Becoming undone through experimental video
How we remember is a process of becoming. The mediation of self and society through film, television, reality tv and social media sites articulates subjectivity as a relationship (or ordering) of image, time and sound. The body is revealed by these methods as a location, or as an absence.
- Self as character, stand-in, a hypothesis.
- Body as emotion, sexuality, illness, death, loss and repression.
The limitations of identification are political, controlled by both media and law. With global capitalism, corporations have almost unlimited control over both, criminalization extends beyond social norms, class, gender, sexuality, place of birth, migration; today, all non-conformity to capitalist ideals will be punished.
Representation, neoliberalism and law
Sanctified, recognized, valorized and worshipped. As of late, Canada’s conservative government has unleashed its desires to build more, and larger, prisons (Bill C-10). The underlying goal is to set harsher lines between acceptable/unacceptable behaviors and identities (such as we see with Bill C-31 and the criminalization of HIV transmission) and to create a cheap, powerless workforce. In Quebec, the government responded to the ongoing student strike by criminalizing protests (Loi 78). Democratic process is being criminalized, while government becomes more corrupt every day. Corporate interests control the law. Unsanctified, destroyed, oppressed and resisting.
This struggle for power within capitalism is enacted on reality TV, where competitive individualism becomes an illustration of choice. Which hyper-reality will you chose? It is all an advertisement. Your subjectivity, with its narrative underpinnings, and unconscious desires are sold in the spectacle. In the performative video work of Chris Dupuis, I didn’t come here to make friends, a script is created from the voices of young women on Americas Next Top Model (ANTM) talking about their experiences of rejection. Hosted by Tyra Banks, this show can frequently be cruel to, and excessively judgmental with, the young participants all in the name of advertising and entertainment, dressed up as some kind of do-it-yourself feminism. As an artist, Dupuis suggests this same type of confusing rejection is experienced within the art world. ANTM mixes young women of various class and racial backgrounds into an experience of supposed “equal” competition for legitimacy, but the criteria for success are never explicit and are constantly in flux. Here Dupuis’s video reflects a fragmentation of the self; a fictional dialogue created by various competitors quotes, embodied by the artist himself.
We are all human and faulty; Princess Diana had an eating disorder, JFK had an affair. We may not all be equally famous, but even the famous are imprisoned (by self-destruction, cameras or cells). In Barry Doupé’s video, Whose Toes, we experience a blurry re-imagining of the collective unconscious as seen through media and bad second life-like graphics. Two famous tragic and unexpected deaths of iconic figures are referenced and weaved together in this dream-like animation. Intentionally out of focus and thoroughly confusing (with the injection of clearly fictional and surreal elements), this work draws up a sense of the familiar. This familiarity is created by dissociated experiences we have possibly only accessed vicariously through images, tv, the internet and films. The repetition of imagery reveals a kind of conditioning, how do we construct our own narratives around these fragments? Our own relationship to time relies on these external sensational media moments and grand timelines/narratives; such as, ‘where were you when 911 happened?’. These experiences are also frequently described as being like something seen in a movie or on TV. So extreme in their impact, these moments become a disembodied image, dissociated from our understandings of reality. Shock and trauma become punctuation marks in our stories. In these moments it becomes clear that the reality/fiction binary, is itself a fictional necessity. Subjectivity becomes factual and valuable only through recognition.
“Myths which are believed in tend to become true.” George Orwell
YouTube frees us from the authority of the false claims made by mainstream media of a neutrality of observation. This newfound autonomy is still an instrument of a corporation, but the accessibility is undeniable. We see the world. We see the politician’s other faces revealed. We witness the private thoughts, the home videos, the suicides, the acoustic cover songs, the confessions, the make-up tutorials, the kittens, the Japanese advertisements, the tv shows from our childhoods, the soldiers POV, the montages, the remixes, the endless stream of de-contextualized fragments of anything that can be, or has ever been, captured with a camera. Once considered a fringe activity, the creation of experimental video art is now a mainstream pastime.
In the work of Anna Hawkins there is an attempt to use a historic form, painting, to contain this infinite chaos. Transforming a Cezanne still life painting into a collaged series of found clips, the absurdity of both contemporary representation and historic logic are revealed simultaneously. Like Andy Warhol’s practice, the notion of the reified importance of art history and painting is at odds with this fragmentation through advertising. In Still Life, the recontextualized clips and layered looping sounds take on a nightmarish quality, as they are slowly replaced by blackness.
In Caroline Desilet’s video we witness the shift from fantasy to the construction of a new reality. Here she attempts to insert a childhood dream of being a ballerina into the present day, but instead of taking lessons, she uses video and an elaborate set up, including a device that can lift her in the air. There is a screen attached behind her like a sail, projecting her onto a stage with the use of a YouTube video. The physical support of her mother, hidden behind this screen, is balancing the other end of the beam. The revelation of her mother’s presence is both comic and poignant. The screen is placed in the middle of a relationship, a dividing point between the two, maintaining an illusion of separation while allowing for her extraordinary leaps through the air.
YouTube is a corporation
In November 2006, YouTube, LLC was bought by Google for US$1.65 billion, and now operates as a subsidiary of Google.
Social movements are documented and exposed on the Internet through images from the streets and personal stories. The violence and uprisings around the globe are displayed. They are ‘liked’ and ‘shared’. Told from within, the narrating voice of authority is either removed, or revealed as faulty. Some dominant narratives are subverted. Movements link to other movements, and for this reason many countries block sites to regain control of their citizens and ‘social order’. The mainstream media must also contend with this massive influx of independent material and opinions, due to viral video’s credibility in the public conscious.
72 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. 800 million users visit YouTube every month.
In recent years the pressure of protecting copyright has led to the removal of videos and the controlling of content. This protection of most predominantly corporate rights not only signifies a shift in our methods for producing videos, but also in our ability to create or maintain the context of their reception. The immateriality of digital video allows for an abundance of documentation and autonomy of voice, but this occurs alongside a potential rapid disappearance. To review and archive all this material is overwhelmingly impossible, let alone to absorb a fraction of it. Reflection becomes distraction. We miss the disappearances.
In Vincent Chevalier’s work, So… when did you figure out that you had AIDS?, we see a glimpse into a childhood through the home movie. Here the young artist plays a guest on a fictional talk show, revealing the internalization of representations of the AIDS crisis through news and television in the 1990’s. This childhood play is tainted with painful recognition, as the artist looks back on what was to become. The absorption of society’s morality and judgments of HIV/AIDS are expressed as conflicted rage, blame and love in this child’s perceptive interpretation. The child host finishes, “This could happen to anybody.”
Cinema, editing, self and trauma
Editing is fundamental to the construction of narrative in film. These same methods are subverted in experimental film and video to shift our expectations of how a story is constructed, thus highlighting the notion of identity creation outside of linear time. The form of identifying is concise, and reveals its content through familiar coding – done or undone. Here sound accompanies the moving image to instruct on special cues; diagetic and non-diagetic sound can support the image or the storyline, while dialogue and the use of music inform the emotional underpinnings. A common cultural myth is that the only reliable memory is cinematic, visual and verifiable. Sound directly accesses other kinds of bodily memory, experience we have difficulty naming or telling.
In Kim Kielhofner’s videos the self is rebuilt from fragments of photo, video, film, text and soundtrack. The self-portrait is inserted into the Hollywood narrative, but through merging character, actor, narrator and viewer, the divisions of identity here conflate, complicate and contradict these distinctions. These works undo a linear structure of time through the repositioning of subjectivity and by the introduction of a constantly shifting recontextualization of the narrative; as fragments of absent memory, text, and information unexpectedly appear, obliterating everything so far understood. Sound is placed independently from clips, disconnected from representation, in ways that reveal another gap of meaning that relates closer to embodiment than image or illustration.
In the work of Aleesa Cohene, fragments from 1980’s films and educational videos are reedited to question a nostalgia produced by media, film and television that was absorbed in many of our childhoods. Taking from various thematically organized clips, Cohene assembles narrative out of fragments around a mysterious and emotional impulse. There is a sense that actions in film and TV exist within themselves, that they have an internal relationship to each other, and also have consequences other than driving a plot. In Cohene’s work, the characters switch from scene to scene, each becoming an extension of the last, forming a central mood or understanding that is propelled along by the music and sound. In this conflation of the individual and whole, these fluid characters represent emotional states unearthed from obsolete references and forgotten cinematic moments. In All Right Canadian nationality, multiculturalism and immigration are explored.
In Uprooted, Coco uses stop-motion animation to reflect a subjective experience of the ways in which migration and culture are used by those in power to control, oppress and criminalize individuals. In this work, the ever-changing, mostly hand drawn images, reveal the fragmentation of our sense of identity, community, experiences and family histories, as experienced under dominant, racist narratives and laws.
Memories are given form by our narrative beliefs, but also the spaces of telling, the listener or the witness, repetition, and the silences. Memories are interwoven, embodied, and engender emotion. Trauma obliterates these connections.
In the performance by Kandis Friesen a series of images, a small archive, are woven together with stories, histories and experiences. Sometimes lecture, sometimes poem, the oral narration zooms in on detail from first hand experiences, family and global politics to create a quilt of meanings that address loss, death and dying. Taking the personal and the political as equally subjective and inter-related experiences, the social structures and systematic controls are exposed within this telling.
The construction of a story brings together fragments of experiences, feelings, and senses. Them translating and creating this mess of the body and self into language and a series of images. To define characters and actions is to aggrandize the structures of society and identity. What gets removed or lost? What voices or experiences? Conventional forms of representation tease out narratives to reflect myths and stories that reinforce authoritative forms of power, such as neoliberal ideologies. Certain concepts of society, self and relationships play out in the public sphere while others are denied. The challenging of these dominant narratives in experimental video speaks with pointed intention to the experience of silence and the unnamed. When one’s experiences and identities fall away from dominant forms of description and meaning making, what happens to them? Revealing the coding of mainstream forms of communication allows for new possibilities of identification, and therefore creates tools for resistance to the status quo.
 “This is the permanent tension that lies at the heart of a capitalist democracy and is exacerbated in times of crisis. In order to ensure the survival of the richest, it is democracy that has to be heavily regulated rather than capitalism.” Tariq Ali
 Recently, in Quebec, we have seen this relationship between mainstream media and the internet play out with representations of the student protests and casseroles, but also with news sources reposting of a snuff video.