling the sun. 

The last day we took everyone in a bus to shoot in another location that was six hours away, it was like a field trip. At that point we were really friends with the local cast. On the way back, a few of us drove in the bed of a pickup truck at sunrise. It was freezing so we were wrapped up in blankets; there were tons of giraffes and zebras on the road, and it was this magical, magical thing.

The villagers thought we were crazy at first. We brought New York stress to the middle of this peaceful village. We brought all these insane props that Jon built, and my friend Steve came with these LED glasses that would light everything. They thought we were like aliens, like the day these weird three people landed from Mars. At first they did not understand why we would make them do the same actions over and over again, and why we would suddenly take a break, and then work like super-hard. Then slowly we had the translator, and I was able to explain to them, more and more, the process of filmmaking. A lot of them hadn't seen a TV before, so it took them a while to understand, but they totally got it in the end. But I mean, any way you look at it, they were right, we are crazy.

We'll be posting more pieces from our Winter Issue travel feature through out the week. You can read about Sasha Grey's trip to Thailand and Germany hereTwilight star Jackson Rathbone's account of being robbed in San Francisco here, Momofuku Milk pastry chef Christina Tosi's 10 traveling rules here, designer Nicola Formichetti's love letter to Ibiza here and London trio Is Tropical's crazy, drunken time in Russia here.

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