I explore media in transition. My research encompasses film, video, print, digital arts, and the web. I'm interested in what artists and writers are doing and in what critics and scholars are saying.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Recollecting "The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana," a novel by Umberto Eco

After listening to Umberto Eco discuss his latest novel with Michael Silverblatt on KCRW’s “Bookworm” last month (aired in LA August 25 and accessible online), I ordered The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana from my local library right away. Since my knowledge of Eco’s work had been limited to his theoretical writing on semiotics—and to the film based on The Name of the Rose—I was curious to see for myself how this scholar crossed over to fiction, especially with a personal narrative that disinters both private and public archives to chronicle, in Eco’s words, the “dismantling of self,” and to document, in Silverblatt’s words, “memories of things lost.”

An amnesiac who has lost only his autobiographical memory but has retained his encyclopedic cultural memory after an apparent heart attack, Yambo, the sixtyish protagonist who’s earned his living as an antiquarian book dealer, remembers almost everything he’s ever read since his childhood in Italy during the 1930s and ‘40s, the period during which Mussolini rises to power and suffers defeat and Hitler masterminds the Holocaust. Hopeful that contact with his “paper memory” will help him reconstruct his personal history and thus restore his identity, Yambo retreats to his family’s country home near Milan. Passed down from his grandparents to his parents and then to him, the large house has been kept up by Yambo’s old friend Amalia, a former tenant farmer who lives there by herself; she looks out for him during his stay. Free to wander around this Memory Theatre where so many traces of his childhood are stored, Yambo navigates his way through mysterious spaces and secret passageways, uncovering on his expeditions a wealth of official, popular, and personal texts, including family letters and his own writing. He realizes how “schizophrenic” his early education was: a confluence of Fascist propaganda, Catholic dogma, silly radio shows, contemporary music and dance, children’s adventure stories, fantastic comic books, Hollywood movies, and assorted memorabilia. Although the archive Yambo uncovers doesn’t restore his personal memory, it does provide him with pleasurable diversions and prompt him to imagine the life he might have led; nevertheless, the identity he’s searching for eludes him until his condition changes in Part Three, the final section, and even then more questions are raised than answered.

Illustrated throughout with colorful reproductions of many texts that Yambo finds, and interlaced with citations from a range of “high” and “low” sources (all of which are credited at the end), The Mysterious Flame assembles a Cabinet of Wonder (Wunderkammer) for Yambo’s—and Eco’s—generation to ponder and, in some cases, to enjoy, a form of collective memory inspired by the world of a young, middle-class, Italian boy who comes of age during the war years. (I kept wondering what a girl’s version might disclose, or a Jewish child’s.) For me, an interesting tension develops between Part Two, which chronicles Yambo’s encounters with this Cabinet of Wonder as he rummages through his childhood home, bereft of his personal memory, and Part Three, which abruptly switches to another storytelling mode after Yambo has a second incident and lingers in a coma, his memory supposedly restored (there’s room for doubt). When viewed together, these attempts to shape an identity underscore the politics of both cultural and personal memory and reinforce the inseparability of the two. That said, I’m fascinated by the variety of archival materials reproduced in The Mysterious Flame, many of which are from Eco’s own collection, including montages he’s made (documented in credits).

In an interview that’s posted on the publisher’s Web site (Harcourt), Eco describes his research methods for the novel:

“During my adult life I have retrieved many memorabilia of my childhood. I no longer had my early schoolbooks but I managed to find them again, exploring flea markets and old bookstores. Thus, most of my images come from my personal collection. As for the rest, I spent at least two years rummaging and browsing through bookstalls. I did not have to discover anything, only to recover. I kept in my mind vivid images of all the items of my childhood, and I had only to retrieve them again.”

As Eco notes, he also conducted research on the Internet:

“Many of my old papers were recovered through the Internet. For instance, it is through the Internet that I succeeded in reconstructing the stamp collection I had put together at the age of twelve. It would have been impossible to retrieve all these stamps except by surfing the Internet. And on the Internet all these memorabilia were advertised as real objects that one could buy. Thus you see that the Internet is not always substituting paper, sometimes it can be a way to salvage it.”

The Internet has been linked with The Mysterious Flame in a number of ways, by Eco himself, by readers, and by critics. The MFoQL Annotation Project demonstrates one way to examine the novel collectively. It’s described as “an attempt to use Wiki technology to create a thorough and accurate set of annotations.”

Village Voice critic David Ng shifts the focus to new media when he argues that The Mysterious Flame may be Eco’s “most hypertextual novel to date—a sprawling network of mnemonic associations ripped straight from a highly troubled brain.” As Ng explains, “In the Eco-ian universe, books aren't merely stand-alone islands to be traversed in linear fashion; they are nodes in an exponentially expanding extranet. To read one book, you sometimes have to pass through several others, accumulating countless references and subtexts along the way.” According to Ng, Eco claims to have structured his latest novel “to mimic the free-associative behavior of electronic navigation” (“Eco and the Funnymen,” Village Voice, July 5, 2005).

During his conversation with Silverblatt on “Bookworm,” Eco relates the concept of The Mysterious Flame to two historical phenomena associated with the Renaissance: The Memory Theatre and the Wunderkammer, or Cabinet of Wonder. Although he doesn’t comment on digital appropriations of these models, many writers, artists, theorists, and curators have:

Regarding Memory Theatres, see “The Renaissance of the Theatre of Memory, an informative article by Peter Matussek (2001); Giulio Camillo e il Teatro della Memoria, maintained by Giuseppe Zito; Memory Palaces, by Carl Malamud; and "Hypertext and the Art of Memory," by Janine Wong and Peter Storkerson (Visible Language, 31.2:1997).

On Cabinets of Wonder, see the New York Public Library’s extensive list of links; WonderWalker: (A Global Online Wunderkammer), an art project by Marek Walczak and Martin Wattenberg (2000); World Wide Wunderkammer: A metaphor for mapping social spaces (review of WonderWalker, by Malamud and webchick); and The Online Museum-Archive-Library of Wonder-Curiosity-Art, by curator Steve Dietz (2000).

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Sunday, September 25, 2005

International Explorations: Dance, Technology, and Cultural Memory

I wish I could attend all the fascinating conferences and symposia I hear about. Here are a few to add to my list:

(1) Several activities will be held in Nottingham, England, November 28–December 4, 2005, in conjunction with Digital Cultures Lab of Nottingham Trent University and Radiator Festival for New Technology Art. There will be an International Dance and Technology Research Lab, performances and exhibitions, and a symposium.

(2) Also noteworthy is "Technologies of Memory in the Arts" (May 19–20, 2006), organized by the department of Comparative Arts and Cultural Studies of the Radboud University Nijmegen (Netherlands). The international conference “focuses on art as a cultural and technological practice to process and construct the past in the present. Central questions to this conference are: How do art and artistic practices function as technologies of memory? How are cultural artefacts implicated in complex processes of remembering and forgetting, of recollecting and disremembering, of amnesia and anamnesia?”

The conference specifically addresses “the material construction of cultural memory. It aims to explore procedures of memory in both traditional and new media as well as to investigate the role of digitalisation of art and culture in relation to memory. Generally, its focus is on the materiality of representation and on the relation between the medium and the construction of cultural memory.”

The organizers participate in ACUME, the EU-sponsored research network designed “to investigate ‘Cultural Memory’ in various European nations. . . . ‘Cultural Memory’ is built upon two different, yet complementary aspects that partners in this project intend to investigate: remembrance (memory) and oblivion (amnesia). The project is characterised by an interdisciplinary methodology and by a comparative approach. . . . The project includes five fields of research: Cultural Amnesia; Bearing Witness; Places and Memory; Oral and Written History; Foundation Texts and Mythology.”

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Friday, September 23, 2005

Video Essays, Part 4: Redesigning Stage Sets: Viewing "The Yellow Wallpaper" Differently (Introduction)

[From Video Essays, Part 1: While rereading old Word files, I came across notes for a series of articles I planned to write several years ago on women’s experimental videos from the 1980s and early 1990s. After publishing one piece, I abandoned the project—mainly because I shifted my attention to new media—but I think the articles still have relevance, so I’ll be documenting introductions to four of the articles as I wrote them circa 2000–2003.]

While inadvertently paving the way for new media experiments, videos from the late twentieth century sometimes look to the past for direction. I Need Your Full Cooperation, an independent video by Kathy High that was produced in 1989, simultaneously dramatizes and critiques The Yellow Wallpaper, a novella by Charlotte Perkins Gilman that originally was published in 1892. Engaging with Gilman’s text in an interdisciplinary, intermedia context that incorporates timely concerns, the video addresses spatial, discursive, and spectatorial issues that continue to resonate. As women from the closing years of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries come together on the stage that Cooperation designs, cultural paradigms unravel and alternative models take shape, a process that involves visually and metaphorically tearing down the layers of wallpaper that haunt Gilman’s text while also updating and reframing the nineteenth-century workspace of Yellow Wallpaper’s narrator. Strategic editing of literary, scholarly, and cinematic intertexts supports this effort.

An integral part of this project involves examining the historical context in which the novella was written, noting in particular the "repressed" of Gilman's society and how the ideological framework that supported it limited women's roles. Original interviews with author/activist Barbara Ehrenreich and professor of history and psychiatry Carroll Smith-Rosenberg introduce authoritative women's voices from the 1980s. Unlike Yellow Wallpaper's narrator, a victim who lacks a voice in the public sphere and finds refuse only in madness and secretive diary writing, Ehrenreich and Smith-Rosenberg speak—and write—publicly as woman who legitimate rages that Gilman's narrator privately acts out but cannot name. As a player in the multilayered video performance that High orchestrates, Gilman's narrator leaves behind the isolated existence she inhabits in the novella and enters a networked space informed by the scholars' voices and High's visions. Archival film clips insert shadowy figures of oppressed women who speak and move in the background, lending a spectral quality to the piece and reminding viewers that many stories remain untold. Even after old paradigms unravel, these specters infiltrate new stage sets, representing lingering traces of elusive ghosts.

Overall, Cooperation produces a space in which to push beyond the spatial, discursive, and spectatorial parameters of the novella and at the same time challenges contemporary viewers to contemplate new images in their homes—or elsewhere—images, as well as sounds, voices, and texts that offer alternatives to commercial fare. By joining forces with Gilman’s literary text in such ways, High’s video opens up directions for future generations of writers and producers who work with old and new media. Doubling as electronic wallpaper for Gilman’s heirs, Cooperation invites them to examine the spaces in which they read, write, view, and produce texts, noting in particular delineations of "public" and "private." Cooperation also encourages Gilman’s heirs to recognize traces of the past that inform their work, drawing on memory banks as well as public and private archives. Finally, Cooperation hints at the potential of intermedia convergences, possibilities that acquire novel dimensions in the early twenty-first century as new media appear on the scene at record speeds and the World Wide Web unsettles earlier modes of production, distribution, and exhibition.

(See Video Essays, Part 1, Autobiographical Stages/Women's Lives: From Video to the World Wide Web; Part 2: Dear Diary Revisited: Transforming Personal Archives, Flag and Trick or Drink; and Part 3, Switching Channels in the Age of Video: A Personal Medium for Storytellers)

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Video Essays, Part 3: Switching Channels in the Age of Video: A Personal Medium for Storytellers (Introduction)

[From Video Essays, Part 1: While rereading old Word files, I came across notes for a series of articles I planned to write several years ago on women’s experimental videos from the 1980s and early 1990s. After publishing one piece, I abandoned the project—mainly because I shifted my attention to new media—but I think the articles still have relevance, so I’ll be documenting introductions to four of the articles as I wrote them circa 2000–2003.]

Consider Anything, Only Don't Cry (1988), an independent video by Helen DeMichiel, offers hope that the American mediascape can work for women and girls if they learn to produce their own texts and develop supportive networks in which to show them. A discontinuous, layered narrative interweaves documentary portraits and imaginary scenes. Looking both to the past and the future, the main storyteller, an unnamed woman, reflects on her own life as she writes four letters to a young daughter (figure) called “Dearest,” whose anonymity remains preserved. She also directs the letters toward two unnamed girls who appear on camera periodically. Occupying a position closer to a medium, mime, or mediator than to a character with a unique identity, this unnamed woman relays traces of the voices and visions that color her world and infiltrate the culture with which she inevitably engages. While sampling various personas, she channels messages that come her way. In the process, she teaches the girls how to survive in the media-infused society the video enframes. Both private and public archives contribute to the lessons that are offered, as do interviews with three elders who share their memories. On and off camera other characters instructively “consider” things. Shifting spatial frameworks open up passageways in which multiple generations of women meet with one another as they invent discursive practices for a postmodern era.

An autobiographical reverie—and revelry—that reflects on its own construction, Consider Anything is motivated by the letters the main storyteller writes. Composed on camera and delivered videographically, these multimedia letters, or lessons, prepare Dearest and her peers to become storytellers for the twenty-first century. Since the letters remain unsigned, the woman who addresses the epistles to Dearest will be referred to herein simply as the protagonist. Various intertexts that are en route from one destination to another are echoed in her correspondence. Contours of the discrete letters thus appear hard to ascertain, intertwined as they are with other texts, or with what Roland Barthes might call “a tissue of quotations” (“Death of the Author” 146). Moreover, each letter that begins with the salutation “Dearest” extends beyond the boundaries of the written notes and the recitations of them to encompass the audio-visual compositions that accompany the acts of inscription. Additional strands of the woman’s story are woven into performances that complement the episodic letter writing. These complementary performances contribute to the blurring of what is included in the letters to Dearest and what is offered as background for the views the protagonist articulates in her writing.

A study of the scene of writing as much as a story told through letters, Consider Anything sets the stage for the protagonist to formulate a poetics of autobiographical videomaking that suits Dearest and her peers. To provide them with performance spaces of their own, in which to choreograph their moves, she recalls spaces she has passed through while circumscribing her own territory. Each letter serves as a portal to one of the distinct, yet interrelated, spaces she has sampled, and to the discoveries she has made there. The network she maps out calls into question spatial models based on hierarchical binary oppositions not only between public and private spheres and between high and low cultures, but also between what Edward Soja refers to as “real-and-imagined places” (Thirdspace). In the course of destabilizing such dualistic constructions, the letter writer introduces Dearest to the different roles women play, including those of storytellers, analysts, teachers, and visionaries. Shifting from one role to another as she performs in the spaces that she revisits, the protagonist assembles a creative repertoire for her addressees to explore.

As the opening dance performance intimates, women and girls are cast in leading roles to ensure gender differences are considered in the poetics that unfolds. Supporting a collective effort to reinvent both autobiographical and epistolary modes in the age of video, the poetics also anticipates the channels for storytelling that will emerge in the age of the Internet, particularly when the World Wide Web is used for creative—and critical—purposes. Since Dearest and her peers are positioned to come of age during the media revolution of the 1990s, they face the challenge of transferring messages from one personal medium to another, picking up where their TV guides leave off.

(See Video Essays, Part 1, Autobiographical Stages/Women's Lives: From Video to the World Wide Web; Part 2: Dear Diary Revisited: Transforming Personal Archives, Flag and Trick or Drink; and Part 4, Redesigning Stage Sets: Viewing The Yellow Wallpaper Differently)

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Video Essays, Part 2: Dear Diary Revisited: Transforming Personal Archives, "Flag" and "Trick or Drink" (Introduction)

[From Video Essays, Part 1: While rereading old Word files, I came across notes for a series of articles I planned to write several years ago on women’s experimental videos from the 1980s and early 1990s. After publishing one piece, I abandoned the project—mainly because I shifted my attention to new media—but I think the articles still have relevance, so I’ll be documenting introductions to four of the articles as I wrote them circa 2000–2003.]

This essay is published in Screening the Past: An International, Refereed, Electronic Journal of Visual Media and History, v. 13, Dec. 2001, I've included the introduction here:

Autobiographical videos by American women of the late twentieth century contribute to cultural archives that includes "public" explorations of "private" spheres. These independently produced experiments often establish links between print and electronic media, adapting various forms of unpublished and published texts. In the crossover to video exhibition, the writing undergoes strategic transformations. Frequently drawing on the autobiographical subjects’ personal archives, which may include diaries, journals, and letters, the videos represent women looking back on their lives as well as on personal texts they wrote—and memorabilia they collected—during the periods that their reflections address. Thus integrating autobiographical and diaristic genres, the videos also accentuate intermedia convergences between video and print. In the process, edited versions of formerly "private" texts become "public" documents available for public reception (and inspection).

The videos Flag (USA 1989), by Linda Gibson, and Trick or drink (USA 1984), by Vanalyne Green, explore such interplay.(1) Both videos incorporate childhood diaries into women’s autobiographical narratives so that the mutually inflecting dynamics of diary writing and videomaking performed on camera constitute a vital component of the protagonists’ self-portraits. The archival documents that the videos appropriate, which include the diaries as well as a range of multimedia texts, contribute to the blurring of boundaries between "private" and "public" spheres and help to define the audiences that the videos target, issues that theorists of women’s autobiographical texts underscore.(2) At the same time, the archival documents promote exchanges between the autobiographical subjects and younger versions of themselves.

Produced in the 1980s during a pre-Internet era, the videos exhibit similarities as well as differences. Flag uses actors to examine the political transformation of an African American girl who was born in 1952 to a middle-class family in the Northeast. Diary entries from the mid-1960s are used to contrast the girl’s beliefs about patriotism, race, and equality in the United States with the woman’s expanded perspectives. Shifting attitudes toward the American flag implicate the social context in which Gibson’s changes occur. Trick or drink stages a one-woman performance of the white videomaker who revisits her past with the aid of diaries that she kept in the early 1960s when she was a teenager struggling with the American dream. The child of alcoholic parents and a survivor of compulsive eating disorders, Green engages with the teenager’s personal world both to heal herself and to politicize the personal. Along the way, she forges collective alliances.

In both cases, postmodern autobiographies take shape while the storytellers embody subjects who construct multilayered histories about growing up female in America after the Second World War.(3) Like the independent films and videos that Patricia Mellencamp examines, Flag and Trick or drink involve “a transgression of the boundaries between private and public spaces and experiences, entering with intimacy the ‘public sphere’ and unsettling these metaphorical and real spaces of power through confinement by looking and talking back” (4).

Flag and Trick or drink remind viewers of places off stage, beyond the spotlight, where other languages are spoken and other logics endorsed: "private" and "public" inscriptions commingle. Displayed for audiences of independent video, the personal archives showcase materials, such as girls’ diaries and family albums, that generally have been excluded from public forums. Singularly and collectively, the archives thus gathered constitute alternative resources on which to draw for metaphors and (re)constructions of an imaginary. These cultural resources, which acknowledge the histories of women and recognize them as addressees, serve as counterpoints to more exclusive archives or cultural repertoires, such as those that Michèle Le Doeuff associates with the "philosophical imaginary."(5) By incorporating personal archives into the narratives, Flag and Trick or drink also help to broaden the critical perspectives of scholars who study women’s autobiography. With such an objective in mind, Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson recommend the building of archives and documentary collections that incorporate works traditionally considered "‘merely personal’ and extraliterary." Examples of such works include "diaries, letters, journals, memoirs, travel narratives, meditations, cookbooks, family histories, spiritual records, collages, art books, and others."(6)

To suggest the scope of the resources that Flag and Trick or Drink preserve, detailed descriptions of the personal archives that each video assembles have been included in the analysis, which explores how personal, social, spatial, and historical strands may be interwoven to tell the story of a woman’s life.(7) Flag and Trick or Drink demonstrate how two American women from the same generation approach the task, undertakings that open up directions for others to explore further in a range of old and new media. Rather than point toward a shared feminine aesthetic or suggest essentialist characteristics related to women’s videomaking—objectives that Martha Gever persuasively disavows— Flag and Trick or Drink encourage viewers to acknowledge differences among women and their approaches to discourse.(8) At the same time, the videos contribute to cultural archives that comprise autobiographical texts from the worlds of print, moving images, visual arts, and hypermedia.(9) The videos raise questions for future discussions about the impact that diary keeping during adolescence has on creative choices later in life and how the diaries, when saved, inform both the writers’ remembrances of the past and other readers’ views of the worlds the young diarists construct. Autobiographers of the early twenty-first century who choose to work with their diaries might turn not to personal archives that have evaded public inspection, as Gibson and Green have, but to entries they have posted online for the world to view.(10)


(1) Flag, prod. and dir. Linda Gibson, 24 min., 1989, videocassette. The video is distributed by Gibson. Contact her c/o Media Alliance, at WNET/Thirteen, 450 West 33rd Street, New York, New York, 10001, USA.

Trick or drink, prod. and dir. Vanalyne Green, 20 min., 1984, videocassette. The video is distributed by the Video Data Bank, affiliated with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 112 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Illinois 60603, USA, 312-345-355 (phone), 312-541-8073 (fax); and Women Make Movies, 462 Broadway Suite 500, New York, NY 10013, USA, 212-925-0606 (phone), 212-925-2052 (fax).

(2) For an introduction to theories of women’s autobiography, see Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson, eds., Women, autobiography, theory: a reader (Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1998). For a general introduction to theories of autobiography that considers feminist positions, see Linda Anderson, Autobiography: the new critical idiom (London and New York: Routledge, 2001). The analyses in both books focus primarily on written texts, although the issues that are discussed pertain to a range of media.

(3) For an introduction to postmodern autobiographies, see Kathleen Ashley, Leigh Gilmore, and Gerald Peters, eds., Autobiography and postmodernism (Amherst: University of Massachusetts P, 1994).

(4) Patricia Mellencamp, "Uncanny Feminism," in Indiscretions: avant-garde film, video, and feminism (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1990), 131. Further references to this text appear as page numbers in parentheses. For another perspective on women and postmodernism, see Andreas Huyssen, "Mass culture as woman: modernism’s other," in Studies in entertainment: critical approaches to mass culture," ed. Tania Modleski (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1986), 188-207.

(5) Le Doeuff examines "the philosophical imaginary" to emphasize its gendered presuppositions and implicit focus on masculine addressees. She regards the imaginary not as a psychoanalytical term but more as a rhetorical term that entails the use of figures or imagery in texts, a thinking-in-images that involves narrative, pictorial, or analogical components, which, when studied systematically, constitute the exclusive repository of images available to philosophy or the image banks on which philosophical discourses rely, however unwittingly. See Michèle Le Doeuff, The philosophical imaginary, trans. Colin Gordon (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1989), 115; and Michèle Le Doeuff, Hipparchia's choice: an essay concerning women, philosophy, etc., trans. Trista Selous (Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1991). Marita Sturken discusses how early video collectives in the 1970s compiled databanks of images in order to build "an alternative visual history to the nationalist history produced by broadcast television" and thus paved the way for makers to experiment with the politics of individual and collective memory in later years. See Marita Sturken, "The politics of video memory: electronic erasures and inscriptions," in Resolutions: contemporary video practices, eds. Renov and Suderburg (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota P, 1996), 3-12.

(6) Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson, "Introduction: situating subjectivity in women’s autobiographical practices," introduction to Smith and Watson, Women, 38-39. Further references to this text appear as page numbers in parentheses.

(7) For an interdisciplinary examination of spatiality, see Edward W. Soja, Thirdspace: journeys to Los Angeles and other real-and-imagined places (Cambridge, MA and Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1996). Soja reinforces the simultaneity and interrelatedness of the spatial, the historical, and the social (3). In addition to adding spatiality to the historical/social pair and to combining postmodernist and modernist perspectives, the model he devises recombines Firstspace concerns with the ‘real’ and Secondspace concerns with ‘imagined’ representations of spatiality (6). He also examines a "Postmodern spatial feminist critique" (111). See also Griselda Pollock, "Modernity and the spaces of femininity," in Vision and difference: femininity, feminism, and the histories of art (London and New York: Routledge, 1988), 50-90.

(8) Martha Gever, "The feminism factor: video and its relation to feminism," in Illuminating video: an essential guide to video art, eds. Doug Hall and Sally Jo Fifer (New York: Aperture, in association with Bay Area Video Coalition, 1990), 241. Theorists of women’s literary autobiography and theorists of women’s film and video emphasize differences among women. For literary views, see note 2 above. For approaches related to film, see Teresa de Lauretis, "Rethinking women’s cinema: aesthetics and feminist theory," in Technologies of gender: essays on theory, film, and fiction (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1987), 136. For a consideration of both film and video, see Mellencamp, 29-30. Further references to these texts appear as page numbers in parentheses.

(9) The often overlooked contingent of independent video risks erasure from history, largely because of insufficient resources to document and preserve the work, particularly videos that lack distributors and are housed in small, nonprofit or personal archives. For background and related links pertaining to video (and film) preservation in the United States, see Independent Media Arts Preservation (IMAP, sponsored by Electronic Arts Intermix); Experimental Television Center, Ltd., "Video history project"; and the American Film Institute (AFI), "Preservation." Major distributors of women’s independent video in the United States include the Video Data Bank and Women Make Movies. (See note 1 above for complete citations.) Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), in New York, is another leading resource for artists’ video and new media. See the Web site for additional information.

(10) Innumerable women and men, girls and boys, chronicle their lives on the Web and correspond with one another via diary lists or "burbs" (organized around common interests), "prompts" (offered as inspiration for diary entries), Webrings, and other electronic forums that promote communication among diarists globally. Often including photographs of themselves, family albums, and other multimedia additions, these online diarists either experiment independently with formats that they design themselves or publish on preconfigured sites that several companies host free of charge. The term "weblog" or "blog" describes a form of diary or journal writing that features Web pages on which short, frequent, chronologically ordered entries are posted, usually of a personal nature. For examples of online diaries and blogs, see Diarist.Net, "Diarist.Net: diaries and journals online," Diaryland, "Diaryland: get your own fun, easy online diary," The diary project (for teens), "The diary project: over 39981 diary entries posted since 1995," and Pyra Labs, "Blogger: push button publishing for the people." See also Nan Fischer, "Inspired to journal."

(See Video Essays, Part 1, Autobiographical Stages/Women's Lives: From Video to the World Wide Web; Part 3, Switching Channels in the Age of Video: A Personal Medium for Storytellers; and Part 4, Redesigning Stage Sets: Viewing The Yellow Wallpaper Differently)

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Video Essays, Part 1: Autobiographical Stages/Women's Lives: From Video to the World Wide Web (Introduction)

While rereading old Word files, I came across notes for a series of articles I planned to write several years ago on women’s experimental videos from the 1980s and early 1990s. After publishing one piece, I abandoned the project—mainly because I shifted my attention to new media—but I think the articles still have relevance, so I’ll be documenting introductions to four of the articles as I wrote them circa 2000–2003. (Notes for the others are too sketchy to share.) Traces of these writing exercises can be found today in both my analytical work and my creative practices, whether I’m dealing with print, video, or new media, including the Web.

I’ve selected introductions to the following articles:

  • Autobiographical Stages/Women's Lives: From Video to the World Wide Web
  • Dear Diary Revisited: Transforming Personal Archives, Flag and Trick or Drink
  • Switching Channels in the Age of Video: A Personal Medium for Storytellers
  • Redesigning Stage Sets: Viewing The Yellow Wallpaper Differently

The first introduction appears here; the rest will appear in separate posts.


Autobiographical Stages/Women's Lives: From Video to the World Wide Web

Independent videomakers from the late twentieth century offer signposts to the writers and artists who are shaping the evolution of new media at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Now, as in the past, creative thinkers recognize the importance of joining contemporary debates and finding places for their private voices and visions in public spheres. Autobiographical videos by women have explored such transitions from "private" to "public" extensively, often drawing on diverse cultural reserves. A sampling of autobiographical videos that American women made in the 1980s and early 1990s suggests crossover possibilities for personal storytelling in cyberspace.

During the period in which the selected videos were made, analogue gave way to digital and the Internet emergesd as the next discursive frontier. Amid such decisive shifts in the "public" sphere, the videos stage "private" transitions that women undergo. Their journeys hint at passageways that lead to a communications era informed by new technologies as well as by the legacies of women who have explored autobiographical theories and practices for the twenty-first century. Blurring genres and experimenting with multimedia approaches to portraiture, the videos in this sampling rework autobiographical—as well as diaristic, epistolary, biographical, and documentary—conventions.

While only highlights from a vast archive, these videos suggest a collective movement toward what Trinh T. Minh-ha calls "the end of a 'no-admitted' status, the end of a soliloquy confined to the private sphere, and the start of a possible sharing with the unknown other—the reader" (Women, Native, Other, 8), a concept that extends to the viewer. When considered in relation to one another, the videos map out routes that women have traced in their lives and their work. Moreover, the subjects of the videos emerge as contenders for a dialogue about growing up in America after the Second World War. As the twenty-first century unfolds, the videos challenge new media producers to investigate further these pre-Internet experiments with autobiographical narratives, taking advantage of the Web’s interactive, hypermedia potential and addressing changing social climates.

(See Video Essays, Part 2: Dear Diary Revisited: Transforming Personal Archives, Flag and Trick or Drink; Part 3, Switching Channels in the Age of Video: A Personal Medium for Storytellers; and Part 4, Redesigning Stage Sets: Viewing The Yellow Wallpaper Differently)

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Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Approaching New Media: Interdisciplinary Signposts

I’ve been looking at how scholars and critics from various disciplines in the arts and the humanities are approaching new media studies. Several collections of essays have served as guides, including the following books:

Martin Lister, Jon Dovey, Seth Giggings, Iain Grant, Kieran Kelly, eds. New Media: A Critical Introduction. London and New York: Routledge, 2003.

The contributors, all members of the School of Cultural Studies at the University of the West of England, Bristol, define new media “to be those methods and social practices of communication, representation, and expression that have developed using the digital, multimedia, networked computer and the ways that this machine is held to have transformed work in other media: from books to movies, from telephones to television.” They situate the emergence of new media in the mid-1980s when the personal computer gained popularity (2). Taking an interdisciplinary, “synthetic” approach to new media studies that draws on theories and frameworks from art and cultural history, popular culture, political economy, the sciences, philosophy, sociology, and traditional media studies, they address key debates in what they describe as a complex and contested field (1). Rather than limit their discussions to specific “new media” popular at the time of writing, they investigate “the more fundamental issues of what constitutes newness in media and what part technological change may play in that” (2–3). Committed to making sense of the cultural changes associated with new media, the contributors focus not on “the latest software upgrade, gizmo, avant-garde experiment, or marketing ploy” but on “what forms of understanding are being brought to bear on them, and what meanings are being invested in them” (2–3). While emphasizing both the historical dimensions of new media and the wider questions of culture and technology that studies of new media raise (4), the contributors take care to avoid the blind spots they associate with “critical critics,” who deny there has been any substantial change, and with “uncritical utopians,” who claim everything has changed and therefore utopia is near (3–4).

Lynn Spigel and Jan Olsson, eds. Television After TV: Essays on a Medium in Transition. Durham and London: Duke UP, 2004.

Concerned about the future of television and television studies at the beginning of the twenty-first century, Spigel recognizes the need for scholars to devise critical models that acknowledge roles “new media” are playing in everyday life. Sensitive to the reinvention of TV over the years and to the transformation of TV viewing practices, Spigel writes in her introduction:

“In this multimedia/multi-image context, audiences are learning new ‘viewing protocols’ that allow them to interpret TV images in relation to the textual materials found on the Net and/or on fragmented parts of a single screen. As images multiply on a variety of delivery systems and platforms, who knows what audiences are seeing—much less thinking—anymore? I will leave this issue to the social scientists; from my point of view the more interesting problem is precisely the uncertainty. Television—once the most familiar of everyday objects—is now transforming at such rapid speeds that we no longer really know what ‘TV’ is at all.” (6)

Skeptical of both utopian and dystopian attitudes toward new media, she favors a paradigm of television studies that supports “a critical engagement with what is actually going on here in the media-saturated present” (13).

(Spigel is Professor of Radio/Television/Film at Northwestern University; Olsson is Professor of Cinema Studies at Stockholm University, Sweden.)

David Thorburn and Henry Jenkins, eds. Rethinking Media Change: The Aesthetics of Transition. Cambridge, MA, and London, England: MIT Press, 2003/2004.

Thorburn and Jenkins state in their introduction:

“In our current moment of conceptual uncertainty and technological transition, there is an urgent need for a pragmatic, historically informed perspective that maps a sensible middle ground between the euphoria and the panic surrounding new media, a perspective that aims to understand the place of economic, political, legal, social and cultural institutions in mediating and partly shaping technological change. The essays in this book represent an effort to achieve such an understanding of emerging communication technologies. At once skeptical and moderate, they conceive media change as an accretive, gradual process, challenging the idea that new technologies displace older systems with decisive suddenness” (2).

They recognize the importance of “significant hybrid or collaborative forms that often emerge during times of media transition” and offer as a recent example contemporary storytelling-experiments that are “crossing and combining several media, exploiting computer games or web-based environments that offer immersive and interactive experiences that mobilize our familiarity with traditional narrative genres drawn from books, movies and television” (3).

Because they regard media convergence as a means to join old and new technologies, formats, and audiences, Thorburn and Jenkins caution against medium-specific analytic approaches, which, they assert, risk simplifying technological change to a contest in which one medium wins. They argue for a less reductive, comparative approach that considers “the complex synergies that always prevail among media systems, particularly during periods shaped by the birth of a new medium of expression” (3). It follows, then, that they resist notions of media purity. They also resist static definitions of media, such as cinema, in which a communications system is expected to adhere to a definitive form after it’s institutionalized and standardized (11). Underscoring the “processes of imitation, self-discovery, remediation and transformation” that are at stake during periods of cultural renewal, and proposing that old media rarely die, Thorburn and Jenkins link media change with “a mix of tradition and innovation, always declaring for evolution, not revolution” (12).

(Thorburn is Professor of Literature and Director of the Communications Forum at MIT; Jenkins is Professor of Humanities and Director of the Comparative Media Studies Program at MIT.)

Martin Rieser and Andrea Zapp, eds. New Screen Media: Cinema/Art/Narrative. London: British Film Institute, 2002/2004.

[The Center for Art and Media (ZKM) in Karlsruhe and the British Film Institute (BFI) in London entered a “trans-national agreement’ to co-produce the DVD that accompanies the book. ZKM was headed by Jeffrey Shaw (acknowledgments).]

Following an epigraph from Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions in which a character shuns writers who bring order to chaos and vows, instead, to bring chaos to order, editors Martin Rieser and Andrea Zapp begin their foreword with a warning: “We are entering an age of narrative chaos, where traditional frameworks are being overthrown by emergent experimental and radical attempts to remaster the art of storytelling in developing technologies.” Media artists and theorists themselves, Rieser and Zapp attempt to give “long overdue recognition to the maturation of new media art into a major innovation in screen narrative form and genres” (xxv). The cultural theorists, critics, and new media artists who contribute to the collection assess the challenges to cinematic and broadcast formats that new media pose, taking into consideration emergent narrative forms associated with hypermedia, installation and video art, the Internet, computer games, interactive television, and interactive film. Shifting dynamics between audiences and new media productions, and between audiences and authors, are examined in a range of contexts; examples include instances when audiences/viewers may be editors of parallel datastreams or inhabitants of virtual worlds (xxv). The collection has been designed “to provoke a new discourse concentrating on content rather than interface” (xxvi); the enclosed DVD provides visual examples of many projects that are discussed. Rieser and Zapp acknowledge viewpoints critical of new media and hope to engage cynics in constructive debates. They state their own position clearly: “We also hope that the reader [of the book] will conclude that new media marks a major watershed in the development of screen forms of narrative” (xxvii).

(Rieser is Senior Lecturer in Digital Media at Bath Spa University, UK; Andrea Zapp is a lecturer and media artist in Manchester.)

Jeffrey Shaw and Peter Weibel, eds. Future Cinema: The Cinematic Imaginary after Film. Cambridge, MA, and London, England: MIT Press, 2003.

[Exhibition catalogue for show curated by Shaw and Weibel, ZKM/Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe, 16 Nov 2002–30 March 2003.]

In the preface to this weighty, oversized, and well-illustrated tome of more than 600 pages, Peter Weibel argues that independently produced digital media contrast with the “image industry,” which, during an era of globalization, promotes (creative) standardization. Weibel views digital media as alternative modes of production that “are providing an appropriate platform for the evolution of independent, experimental and personal cinema in the digital field.” He regards “those individuals formerly called artists” as new kinds of technologically skilled experts who are positioned to challenge “a cinematic homogeneity supported by millions of dollars, and to rival and surpass Hollywood’s innovative, narrative and expressive achievements.” According to Weibel, the book “offers evidence of a surprising fact: Even the technological and ideological apparatus of huge industries can be transformed by individuals” (16). The framework that supports this evidence considers the transformation of classical cinema “on the basis of apparatus,” a process that Weibel claims developed in three chronological phases: 1960s Expanded Cinema movement, the video revolution of the 1970s, and the digital apparatus of the 1980s and ‘90s (16). Concentrating on the apparatus-oriented approach and emphasizing technological innovation, while also acknowledging artistic and ideological content, the book has been designed to “deconstruct the total apparatus of the cinema, to transform the cinematic apparatus, and create new technologies that allow different psychic mechanisms, that subjugate subjects in the cinema, that allow different relations between spectator and screen, different representations/constructions of reality and subjects, a critical relation to representation” (17).

(Shaw is the Executive Director of the iCINEMA Centre for Interactive Cinema Research at UNSW, Sydney; Director of International Projects at the ZKM/Institute for Visual Media; and Visiting Professor at the University of Art and Media, Karlsruhe. Weibel is Chair and CEO of the ZKM/Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe.)

Anna Everett and John T. Caldwell, eds. New Media: Theories and Practices of Digitextuality. New York and London: Routledge, 2003.

Anna Everett and John T. Caldwell introduce the collection in the following way: “Digital media technologies and their so-called killer apps, and the popular adoption and acceptance of these computer applications, are revolutionizing our sensory perceptions and cognitive experiences of being in the world. In the process, new visual, aural, linguistic, and literary codes and signifiers are emerging that require new hermeneutic responses on our part simply to keep pace. When we consider the far-reaching impact of ascendant digital media systems and what their increasing corporatization augurs for individuals’ technology access and technologized social processes alike, then the essential role of media theorists, scholars, and practitioners in helping to ensure that humanistic values prevail in the new digital order is clear. Our project of humanizing technology in what has been called a posthuman age requires a trenchant interrogation of the ideological, political, structural, and representational assumptions underpinning much of the new media hegemony. This includes technology legislation, policies, organizational and corporate patterns of use, and the cacophonous new media rhetoric (including hype and antihype). Alternative forms of digital media hype—more sober, democratizing, adventurous, and creative new media discourses and vision—become more important than ever” (xi–xii; original emphasis).

(Everett is Associate Professor of Film Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara; Caldwell is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Film, Television, and Digital Media at the University of California, Los Angeles.)


My bookshelves contain many more titles related to new media than I’ve mentioned here. I’ll discuss the others another time, especially texts that consider alternative narrative strategies involving the media arts, writing, and performance. At some point I hope to do a comparative analysis of these various theories and practices and to introduce issues concerning memory, self-representation, and autobiographical modes.

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Thursday, September 15, 2005

My Novel: A Preview

I’m re-editing a novel I’ve been working on several years. I don’t want to give too much away, but I’ll provide a general overview:

The story begins as the main character, I’ll call her “A,” prepares for 2000 and the fresh start it represents. More at home in cyberspace than anywhere she has actually lived, she reinvents herself and her life story for readers of her multimedia Web diary, a blend of the memoir, travelogue, and blog. Like her Russian forebears, who immigrated to the United States at the turn of the previous century, she imagines belonging somewhere. Motivated as much by a child’s longing for fantasy as by a woman’s desire for truth, she highlights scenes from her past, a retrospective that chronicles her travels around the U.S. Characters who star in this virtual drama recapture worlds “A” has known and weave together the memories, dreams, and imaginings that have contributed to her development as a woman and a writer in postmodern America. Reminded where she has been and inspired to keep going, she envisions a role for herself in the twenty-first century that builds on her experiments with old and new media.

Framed as an online text, the story explores personal and cultural memory. Entries that “A” posts throughout the month of December 1999 play with the shifting spatial and temporal dimensions of her life narrative, a hybrid genre that draws on private and public archives across a range of media, including the Internet. Hyperlinks to (real and fictitious) Web sites are provided for most books, songs, films, TV programs, trends, and current events that are mentioned. The Web thus serves as a collective archive that offers “A” and other baby boomers easy access to long-forgotten resources. The pressing question for “A” is what to do with the material she finds—whether it’s from her diaries and letters, her bookshelves, the library, the Web, or elsewhere. This concern sparks her imaginative memory work.

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Friday, September 09, 2005

Writing and the Digital Life: Human Memory and Life Caching

Writing and the Digital Life (WDL), a listserv with a blog counterpart, has selected for its topic this month “How will the digital life affect human memory?” Sue Thomas, founder of WDL, posts a thought-provoking commentary on Sept. 8 in which she mentions “Life Caching,” a phenomenon that TRENDWATCHING.COM relates to the abundance of personal content being collected, stored, and displayed in the digital age. TRENDWATCHING.COM links this “emerging mega trend” with the popularity of blogging and moblogging (mobile blogging using camera phones) among members of Generation C (“C” for content) and with the preponderance of Life Caching consumer products both on the market now (e.g., Nokia’s Lifeblog) and in development (e.g., Microsoft’s SenseCam, an experimental prototype, and MyLifeBits, “an experiment in lifetime storage, and a software research effort” that is discussed in several papers and news articles, including “Telling Stories with MyLifeBits” by Jim Gemmell, Aleks Aris, and Roger Lueder).

According to TRENDWATCHING.COM, the infrastructure that supports Life Caching and the “lifelogs” this practice produces also includes Google’s Gmail and other email services, such as those offered by Yahoo! and Hotmail, which provide massive amounts of free storage space. Also noteworthy for the storage space they provide, claims TRENDWATCHING.COM, are key cord memory sticks and mini-MP3 players, popular fashion accessories in Asia that enable consumers to “wear their entire 'digital life files' around their neck, from music to movies to documents to photos to presentations.” To this list of Life Caching storage devices, TRENDWATCHING.COM adds Apple’s iPod—for carrying around entire life collections of music (and maybe soon video and data).

TRENDWATCHING.COM argues that Life Caching reflects “consumers’ gradual move towards collecting and storing experiences instead of goods (especially in mature economies).” If this assessment has validity, even on a limited scale, then the implications are far reaching, affecting not only business models but also a range of social, cultural, personal, and artistic practices.

In her blog entry, “Life Caching—remembering everything you ever did,” Thomas describes “a double anxiety” she feels coping with all the data she's saved and worrying about losing files. She contemplates downsizing her archive; commentators on the blog and on the listserv (where the discussion began) propose an “Art of Forgetting” for our era of information overload, a twenty-first-century complement to Frances Yates’s classic book The Art of Memory (University of Chicago Press, 1966), a historical study of mnemonics that scholars of new media continue to reference.

Carolyn G. Guertin, for example, groups Yates’s book with other texts she is indebted to for “mapping the terrain of different cognitive, historical and theoretical models of remembering and for situating them within the philosophical contexts they evolved” (see Quantum Feminist Mnemotehnics: The Archival Text, Digital Narrative and the Limits of Memory, Guertin’s dissertation, University of Toronto, 2003). Differentiating her study of memory from those she cites, Guertin identifies her objectives in a way that resonates with the “double anxiety” Thomas describes in the WDL blog. Guertin states:

“My concern is with quantisation and mnemonic overload, information overload, with chaos, and with what N. Katherine Hayles calls a state of ‘maximum information,’ in a positive revaluing of the condition of our time. I am interested in how these mental and computational states have contributed to a twin obsession with amnesia, the inability to remember, and with anamnesis, the inability to forget, in the age of network culture, as well as with how they have been realized in the speed of the medium in the spatio-temporal dislocating memory rooms of the new literatures.”

As background for her study of the archive and of what she considers its digital equivalent, the database, Guertin refers to Lev Manovich’s notion of the database and its anti-narrative logic (see The Language of New Media, MIT Press, 2001, and “Database as a Symbolic Form,” 1998) and to Jacques Derrida’s analysis of the archive as a construction associated both with remembering and with forgetting (see Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression, Trans. Eric Penowitz, U of Chicago Press, 1995). Although I’m unprepared at this time to examine Guertin’s complex study of new media narratives—Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl, M.D. Coverley's Califia, and Diana Reed Slattery's Glide and The Maze Game—I do want to make connections with relevant posts to VirtualDayz.

Meditations more than fully developed analyses, my blog entries raise questions rather than answer them: “Merce Cunningham and ‘Soft Cinema’” (July 10) reflects on Manovich’s new DVD Soft Cinema and his theory of database aesthetics; “Transliteracies 2005, UCSB” (July 8) draws attention to Hayles’s concept of “possibility space” as an alternative to Manovich’s database/narrative opposition; and “Christine Tamblyn’s Autobiographical Frames: Considering Archival Quality, the CD-ROM” (July 25) considers Derrida’s approaches to the archive and to psychoanalysis in relation to media technologies of the past, present, and future. From different yet related vantage points, these three examples suggest ways to study as well as produce memory texts for the digital age, but as TRENDWATCHING.COM makes clear, neither scholars nor artists have a claim on Life Caching.

This latest trend represents another type of personal narrative to add to the list of genres that Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson identify in their book Reading Autobiography: A Guide for Interpreting Life Narratives (University of Minnesota Press, 2001), which I discuss in a previous post (August 23). Also pertinent here is the anthology they co-edited Getting A Life: Everyday Uses of Autobiography (University of Minnesota Press, 1996). As these studies show, autobiographical genres and practices are being reinvented, redefined, and remediated all the time—in popular culture, community-based contexts, and the literary, visual, performing, and media arts. Crossovers from one position to another are common, and creative exchanges often travel back and forth. In new media, as in video (formerly known as a new medium), both professionals and nonprofessionals are documenting their lives and remembering their pasts.

Writing about video in 1996, media arts critic Christine Tamblyn addresses these tendencies when she proposes that videos by nonprofessional consumers who use camcorders, like videos by artists and independent makers who use small-format technology, serve as "vehicles for cultural intervention" in everyday life and thus promote “the democratization of video.” To support her contention that "consumer video" and "video art" overlap in this way, she equates home video genres, such as diaries, family albums, and travelogues, with analogues by women and men from the video art canon. Concerned about the “quasi-obsolete technology of video” and the shifting mediascape that the precarious status of video portends, she recognizes that an analysis of characteristics shared by artists’ videos and consumers’ videos could be beneficial to producers and scholars of the twenty-first century who look back on videos made in a pre-Internet era (“Qualifying the Quotidian: Artist’s Video and the Production of Social Space,” in Resolutions: Contemporary Video Practices, edited by Michael Renov and Erika Suderburg, 1996, 13–14, 17). Almost a decade later, TRENDWATCHING.COM updates Tamblyn’s scenario.

In terms of my research, I look for thoughtful, innovative work wherever it might be. As I’ve stated elsewhere, my current focus is on how documentarians, writers, artists, and performers are using new media technologies to record, preserve, frame, shape, evoke, archive, disseminate, and transform memory on both individual and collective levels. I alternate between examining other people’s work and creating my own. When these intellectual and creative mind-sets fuse, as they sometimes do, then I feel as though I’m getting somewhere.

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Sunday, September 04, 2005

Performing Oral Histories: "Crossing the BLVD" and "Muscle Memory"

While I was at UC Berkeley a few weeks ago for the Advanced Oral History Summer Institute (see August 23rd post), I became interested in community-based projects that adapt oral narratives to creative formats. Crossing the BLVD: Strangers, Neighbors, Aliens, in a New America exemplifies such an approach. Documentary artists Warren Lehrer and Judith Sloan have created “a cross-media project that documents and portrays the largely invisible lives, images, sounds and stories of new immigrants and refugees who live in the borough of Queens, New York, the most ethnically diverse locality in the United States” (CTB Web). Lehrer and Sloan, who lived in Queens, decided to become travelers in their own backyard, so they spent three years collecting migration stories. Started in 1999 and continued through 2002, the process covered the transition from a pre- to a post-9/11 world. Lehrer and Sloan document their journey in a book of photographs and stories, an audio CD, a public radio series (on WNYC’s nationally syndicated program The Next Big Thing), a mobile story booth, a traveling exhibition of photographic prints, and a reading/performance. The multimedia Web site includes excerpts from the book, the CD (music complements oral commentaries), and the radio series (although links to the programs weren’t working when I tried to listen). In addition to these features, the Web site provides space for viewers to add their own crossing stories by answering in writing three questions:

“What was life like in your home country?”
“Why did you leave?”
“What has life been like for you here?”

Lehrer and Sloan are also artistic directors of EarSay, “an artist driven non-profit arts organization dedicated to uncovering and portraying stories of the uncelebrated.” Their projects “bridge the divide between documentary and expressive forms in books, exhibitions, on stage, in sound & electronic media.” (EarSay Web). I look forward to reading the book, listening to the CD, and maybe catching a live performance someday.

Another community-based project that has caught my attention recently is the LEGACY Oral History Program at the San Francisco Performing Arts Library & Museum, founded by choreographer and performer Jeff Friedman initially to document the stories of dancers in the Bay Area, especially those living with AIDS. This multifaceted project now covers all the performing arts and includes a production and training program and educational outreach activities. A component of LEGACY I found fascinating was the dance Muscle Memory that Friedman choreographed, based on interviews with two dancers from the oral history collection, an elderly woman and a young man with AIDS. Friedman, who has a PhD in dance history and now teaches at Rutgers, has performed the piece in several venues around the country; he has also published a detailed article about it in the anthology Art and the Performance of Memory: Sounds and Gestures of Recollection, edited by Richard Candida-Smith, director of the Regional Oral History Office (ROHO) at UC Berkeley. Perhaps I may witness a live performance of Muscle Memory, too, or another piece choreographed according to a similar concept.

Now that I’m aware of the approaches to oral history that Lehrer and Sloan and Friedman have taken, I plan to explore their projects in greater depth and to discover a greater range of work that uses personal narratives in creative ways.

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