An Introduction to Video Essays

Saturday, January 15, 2022

In this video suite we present four pieces created, submitted, and in some manner in conversation with depictions of isolation and collective loss.

In our first cinepoem, “Vibracorpus” the walls and lamps are papered like books. Paper bedsheets and walls. In bed, two figures type in their sleep: “All images of my face / will blink out / like dead stars.” This newest project by “Smartsnow,” the collaborative pair that is Kathleen Kelley and Sarah Rose Nordgren, uses digital animation, choreography, and a hand-built set. Together, their language and performance strategies offer a meditation on proxy selves and the intricate relationship between lives lived in parallel, in both physical spaces and on screen. Like its choreography, the narrative tendances in “Vibracorpus” are architectural, based on repeating shapes; the bridge two bodies can make like the bridge one sentence builds between others. This video poem pushes the relationship between time-based media and language when it presents the same line of poetry as a sentence recited aloud, then typed. Later the audience “hears” the repeated line, as if for the first time, when we see it tracing a dancer’s limb: “My belly waves like an ocean-pillow under moonlight.” As the headboard becomes a screen, the screen a page, “Vibracorpus” reminds us that digital reality is always pulsing alongside (and inside) the body.

“I Dream of Water” by Edward Gunawan is a project evoking confinement by sending the mind, like the eye, far away: “Half-opened packages line the hallway… Static stutters, and I dream of water.” As visual material, the project uses only the manipulated view from a single wall of windows. Sections of the full view are gradually revealed and then hidden again, leaving the viewer’s eye searching the screen in time with the poem’s rhythms: “Weeks and months in a series of boxes.” As window panes tick from light to darkness and back again, like a bar of energy draining down, the sound of waves crashing dilates into labored breath. Together with its short lines the poem’s constrained imagery conveys a sense of restlessness, the yearning an impossible distance recalls. By its end, “I Dream of Water” delivers the buried hope of an elegy: “Fingers pruning, the chill in my bones, I listen to my own breath under a respirator, Darth Vader rasp, I am in the water.”

Our third cinepoem “The Inventors” extends an invented logic to the relationship between very brief views. Michael Buckius begins the project using the poet’s version of an “in media res” opening: “That’s why they invented piano, to attach the silences between two sentences.” The piece lasts almost exactly a minute. Buckius presents a long, pale hand against a denim sky. A fresh, white tube sock fallen into the dirt: “…that’s why people who wait to speak exist.” Each image offers a point of grounding for all the gaps a cricket can punctuate, for what feels inexplicable about the relationship between photographs and time.

In our fourth installation, Alaíde Ventura Medina guides the viewer through a video poem by remixing scrabble pieces. “Doña Eva” is a project in two languages that opens when Ventura divides the word “Tuyo” (“yours”) into “tu” and “yo” (“you” and “me”). On camera, a woman who is losing her memory sings along to “take my heart.” “Q U E”? ask the scrabble letters, pulled from “Querer” (“to love”).  As Ventura uses the game pieces to deliver a playful meditation on etymology, the action of “scrambling” letters performs a physical empathy that reaches across generational gaps. Words that double, divide, and become re-embedded in other words recall other forms of lineage and entanglement as they alternate with footage of two subjects recording themselves on camera. As “Dios” (“God”) becomes “Diosa” (“Goddess”) becomes “adios” (“Goodbye”) becomes “a dios” (“to/wards/God”) the project considers the ways love can tie two people together, even as one person loses a sense of themselves.

Saturday, January 15, 2022