The works in this exhibition employ a range of moving image technologies, from early videos recorded on a Sony Portapak to compilations of found Youtubefootage and hand-drawn animations. Their subjects and primary contexts are similarly diverse, ranging from the challenges of adhering to a medication regimen as an HIV-positive individual in the present day (Hunter Reynolds, Medication Reminder) or the history of African-American resistance (Ja’Tovia Gary, An Ecstatic Experience) to a father’s recollections of his teenage daughters’ vacation-time rebellions (Erica Scourti, Dad’s Diary) and a daughter coping with the recent death of her father (Shigeko Kubota, My Father). What unites these works is not a specific experience, then, but rather a shared awareness of the experiential dimension known as the affective—that is to say, the emotional, sensorial, and embodied encounters that take place outside the more clearly enunciated realms of ideas and language.
Each work in the exhibition presents an investigation of the constructed and mediated nature of human experience and emotion, as well as the relationships, materials, and technologies that are implicated. The oldest work in the show, Shigeko Kubota’s My Father (1973/75), exemplifies this. In 1970, Kubota began her Broken Diary series of single-channel video pieces, documenting her life as she walked around the streets of her home in New York and travelled to Europe, a Navajo reserve in the Arizona desert, and her native Japan. The portable video camera, then a radically new technology, became a way to embrace the ‘living art’ ethos of the Fluxus movement, of which Kubota was a key participant. When her father died of cancer the same day she had bought a plane ticket to visit him in Japan, a friend suggested that she make a videotape of herself crying. This was the starting point of My Father, in which footage of Kubota and her father watching TV soon after his cancer diagnosis is intercut with footage of Kubota grieving in New York two years later as she re-watches footage of her father on a monitor. Mediated through the televised image, the intensely personal experience of mourning opens up questions about the role of image technologies not just to record but also to produce our affective experiences.
Diaristic forms recur in the works on display, but they resist the ‘expressive’ model of communication, in which the subject’s emotions spring unfiltered from deep within. For example, In Erica Scourti's work Dad's Diary (2009/2017) the images playing on the screen as the artist’s father reads out extracts from his journal, written many years prior when Scourti’s family lived in Greece, were not filmed by Scourti herself; rather, they were found on Youtube via a search for Greek vacation videos. Here the artist reapproriates personal experiences already subsumed by the collective memories gathered and circulated through the internet.
Meanwhile, in Ja’Tovia Gary’s An Ecstatic Experience (2015), the same technique of using found footage – in Gary’s case, film of Ruby Dee performing a slave narrative in the 1960s and African Americans congregating in a rural church in the 1950s, overlaid with the artist’s hand-drawn animations and spliced together with present-day color videos documenting Black Lives Matter protests –acquires transformative, political potential. The moving image becomes the site of an ‘ecstatic’ experience in which the boundaries of self and other, past and present collapse in a shared feeling of liberation and transcendence.
The theme of transformation is one that also runs through Hunter Reynolds’s Medication Reminder (2015), a collaborative video produced with Reynolds's late friend Kathleen White and filmed and edited by George Lyter. The film features a compilation of phone messages that White left for Reynolds, lovingly reminding him to take his HIV medication over a period of three years (before White's death from cancer in 2014), interspersed with White’s recorded thoughts about her own sickness and the comforts provided by her own carers. This intimate record provides the soundtrack to a hypnotic video in which piles of pills merge into a kaleidoscopic landscape of glitter and gems, as if transformed from the mundane to the beautiful through White's ongoing attention and love. The video is thus an homage to the often-invisible work of caregiving and friendship known as “affective labor”—and a reminder that, though often challenging to understand, explain, or describe, feeling, in art as in life, is a powerful force that we ought not to ignore.