Throughout the analyses of art history and criticism, the body repeatedly serves as a direct and poignant symbol, resonant with social and political metaphor. In contemporary discourse, the body remains a culturally debated territory, inscribed with language that codes and relegates its interpretation. It is upon and through the body that questions of identity are deployed. Through physical flesh, and its image, we debate racism, sexism, ageism, reproductive rights, the rights of gay/lesbian and transgendered bodies, the politics of health and the economic determinism that informs what bodies receive treatment, the growing technological intervention of the body as witnessed in genetically modified organisms, the Human Genome Project and the patenting of human genes that essentially commodifies human flesh. The body, our bodies are the ground upon which these inquiries are physicalized and made evident. Our bodies are the primary vehicles through which we each encounter the world and by which we are encountered.
Critical questions guide considerations of the body’s depiction – questions of representation, authority of the representation (who is authoring the image and, often, the “right” or “legitimacy” of the author to create particular images), the need for those depicted to create their own representation, and how representations register within and/or against matrices of dominant culture. In so many ways, it is a question of the gaze, the political exchange of visual information, and the context in which the gaze occurs.
This video program "Mediation: the virtual body in motion" intends not to be a summary or definitive survey of these ideas or the totality of critical discourse around representation and sight. But, rather, it serves to pose one of many potential points of entry into and around this larger conversation with the aim of trans-continental exchange and dialogue. It is an inquiry into some of the contemporary activity in video with particular attention to the divergent conceptual questions inspired by the camera, its gaze, and the attendant implications for viewership. The project embraces the fluidity and porousness of these matters and includes works that directly activate the politics of looking as well as works that, while seemingly less anchored to political analyses, dynamically integrate the camera as framing device and sight machine drawing attention to its agency as visual tool to locate us inside the action, to suspend our gaze, to draw us closer. Multiple works in this program engage the body in terms of visual pleasure, of beauty, of the elegance of motion and muscle, of the kinetic sensibility of what it means to be animate creatures. The focus, however, remains on the camera and its limited but revealing ability to record our ethereal forms and to continually position the viewer in subjective terms.
Through the works of 16 contemporary artists from the US, China, Canada, and the United Kingdom, this project considers video and film, not only as aesthetic and creative form, but also as a conceptual canvas riddled with questions of sight, of viewing, of subject/object, of aura and authenticity, of spectator and voyeur, of physicality and time. Produced by independent artists and by artists working in collaborations with choreographers, dancers and performers, these works encompass a range of styles and themes from abstract considerations of the tele-visual space to the reductive and culturally specific structures of language, the visceral qualities of flesh, the poetic simplicity of bodies in motion, the performance of self, and allusions to/revisions of historical art and ideas.
Artists include: Lucy Baldwyn with choreographer Filip van Huffel (United Kingdom), Goat Island (Chicago, USA), Mary Billyou (New York, USA), Lacie Garnes (Chicago, USA), Susan Giles (Chicago, USA), Dara Greenwald (Chicago, USA), Susan B. Halpern (Columbus, Ohio, USA), Marianne M. Kim (Los Angeles, USA), La Compagnie Manon fait de la danse en collaboration avec Frédéric Moffet (Quebec and Chicago, USA), Hiroshi McDonald Mori and Daniéle Wilmouth (New York and Chicago, USA) , Kym Olsen and Trevor Martin (Chicago, USA), Clifford Owens (New York), Wenhwa Ts’ao (Chicago, USA), Dolores Wilber (Chicago, USA).
This program, presented by Chicago Filmmakers, focuses on experimental and experimental documentary films and videos that relate to autobiographical content indirectly – by using second and third person voices, different characters, political/social conflict, and even space/place – to explore the concept of oneself. Francis (Brent Green, 2005, 16mm) lived in the row of houses with Grandmother’s sisters down the block. Black Body (Thomas Allen Harris, 1992, 5 min., video) is an attempt to come to terms with the contradictions inherent in the experience of blackness and maleness in this country by drawing on representations of the body in makonde carvings of Tanzania. Dream of Me (Agnes Moon, 2003 work-in-progress, 10 min., 16mm) The first section features scrolling images of The Washington Post on microfilm: words from her sister's death notice and the rest of the day's paper. Deprived of any first-hand knowledge of her sister, the death notice is the only record of her existence to which the filmmaker has access. Against Filial Piety (Wenhwa Ts'ao, 2001, 5 mins., 16mm) ponders one of the oldest Chinese beliefs; the gravest offense of filial piety is not to have offspring to carry on the family name and blood. Tawrk (Julia Nicou, 1994, 7 mins., 16mm). A Rejoinder's Caption (Julia Nicou, 1999, 2 mins., 16mm) A poem is read. A water droplet magnifies images and text. Mommy, What's Wrong? (Anita Wen-Shin Chang, 1997, 13 mins., 16mm) A young woman's relationship to her mother and sense of personal history is revealed in an evocative docu-memoir composition of home movie footage. Nesting Season (2001, 3 mins. video) and Ladies Tea (2001, 3mins., video), by Paula Durette, are wry animations on modern aspects of lesbian life.