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.

Friday, September 23, 2005

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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