Introduction to Video Essays

Friday, January 15, 2021

In this video suite we present a series of slightly longer works than we normally feature. Each of these three videos considers the role of delay in moving-image work, and in some way allows an ambitious visual medium to direct its own pauses. 

Combining poetry, performance art, and moving image, “Project Hazmatic: Score For Body As Cautionary Tale” reveals the yellow hazmat suit to be a sheath, a container, a figure, and an effigy that can move in surprising ways across landscapes. While two suits blow empty across a beach, inflating with wind to make ghost shapes, a voice recites: “Skin, a bridge, a porous equation, overworked for centuries, unhinge the jaws, swallow all, a black air.” This project features a long sound poem in eleven sections with titles like “Score for Body as Thirst Suit,” “Score for Body as Durational Performance,” and “Score for Body as Wild Processional.” Its images and language think together about the purported lines among human, animal, and landscape that are often delineated by porous skins, and about the environmental degradation across the strata of many beings: “We play a game with no score, down on all fours, call all ill animals to the yard, sweeten the debris you feed them, jump the electric fence, a species link.” Part object lesson, part evolutionary retelling (“Flowers precede the bees, whales flunk back into the oceans”), “Project Hazmatic” also demonstrates the shared goals of texts that stretch the possibilities of language and video performances that pose and re-pose questions through repeated shapes, colors, and horizon lines.

“This is the future / This is the distant future,” begins the speaker in “A Turn.” This piece is a cinepoem interested in the rhythms produced by different writing technologies, and in the relationship of speaker to medium: “This distance / this stance / this future stance.” The piece features a variety of visual technologies, from live handwriting atop black and white footage, to a computer-generated endless ring, to a book of flower illustrations moving in reverse. Each considers the patterns inherent to what the audience sees; the rhythm of pages turning, of text-to-voice cadence, and the pause between writing a line with a scratchy ink pen and crossing it out. When the second section arrives with an infinite ring, a computerized voice insists: “This is the past / This is a badge / This is a ticket / H, access permitted / H-S to the past / Accent permissive /As in permission / Is this the past?” As the project progresses, each change in technology behaves as a visual pivot that reorients the audience and our perspective on the language.

In “Pies z głową” (“Dog with a head”), the speaker practices Polish by narrating a series of stop-motion images in graphite pencil. The scenes are sketchy, vibrating, alive. Blank patches made by an eraser reveal either a grid of morning light through a window, or the vanishing points that disappear into a Walmart parking lot. As the speaker works through descriptions in new language, the tensions between text and image recall the cognitive work of translating in real-time, of tracing the edges of a figure and re-tracing to add detail. About half way through, the stop-motion depicts a yellow patch of light churning on the ceiling: “Outside the window is a very small lake on the street. The sun. How do you say? The sun, the little lakelette, my roof. Not roof—the other side of the roof. The above-me-ian wall. You understand. I’ll fall asleep here. In the afternoon. In the end of summer. The window is open. The smell of cold.” The aesthetic of “Pies z głową” is minimal, dark, and pensive. Sometimes it’s a dog’s severed head that spins above the subtitles and sometimes two faint bodies are joining in a room. By contrast, its syntax is playful, repetitive, ever accruing, a reminder of the way that working across languages demands that we specify exactly what we mean. Through reorientation, we perhaps learn more about what we were trying to say in the first place.


Friday, January 15, 2021