Most caves take thousands of years to form, but Sherry Di Filippo crafted one in the middle of downtown Raleigh in less than three weeks. Using cardboard, coffee grounds, and a giant web of cord, she and her team conjured an impressively realistic Hell Cave at Bonded Llama Studios.
“My friend Johnny Gillette is a director. He asked me to do production designs for this Colossus video called ‘You Died.’ I just loved the challenge of it,” Di Filippo explains, recounting the lack of time and resources. “Can I pull this off with just these few items? In less than a month? It felt like a survival game.”
“I also made a stop motion demon that ate a bus,” she adds.
But Di Filippo does more than create random acts of nature in urban basements. Her art embraces the adrenaline rush of creation itself, the struggle to take “rudimentary materials like twisted wire and strong PVC pipe” and breathe life into them. Using mostly “found materials,” she sculpts moving, animatronic puppets and monsters to star in stop-motion films.
“The one fewest people have seen,” she admits, “has a life-sized puppet that looks like me. It’s a play on Frankenstein, and my twin sister also has a role—as me. There’s something I like about how she slowly turns into a monster through isolation, and the idea that you have to keep some stuff a secret because it effects your survival.”
Through her series of stop-motion, animated films, Di Filippo creates mirrors through which “reality” can perceive itself, with a surreal reflection perhaps a shade darker than polite society is comfortable discussing. That unspoken conversation is where art becomes activism.
Di Filippo is outspoken about using her art to explore cultural and social issues, passionately explaining, “I feel like people live parallel lives, where in daily life and careers we have to be careful not to share any pain or adversity or negative feelings. Like when you’re facing adverse situations in life and feel like you can’t be real. In our culture we try to eradicate anxiety, anger, and violence. But corporate life seems a little unnatural. I think sometimes my art is almost paying tribute to those unpopular adversities we can’t express.”
“I don’t want people to be angry or in pain, but we need to respect life’s duality,” she says, adding, “In that way, doing art can be therapeutic, like yoga.”
During her day job as an art teacher, Di Filippo works with many Raleigh-area teenagers, helping them express themselves through art.
“I like to explore emotional realism through surrealism,” she explains. It’s similar to how the human brain processes subconscious information through dreams. “I’d like to do a collaborative film project with lots of other local artists, writers, comedians, and musicians. I want to create a giant game of telephone, a crowd-funded navigation of each artist’s mind, creating a shared experience.”