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Feb 5 2017
In-Between Theories Panel
Cecilia Dougherty: I’m Cecilia Dougherty, who, along with collaborator David Kalal, has put together this program. I’m a video artist and have shown my work in this festival on more than one occasion. I’ve been creating experimental videos since 1985, and my themes hover in areas like psychology, language, outsider interpretations of pop culture, and sexuality within everyday life. Looking out from within these themes I first located the vital in-between spaces of daily life, spaces where the real work begins, where allies proliferate, and into which I have fallen many times.
My co-curator David Kalal is a visual artist whose work trips the light diasporique -from Noor Jehan to Norah Jones, Marxist Economists to Merle Oberon, Electroclash to Gayatri Mantra.
The participants and makers on our panel are:
Yvette Choy, who created I Thought I Found You But, and who selected Lana Lin’s Stranger Baby and SoJin Chun’s Officer Tuba Meets Happy Ghost, is an artist and storyteller whose works address ideas and realities of in-between-ness and the struggles and joys of inhabiting spaces of difference. They are often involved in collaborative and community work, and in a practice that invokes questioning, rawness, and basic humanity. Their work is endlessly ongoing.
To quote Yvette: I am a great American video artist and primarily a great American parent and friend, as well as a great American child of great American immigrants.
Visual artist David Mramor, creator of Walk Into the Desert #13, In and Out #14, and Tell Me Why #15, has an extensive performance practice under the guise of Enid Ellen, a post-gender feminist singer-songwriter. Using his poetry, he collaborates with musician Greg Potter on the piano to create melodic songs. His live performances are infused with his training in Kundalini yoga, visual art, and theater. David has just released an EP of six new songs on iTunes, "Beyond Reality II". This is the first half of a vinyl record of twelve songs which will be released later this year.
Shanna R. Polley, who brought us the interactive video Notch, is a New York-based musician, song writer and visual artist. Her video works use light as a topic for exploration and reveal the often-unobserved qualities and movement of the light within which we experience our world. Shanna’s work is autobiographical and deeply personal, going beyond layers of cause and effect directly to layers of healing, and resonating within a warmly generalized and human sphere.
Parijat Desai, joining us from Colorado via Skype, is the creator and choreographer of the excerpted The Palace is Dreaming. She is an India-born, U.S.-raised choreographer who creates hybrids of contemporary and Indian classical dance, theater, and other movement forms yielding what the New York Times calls a “seamless blending of the new and old” (NYT).
She has collaborated with various musicians to create new compositions based on the classical tradition, including leaders of the Brooklyn Raga Massive movement. Parijat’s choreography interfaces with architecture and public space as well to explore human/social issues through the performing body.
Fellow-interlocutor Leeroy Kang, is an archivist, independent curator, and visual artist whose work lives in the intersections of legacy audiovisual preservation and access, experimental Asian Pacific film and video, and queer and transgender history and visual culture.
The work in our program illuminates the states between the scaffoldings of gender, queerness, and collective identity. It is uncoupled from the conventional frameworks that present our lives in terms of categories, hierarchies, and objects of affection, with which we gauge our political and social bonds and from which we attempt to build our outsider habitat. The self, no longer a moving target, is a magnetic field, in a constant state of attracting and repelling the active elements of both history and the present moment.
I’ll turn the mic over to our interlocutor, Leeroy Kang.
Leeroy Kang: What constitutes something as ‘”in-between?’ In order to answer this question perhaps one has to first name the various conventional and concrete frameworks that currently exist in order to discover what is the in-between. But instead of looking at the buildings, what would it be like to focus on the spaces in between them? Or, instead of waiting for that night of a full moon, what would it be like to look towards its crescent? While conventional frameworks can and do carve out legible spaces for various identities to emerge and to be seen, and also to develop theories in which to understand and speculate our current and future realities, what often is unaccounted for are the complexities of lived experience and lived practices, and also how these things inform our theories and () works.
The role of artists is critical in giving us new ways of accessing the in-between spaces that we inhabit and, as this program suggests, it asserts these in-between spaces, not as these imaginary, but very real, mediated through earth, our bodies, connections, living histories, and our everyday lives, and in particular, further allowing us to expand our understandings of difference.
So, to take a line from Lana Lin’s [film] Stranger Baby, that we watched earlier, there’s a voice that says, “There are all these people that live in the crevices. Those are the ones I’m interested in.” This line seems perfect in situating our program and our conversation today. So, to kind of start things out, I wanted to ask the artists on the panel what constitutes in-between-ness to you, and how does it – or does it – play out in your work? You can answer that however you like. I don’t know if any of you have prepared something – you can answer however you like.
Yvette Choy: Hi! I guess I want, before I answer that question, I do, I did have something written. I wrote something a few years ago, when Cecilia actually invited me to talk at a…what was it, a talk? (CD: Yes, it was a talk.) It was a talk in an academic setting, I guess, and I’m not an academic, so I thought, “Oh God.” I wanted to talk about, I guess I called it “In-between-ness” because for me, I didn’t feel like I necessarily fit into this framework, I guess is the word, of being in an academic sort of situation because I don’t work in that field and I’m not a scholar, and I don’t usually use words to talk about my work. I use video. I guess the context of that was that I was just going to talk about experimental film and what I know. I guess what came to me was that for me, what I call in-between-ness is not being in any of those situated institutions or spaces. At the same time, I’m not a practicing artist, like constantly. That’s not what I do full time.
So, there was something, obviously, for me – not either here nor there. I was sort of in between space, but I still try to make my work, try to make my art, and I try to use the medium that I’m most familiar and comfortable with to tell my stories or express how I feel about whatever my topic might be. In that sort of context, I guess, a lot of things are in between for me. And I chose the work, I chose Lana’s film, Stranger Baby, and SoJin’s film, Officer Tuba Meets Happy Ghost because a lot of the things I see in those works, and also in my film, too – I made my film, I guess – I saw so many layers of what we would just sort of label and have as concrete things. Like, for instance, in Office Tuba, I don’t know if you realize, but it was like, it was shot on super-8, also it incorporated digital video of 35mm films and, I mean technically this just takes so many in-between [stages?] – it is hard to explain something in two seconds – basically, technically, on a technical front, it’s really complicated and, like, SoJin rotoscoped 35mm characters out of a film, and superimposed them digitally into super-8 backgrounds. And the super-8 backgrounds are shot in Sao Paolo and in Toronto, but these two characters, who are from two different films are trying to find each other in the same place, which is not the same place at all. So, for me, that film talks not only about technically, on the filmic side, it also talks about being in between these two worlds, these multiple worlds. And additionally, those two characters are Chinese actors in Chinese films but they’re speaking Korean, or their voices are dubbed in Korean, with English subtitles. So, you can see the complexities and you don’t necessarily see everything in between when you’re watching, if you’re not familiar with all those different layers, right? But there’s so much expression in language in-between all those layers once you break it down. I don’t know if I answered your question.
LK: Sounds good.
YC: I can go on for a long time about this stuff.
Shanna R. Polley: Um…whoa! Hello. So, I did the interactive piece, Notch, and the reason that it’s called Notch, and the whole idea behind it is all about in-between-ness, so this felt pretty good to do here. But I picked the title Notch because it’s something that you can do in EQ-ing for music. So, if you’re EQ-ing a song or white noise or anything and you kind of pick one frequency or, I don’t know, a couple frequencies to bring out, you can kind of like create these pure tones within complete noise, and you can’t really find those unless you have the noise to begin with. And you can find them in songs and anything. When I was creating this, I originally wanted to make it a documentary about finding this color of blue, and it’s a very personal story about my first girlfriend at the end of middle school and the beginning of high school. Kind of the first perfect moment that I felt that I ever had, which was her eyes were this blue and the colors outside were the same blue, and I kind of felt like fainting because it was such a perfect moment. And I guess I kind of continued going on trying to find different perfect moments and trying to create them for myself, but I ended up realizing that they kind of just happened without me even realizing it until I realized that I was in it and it was happening.
And so, I went to Coney Island and I tried to find this blue in the winter, after the sun had set, and I found that I just couldn’t get it. And I went to Montauk, where I’m from, and I couldn’t get it there, either. That’s when I realized that this piece kind of had to be interactive, because it will happen, possibly, in time. Like time is flowing. So, existing in that in-between-ness kind of enables you to create, to be open enough to have a perfect moment without setting it up.
And this video, specifically, started with – there was a puddle and I had been walking around and I kind of just videotaped my normal walk around where I live. And I videotaped my normal walk and I was looking over at this puddle in the rain and I turned my head sideways to look at it and it started glistening like diamonds. And I was like I have to catch that on video. I have to get that. Because it’s diamonds and it’s beautiful. And then I went to get my camera out and do it and I realized it was over and it was gone and no matter how hard I tried to get the puddle to glisten again, or however hard I tried to contort myself, it wouldn’t happen. So, I think I was really happy that using technology and the decision to use technology came from needing it in order to express the in-between-ness of what I would call perfect moments. So, yeah. That’s it for me.
David Mramor: Hi everyone. My name is David, and the three videos that showed in a row are actually…the YouTube framing…they’re actually three videos from a series of thirty videos that were made in a row. The idea for the first – it originally didn’t start as this thing that was going to keep building off of one after the next, after the next – but the first one, originally, the idea was to make a Yoga instructional video, because I do teach Yoga and so I kept thinking of this idea – people make these Yoga instructional videos – so I was like I’m going to make a Yoga instructional video and I wanted to fuse it together with making a music video for the music that I write. And so, this was like, the first one, because these are [videos no.] 13, 14, 15. So, no. 1 was the original attempt at that.
And so, what happened is that each one just started filming off of the one previously made. And I don’t think it really like – it never really meant to happen! It just like started to happen and then my situation in life was, I was like going to different places, so I was working, and then my boss was like, “Hey, can you come with me to Beirut because we have to install this painting on the wall?” And I was like, “Yeah, I can go with you,” and I was like – how can I stay connected to my own practice of meditating? But also, my own practice of making art. And, like how can you work for an artist but, like keep doing your own art at the same time? How can I make it accessible to me?
So, that’s what I did. So, these three actually were filmed in Iceland, so throughout the thirty videos I go to Key West, I go to Beirut, I go to Iceland, I go to somewhere else…Ohio, maybe. So, it’s a lot about traveling and creating these spaces visually, through the YouTube, and how, like the framing of the YouTube, I was really interested in like how the framing always stays the same, and like the format always is the same, and like how the images inside change.
Siri? . . . And, yeah, I guess these three – you know what? to tell you the truth I never really thought that anyone would sit and watch, like straight through, because I kind of saw it like, here’s these thirty things and they’re in this imaginary kind of world. There is something that I was thinking about when you were saying “the spaces in-between” was, like, the framing, for some reason. I kept thinking about how the framing kind of felt like the walls that the videos kind of existed within that framework, and I think being a queer person, growing up in Ohio, too, there was always a framework that I had to work within. And I felt like it was always kind of trying to fit in the frame in a safe way, but knowing inside that, like, the frame was all wrong, but I had to congeal and make it work within the space. I don’t know. Maybe that’s something.
LK: Parijat, did you want to add to that?
Parijat Desai: Sure! Can you hear me alright? I hadn’t necessarily identified with the in-between notion. In the majority of my choreography, the focus had been hybridity. So, the idea of blending Indian classical tradition with modern and post-modern Western dance, as well as other in-between forms, or rather, other movement forms that I felt connected – what I perceived to be radically different approaches to the body, and to shaping time and space. So, a lot of my work had been within that realm of dance and then this opportunity to go to India and work at architectural sites kind of re-shaped – I no longer had to kind of represent a South Asian identity. I was in India and had the freedom to work with the body in response to space. But I would say that in-between experience or intention was around the buildings themselves, which I was interested in as a hybrid of Islamic and Hindu aesthetics. And that frame, I had seen those buildings kind of existing side by side with the unfolding of this gritty city that is Deli.
So, I was interested in finding a way to interact with these old buildings kind of – which co-exist in the past and present concurrently. And also, when we go and improvise in the buildings and explore the emotional resonances in the buildings there seem to be themes around their personal experiences and also the unfolding election at the time, of Modi. Senator Modi was elected while we were working there. And so, kind of the histories of conquest, and struggle, and violence that I had read about around these structures, I felt parallels in the contemporary political environment. So, I guess straddling all these ideas, as I could figure out how we could move around in these spaces. If that makes sense.
LK: Wow. That’s great. Something I wanted to kind of pick up on, some of your responses was about how I feel like in all the videos, or the works, there was this strong sense of the body being in some kind of space. And, really distinctly, I felt the presence of the body, and how does the body politicize, or aestheticize, a space? In particular, I’m thinking about whether the bodies are inhabiting the space they’re in, whether it’s a private space or a public space, also spaces that are constructed, like in SoJin’s video, where it’s sort of…she’s kind of constructing different backdrops for these characters. So, I was wondering if you guys could talk a little bit about the role of space in your videos? Like, Yvette was thinking about occupying these different spaces that seem like everyday somehow personal spaces, whether it’s a private space or a public space, and how your body is perceived in that space.
And then, Shanna, I was thinking about the video component that we’re seeing. You know, it’s like, I’m wondering what is your relationship to those spaces? They seem like, perhaps, like a walk that you take on a regular [basis], going to the grocery store – these kinds of everyday sort of spaces that are familiar.
And then, of course, David. This interesting relationship you have to your body being in these different spaces, like Iceland. I was reading about how you’re driving in the mountains of Washington, and that’s sort of what birthed Enid Ellen. You know, so, thinking about that. And of course, Parijat, what you were talking about. I was so intrigued by the dancers and yourself moving in these, kind of, crumbling Indo-Islamic structures and what that sort of means in terms of how do those bodies politicize or aestheticize that space.
YC: I guess I’ll try to answer that question. The film, I Thought I Found You But, is more of a searching of that body, I guess. It’s hard to say. I mean as a filmmaker and just as a person in the world – I identify as queer and trans – there’s already a lot of in-between-ness in just being me and having those feelings and that identity. Everything I do is political. That’s just the way it is.
Aesthetically, I think – yeah, in that specific film it’s about being in everyday places and sort of waking up and having feelings and identities that are constantly changing and fluid. In a way, I guess the in-between for me, I guess you can sort of look at it as like there’s black and white film, and so everything in between that black and white film is shades of grey, or the rainbow, if you prefer. And so, it’s kind of - I Thought I Found You But is a constant searching and sort of surfing that rainbow, if you will. It sounds kind of fun, actually. If that answers your question?
SRP: Yes so, as you all saw, I was standing and sitting and laying down in the front over there. And the spaces that were there are spaces that I walk past all the time and there’s nothing really that special about them. And I think that the part of space that’s important in my piece is that I have to be standing in front of it every time it’s done. And, you know, there are no versions from the past that I’ve done of it that I’d say were acceptable versions of the piece now. And they were my experience of the piece at the time.
And you know I make a point not to practice it, not to watch it too much, just so I can let my body and voice and experience of the video guide how I’m singing. The initial idea was to have a composition at the end that is completely kind of, like, made up of what I wanted to see. So, it was this mixture of senses and this would – which would kind of be a video synth – ends up creating the composition in the end. So, it’s important that I’m there and then I was also really happy that everyone participated, that people passed the microphone around, because then everyone else is there with me and it really warmed me that everyone wanted to experience that space as well.
DM: The backgrounds of these – when I was thinking about them as being Yoga instructional videos, the thing that [I] kept thinking about was like a backdrop, you know like for a picture. Especially in Iceland, there’s something so, like, unbelievably – like, the nature there is so exquisite that it’s just like – it’s seriously like one of these fake backgrounds. So, definitely when I was in Iceland, it really became these aesthetic kind of decisions of like, “Ok, now I’m in front of a glacier doing this.” I just like pulled over on the side of the road, like sat there, and I was like, “The glacier is white so I will put the dark wig on because it will contrast.” And then I was in the moss field and I was like, “I will put the blond wig on because it will contrast.”
And in the performance, a lot of what I do as Enid Ellen, it’s a mixture of genders and it switches between these two wigs. It’s usually a brunette wig and a blond wig. I’m interested in switching between like how somebody is perceived that has blond hair, or somebody is perceived who has dark hair, or somebody is perceived who has blue hair. How we, where our minds go instantly to these different categories. And then also having to unveil it. So, there’s moments when the hair then becomes the short hair and I’ve had long hair before in my life and it’s interesting how you get treated differently with the way you present your body in the space. And so, that seems relevant to the work, as like traveling through space and presenting myself.
I keep thinking about like when I actually came out of the closet I was working at Yellowstone National Park and so, like, geography has always kind of played a place in my expression and contemplation. For instance, when I was in Seattle and driving out to the coast, and all these trees were like clear-cut on the mountains, like on the way out there. And it triggered all these things inside of me, of - it triggered all these words. I didn’t know how to like write it, so it became poems, and the poems became songs. And so, I don’t know…yeah!
LK: Parijat, did you want to elaborate?
PD: Yeah, I was thinking about this question of the buildings and bodies being politicized by the choices we make. The choice of selecting those buildings in the architectural style called Indo-Islamic architecture was pretty pointed because, you know, in India it’s quite common to perform in old sites, but the knee-jerk response, “Oh, you’re gonna dance in the architecture?” The assumption is your gonna do classical dance in a temple, and that’s become kind of a tourist thing, to see classical music or dance in Hindu temple contexts. So, choosing Islamic architecture and working in a contemporary physical theater mode in the body would probably be for me the queerest aspect of what I was trying to do.
The original impetus for even going down this avenue, I was in Ahmedabad in 2002 when there was kind of a mass killing of Muslims. I volunteered for the Red Cross at the time and people were taking refuge in these old buildings, and it was sort of this stark simultaneity of contemporary political violence and these beautiful old buildings which represent a kind of coming together of difference in their aesthetics, in the structure of the building. So that, I think, was why, what drove me many years later to bring bodies into those spaces and explore emotional resonances. In doing so, I think, when we moved in those spaces, other ideas and sensations came up and the structures got re-imagined. Most starkly would be that stepwell which you saw - that huge staircase. And that’s a stepwell, which means that at the bottom of it is a kind of nourishment. And it’s a stepwell for laborers, so the idea was anyone could come and seek refreshment. But it came to feel like another kind of structure of people trying to come out of some sort of muck. And the other kind of shift – you know, these are very masculine spaces also - and it was very interesting to try to put, you know, this woman at the top, you know, of this craggy structure. So, I was trying to play with re-defining what these very old buildings, all of which were from different eras in fact, by using our bodies, today. I think that’s it. I mean, there’s other thoughts, but…
LK: Thank you. Cecilia, how are we doing for time?
CD: We’re running late.
LK: Ok, should – I think we have a little time to open it up to the audience?
Audience 1: Thank you all. Two questions: one is the use of time within the frame and the manipulation of time within the frame, and the other is to David, about photographing the YouTube and making sure that we knew that you were photographing the YouTube, that we were not in the Youtube, we were observing, you know, all that manipulation of the frame.
DM: Yeah. I think that definitely became very important for me because I liked the idea of being able to go back in time, and then go forward in time. On the little YouTube, sometimes the actual, like, picture shows up of, like, “This is gonna happen in the future,” and there is something about that that seems very psychedelic, or something. And also, videotaping one screen to the next – there was all these textures that started to appear that also became really psychedelic that seemed really…
Audience 1: Like the interactive piece. I mean, there was aspects of the interactive piece…
Audience1: ...with the framing of the way you framed it, although it wasn’t interactive this resonance between the pieces.
DM: Yeah, totally. I kept thinking of the way that yours [to SP] got really psychedelic and blown out…
SRP: Yeah, I was thinking of your mouth…
DM: ...and broke down.
YC: Digital video.
DM: Yeah digi - I mean it’s like, I come from like - I was trained in painting. But, so, it’s like, so for me, like, with the iPhone and stuff everything is so easy. I mean I don’t have to learn how to use a bunch of equipment or something, so I can just, like, play around. So, it actually becomes a lot more fun than a lot of the stuff I was trained at. So, the digital-ness of it kind of breaking down the picture seemed interesting, too.
Audience 1: About the time within the frame because, both of them, the work was different.
SRP: I tried to make mine as realistic as possible. I also wrote the program to make it interactive. And that kind of like slows it down just because it’s such a high-resolution video, so I kind of have to - you know, it’s interesting to watch my reality happen through the filter of technology and what technology is able to do at this point. So, that’s pretty cool and it’s something I haven’t really thought about too in depth but I ended up – I tried doing this, and doing a lower resolution video so it would work more in real time. And it just wasn’t working for me. Yeah, so I ended up having to compromise a little bit of latency for being able to really see the way that light touched things in the video.
YC: That’s really interesting because latency is actually reality, if you think about it. And that’s – for me, I’m not sure what the question is about time, but for me, I just wanted to comment on what these guys are saying. When you talk about reality, that’s in-between-ness right there. You know, like, you’re living in your practice, and your emotion, and your expression. And, you’re in this specific venue, your experimentation of what you’re feeling, and nobody is labeling that for you. Because it’s a constant. And I think that’s why it’s so hard to define. We’re asking, “What is in between?” Everything is in between something and something else, right? Or, multiple things. I don’t know what the question about time was, but I just wanted to make a remark about how the different technologies in this program were really awesome to experience. Like, we got to watch Lana’s film in 16[mm], and when was the last time you guys saw anything in 16, right? And in that 16mm film, there was filming of television and even the timing of – I don’t know if you guys know anything about treating video on film, but you can see the black scroll and the bar on the monitor, and that is, like, in between frames, because the film camera can’t actually – the film camera is faster than video.
We went on from that to digital video and on and on and to Shanna who wrote her own program to show her own piece. And I personally can’t help but think of everything that’s happened between then and now, and how this program has come together because of that.
CD: Ok. I think that’s all we have time for. Thank you, everyone.