Place as a dwelling of memory
Question These works there seem to approach the idea of “archiving” a place through the moving image. By employing both past and present representations you seem to intertwine them with human emotion as well as with the question of place as a dwelling space for memory. Landscapes, architecture, and forgotten personal yet common stories are told through the lens of a camera or montages of moving and still images. How do you approach the practice of capturing or creating a narrative that embodies a particular place?
Liam O'Connor So this video came out of a failed attempt to make some more documentary style work in "American Independence Park" when I was visiting Israel and the West Bank in the summer of 2014. It's a recreational forest 15 miles west of Jerusalem, developed in 1976, the year of the American Bicentennial, to "celebrate the relationship between the two freedom-loving countries, [of] Israel and the US." Since 1948, the State of Israel has planted forests over the ruins of evacuated Arab towns and underneath the trees of American Independence Park, are the ruins of the Palestinian villages of Bayt 'Itab, Dayr Aban, Dayr Al-Hawa, Jarash, Khirbat al-Tannur, and Ala’ar. So there's the public facing narrative as presented by the Park's English-language tourist site (http://www.kkl-jnf.org/tourism-...) which does mention the origins of the location as the site of a Palestinian village: "Here, at the top of the hill, an explanatory sign describes the battle sites in the region, while the many remains scattered around are reminders of the Arab Village Deir al-Hawa, which was occupied in the 1948 Hill Campaign." Although they mention in it in passing, in between describing some nice footpaths, and places to find playgrounds, and make it sound as if the inhabitants of the village no longer exist. "The remains of the village and remnants of a more ancient settlement from the Byzantine period have been restored by young volunteers from overseas who have been working here for a number of years. " They do make that nod towards WHAT was here before, but they completely dodge the question of WHO was living there previously. These were villages that were inhabited since biblical times, with hundreds of people living between them! And there's one plaque next to a picnic table mentioning it, yet there's a memorial to the Challenger Space Shuttle crash? As an American-Jew who grew up in the US, it struck me as really surreal to be there and see that disconnect. Surreal, but not surprising... Anyhow::: I felt like I couldn't get at the disconnect I felt upon visiting with the footage I made when I was there, so I started reading about the villages that were there before, watching videos of people riding dirt bikes and ATVs in the forest, or riding motorcycles on the curvy mountain roads there (I think it's a popular spot to do that!) and ended up layering all the photos I found on a light table, mostly interested in matching up lines in the historical photos to make up these composite images from different era so that they appear fragmented; collapsing the present moment with layered histories into a sort of abstract landscape. How were the rest of you dealing the specificity of the sites in your videos /// what drew you to them? Derek Coté & Nechama Sarah Winston, I'm struck by the ways that you both incorporate music into your works, can you speak to that a little? And Joy Meyer, yours incorporates field recordings, Piotr Piasta it's a voiceover, how did those choices come about for you?
Derek Coté The approach I took in making Bardo had a lot to do with how the soundtrack developed. I try to be as objective and true to the exploration process as possible. In the town of Pyramiden, the world's Northernmost grand piano sits silently in an auditorium. It is out of tune but otherwise in seemingly fine shape, and the acoustics in the auditorium were sublime. I don't play piano. In fact, I don't play any instruments. However, for one night, I spent six hours with this piano and "played" it. I plucked it, strummed it and banged away on the keys that worked. I spent a week in Pyramiden and played the piano on one of my last nights there. This allowed me to somehow evoke the narrative of the place I had been exploring and documenting over the past several days. It was a very organic and exploratory process. I had planned initially to edit the music. But after listening to it several weeks after returning to the studio, I realized editing was neither necessary or warranted. The recordings are, therefore, raw, as they were recorded.
Nechama Sarah Winston The narrative I observed/constructed in my film came about while I was editing the found visual and audio materials. The footage is a montage of scenes captured around the NYC waterfront: “Industry on Parade” on the More-McCormack Lines at the Brooklyn, NY waterfront (1930s-1940s); “I Camera” and “The Vinyl Solution” shot around the Williamsburg waterfront in Brooklyn, NY (1980s) in color Super 8, K40, silent; and footage of the USS Constitution being towed up the Hudson River past the NYC waterfront in 1927. The sound mix includes: a playing film projector; music from clips of “Industry on Parade;” a voice recording reading Walter Benjamin’s “Gulls;” and edited tracks from various Shortwave Numbers Stations, a one-way radio communication system used by different worlds intelligence agencies to transmit secret messages anonymously. I was interested in repurposing American propaganda and media footage praising/selling a certain lifestyle and way of being...along with other less well-known and anonymous material discovered through this open-source archive I like to dig through for my work and research. my summary of what you see in the piece: "Media footage of shipping-line workers around the NYC waterfront (1930s-50s) is juxtaposed with film documentation of young musicians from Williamsburg, Brooklyn in the mid-1980s, protesting to preserve the vinyl record production industry. The film examines the notion of labor and leisure, and the image of the worker in America. It looks at the American dream and the living conditions of middle and lower class families, along with the youth culture that was emerging towards the end of the era of the Cold War." While the sources I use are disparate I am trying to address the geopolitical undertone relating to the Cold War with the soundtrack and the visual archive footage — the tension between East versus West. I was interested in trying to tap into an unseen/blocked-out Soviet presence lurking around the growing bubble of proud American capitalism. In the film, there are moments where you see parts of downtown Manhattan (the Twin Towers, the financial district, Wall Street, etc...) in the found color footage from the 80s, where you also see American kids dressed in crazy animal costumes ( this was discovered footage I loved and had to find a way to work with!....). I wanted to juxtapose this imagery of American teenagers protesting along the Williamsburg waterfront with the radio sounds you hear. I was also thinking about the relationship and evolution between the history of radio and telecommunication with the popular music industry in the US , and how this also connects to a type of hidden world consciousness that was unfolding during the late 80s and early 90s, reflected in Western popular culture. The sounds from the found Shortwave Numbers Stations was edited to be more lyrical-sounding. Composing something coherent out of something incoherent was important for me, but maintaining dissonance was also crucial. I chose Williamsburg as the main backdrop location because I was spending a lot of time there in 2016-18, and became deeply interested in the mechanical and social changes around the waterfront (that took place/is still taking place) from the post-WWII era until now, and thought this could be an ideal location to begin working with all the ideas mentioned above. I hope this answers your questions somewhat. Liam O'Connor I am interested in the archive photograph footage you work with in your film! Where did you find it?
Liam O'Connor It's almost all from the internet::: the two main sources were Zochrot (http://www.zochrot.org/en) and Palestine Remembered (http://www.palestineremembered.com/MissionS...), I think Palestine Remembered is particularly interesting as an Archive because it self describes as a sort of social media platform for Palestinians and Israelis to meet/share photos and information about these locations. Nechama Sarah Winston, I keep re-watching that segment at the end with the seagulls... when the sound drops out for a moment... it's kinda mesmerizing, esp with footage that is more spare considering the grittiness/graininess of a lot of the footage up to that point. Is that clip also archival or is it a contemporary shot mixed in? It looks so crisp and digital! Derek Coté, have you heard the Efterklang album Piramida? I think it uses a lot of field recordings from the same location... would be curious to see what you think of it (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uiKK7ehFYtA) I know they're different! Video art vs Indie Rock album and all...
Derek Coté Yes. There is also a short film about the making of the album.
Joy Meyer In my piece "The Wilderness" I consider it a meditation on the relationship of place to human emotion. As we revisit a site, our standing memory becomes scripted with new memory, in this view a site can become a depository of stray feelings that accumulate but simultaneously dissipate. I approached this formally by layering several videos of the same place at different times onto the footage. In this way the footage starts to mimic our own human memory, traces of earlier moments accumulate on top of later moments. Our mind wanders back and forth in time when we revisit a site which evokes memory for us. I also used a layer of sound, a field-recording that Liam O'Connor pointed out. This recording is done even earlier in time than the video footage. So it is almost out of synch with the time, the sound having been recorded one year before the imagery of the same site. Hope you enjoy the work! Liam O'Connor, the choice for the sound was motivated by wanting to record the sound of the place a year before the visuals. This piece contains a kind-of collapsed time-line.
Nechama Sarah Winston Liam O'Connor, the last shot with the seagulls is the only footage I made - took it with my iPhone.