Intro to Video Essays

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

This summer video suite features three writers who are using analog materials to create contemporary video work.

Our first video is a nature documentary “reimagined for the end of the world.” Handmade and hand processed on 16mm film, “The Lilac Game” is part of a series of videos Emma Piper-Burket is creating for future audiences who have lost the natural world we know. A gothic font crackles on screen and invites the audience to shout “in celebration” during the otherwise silent film, but the project’s pacing communicates more urgent impulses. Piper-Burket anticipates the challenges of a “future perspective” on nature when she asks: “What about the colors you say?” Next we see the image of a hand-colored bird—a leaking, cardinal red. “The Lilac Game” may suggest that even the best nature film will be a painful approximation; art will be necessary to communicate what we had.

Our second video features a folk object called crankie—a pre-cursor to video built for telling stories by combining an image, a voice, and a flame. In “The Giant, The Saint, The Magpie,” Nicholas Maione retells this story in the voice of a bird, using a panorama: “I, Magpie, remember the sad day when that man slithered up to our clifftop chateau disguised as a maiden carrying water.” Most fairytales are horror stories, and this one originally comes from a French village along the Santiago de Compostela. The project feels reverent, perhaps monastic when told through Maione’s voice that feels like it comes from the very rock where a giant lives. Maione uses the negative space and the horizontal scope of the crankie tactfully, as the face of a hill becomes a giant’s shoulder, as the giant’s eyes turn to pinholes. “The Giant, The Saint, The Magpie” feels like it comes from somewhere ancient, and there’s a deep pleasure in the paralleling of an old story retold by videotaping the digital screen’s predecessor.

Third in this suite is among the first video poems I want to watch on the largest screen possible. In “House: A Sonnet, a Palinode,” the audience encounters a series of still lifes in video form while Sophie Paquette displays a four-part text using a portable projector. A palinode is a poem that reconsiders a former sentiment: “I take it back,” Paquette writes, “I retract what I said about the body formerly known as/ husband.” As we read these lines projected on the side of a house, a figure in a sweatsuit does sit-ups on the lawn as if to say that the speaker’s body is also repenting. The soundtrack is domestic: city sirens, birdsong, screen doors. The palette is coppery interior light backed by purple evening as a body drapes from an upper window: “How I live inside the house and the house lives inside the screen,” writes Paquette. This is a video project interested in confinement and in making use of what is on-hand as it imposes several frameworks: architecture, poetic form, take-back.

As moving images keep our attention locked to screens, these makers of literary video ask questions about the gaps between symbol and referent using old technologies. They ask how we can communicate across time and space, given infinite options, given our limits.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020