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Christina Santa Cruz

Christina is best known as a filmmaker whose work tends to have an eerie, unsettling quality. She also makes other types of art, including installation art, music, and taxidermy. She often collaborates with her husband, artist Daniel Watkins; the duo makes experimental music under the band name Chestnut. Christina is originally from Florida, and currently lives in Los Angeles.

Want to know more about Christina's work? Scroll down to see our interview.*

What made you decide to become an artist, and how did you pursue that? Did you go to art school?

I like to tell stories; to serenade a captive audience with horror and true crime tales around the campfire. With filmmaking and film scoring, I can explore the call-and-response technique further. A camera move or a sound cue to stir intrigue, prompting the moviegoer to question “what lurks deep in the forest?”

With video installations, I can open the door of my cabinet of curiosities and invite the spectator inside, for them to become part of the storyline.

My path has lead me to both film school at University of Central Florida and art school at CalArts, as well as taxidermy workshops.

How would you describe your art to someone who has never seen it? In other words, please give a very basic description of the medium(s) you use, the overall style and themes, etc.

I practice in four different mediums: film, music, installation, and taxidermy. Throughout the years, one theme revisits my work often – Death. The loss of a loved one, the loss of one's own memory, the loss of my main character from a gruesome kill, etc.

Your work seems both introspective and observant; I get the feeling that it is at once inward- and outward-looking. For example, "Machine Memory" draws a parallel between waning technology, never-ending information, and limited human memory. Do you have thoughts to share about that, or general comments about your subject matter?

If I could capture specific smells in jars, I would! The connection of an aroma to a memory, for me, is instantaneous. It's like a Samantha from Bewitched trick; one moment I am here and then the next I am seven years old, crafting with my cousins at Abuela Ana's house. With Machine Memory, I try to reconcile my lack of memory. I wish I could remember more.

You and your husband (Daniel Watkins) are both artists in your own right, but you also create work together. How is artmaking different for you when you work individually vs. when you work together?

It is nice to bounce ideas back and forth with my husband. When we work together, my head conversations are now out in the open. In a way, I am naked with the curtain unveiled, but I feel confident and understood. When I work on my own projects, alone, I must admit I feel little less secure. I end up researching more about the topic that I am working on. However, too much research can be a never-ending Lazarus pit; every iteration tried until one day I settle – okay, this is the one life out of the nine lives I choose to show.

Please tell us a bit about Chestnut, the experimental music duo you formed with your husband. The music is highly unusual but intriguing and almost haunting. How do you and Daniel come up with these compositions?

Chestnut soon became the headliner of our film screenings and video installations. Dan and I would produce an evening to celebrate our moving image work either at a cinematheque or at an art gallery, topping off the night with a noise improv session; Dan on the guitar and I on the bass. Mainly we would go wild for about an hour or so, just to revel in the success of a job well done. These performances took the place of a typical director/artist Q & A. To our surprise, our audience stuck around. No one was put off by the sounds we were conjuring. In fact, people came up to us afterwards asking to purchase a Chestnut album.

The music of Chestnut has an ethereal, dreamy quality. I think the same can be said for your films. Is there a thread of indefinability or mysticism throughout your work?

Dreams and/or nightmares are doorways; and sometimes I want to stay in bed a little longer to see what happens next. With my practice, I consistently check in with myself to see if I am still engaged with the piece. If I see obvious choices, I alter my groove to something else. Hopefully that something is a beat I can dance to. First I dance and then I ask, “why am I dancing?”

Your art practice often deals with death and the occult, correct? Do you use art to investigate and explore those topics? If so, please elaborate.

I do appreciate the art of investigating. For my video installation Dead Comedians, my collaborators and I juxtaposed images and sounds of collected performances, the news reports of their deaths, and relics acquired from landmarks amounting to an abstract mapping project that highlights the value we often ascribe to artifacts that serve as our links to famous dead people. Dead Comedians transforms the physicality of six comedians -- Phil Hartman, Gilda Radner, Richard Pryor, Robin Williams, Joan Rivers, and Andy Kaufman -- into something less tangible.

Your recent horror film, Taylor and Vanessa, is getting praise at festivals this year. Please tell us about it.

My film Taylor and Vanessa is a meditative horror piece that showcases two women talking about red flags. Specifically the red flags that currently exist in their lives, as well as those that occur in situations where systems of power are easily abused, such as a film set. They examine what it means to be in danger, and through the course of one evening the two women must choose to either confront the object of their horror or resign themselves to their inevitable fate.

Your website bio describes you as a filmmaker and installation artist. What is it about installation art that appeals to you?

The first installation art that took ahold of me was Disney's The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror in Orlando, FL. The ride's environment, its décor, sounds, smells, and character actors, paved way to the Tower's history. The installation itself revealed why the elevator is out-of-order. True, I could have read a tombstone/wall flower description of the event, but what is the fun in that? I'd much rather walk through and see a story unfold.

Is it true that you practice taxidermy? How does that fit into your art practice? Where do you get the animals?

Tactile is a word that comes to mind. I have a deeper relationship with my artwork if I can touch it. When making films, I would develop my own 16mm. When expanding my curio cabinet, I would create taxidermy centre-pieces myself. There is an innate beauty in hand-making that I cannot detach from my practice. How can I learn better without opening Pandora’s Box? Perhaps Pandora’s Box is too drastic? When I find a better example, I will let you know.

Regarding sourcing animals, you can try your local taxidermy shops and online message boards. Follow rules and regulations related to your location; and in my opinion – do not pick up road kill. Too many bacterial elements can destroy your specimen over time, especially if they have endured dead days out in the sun.

What other artists or movements inspire you or influence your work?

The more I think about my work, the more I realize the debt I owe to horror extraordinaire John Carpenter. He -- like me -- writes, directs, and makes music. What can I say? I like to scare people! I find it relaxing.

What are some of your inspirations outside of the “Fine Art World?”

Since Halloween is right around the corner, I would like to carve out some time here for my TOP 31 favorite horror films:

1. Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

2. The Wolf Man (1941)

3. The Angry Red Planet (1959)

4. A Bucket of Blood (1959)

5. Psycho (1960)

6. Targets (1968)

7. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

8. Black Christmas (1974)

9. Suspiria (1977)

10. Halloween (1978)

11. Tourist Trap (1979)

12. The Thing (1982)

13. Halloween 3: Season of the Witch (1982)

14. Freddy’s Revenge (1985)

15. Day of the Dead (1985)

16. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

17. The Fly (1986)

18. Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988)

19. Night of the Demons (1988)

20. Bride of Re-Animator (1989)

21. Candyman (1992)

22. New Nightmare (1994)

23. Scream (1996)

24. The Craft (1996)

25. The Witch (2015)

26. Get Out (2017)

27. Mandy (2018)

28. Midsommar (2019)

29. Haunt (2019)

30. Uncle Peckerhead (2020)

31. Candyman (2021)

Is there anything else you’d like to say about your work? Anything that our questions didn’t cover?

I remember my first Catholic viewing of a complete embalm, and boy did it leave a mark on me. Someone that I loved feeling cold to the touch was not what I expected when I held their hand, but at the end of the day I did not lose love for them. Weirdly, it made me appreciate the time we had together before their passing. Coldness = Warmth. Without a doubt, seeing my artwork come to life gets me every time. Tears!

Christina Santa Cruz's website is You can also follow her on Instagram: @christinasantacruz. Chestnut on Instagram: @chestnutnoise.

*All images on this page are property of the artist, unless otherwise noted.


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