Definition (2005)

studio composite 630-532

The following describes a two-fold audio-video project made in collaboration with Brian Karl and commissioned by the Jewish Museum, NYC, for a Fall 2005 Exhibition.  The project is comprised of an interactive audio installation in conjunction with two single-channel video pieces.  The work attempts to represent the multiplicity of definitions of the term “Jewish” in the contemporary United States.  Taking off from a series of audio interviews with selected individuals both Jewish and non-Jewish (e.g., a 65-year old Brooklyn-born Jewish experimental filmmaker; a black magazine editor; a Palestinian musician immigrant; an Arab-Jewish Israeli woman; an Israeli Palestinian graduate student; the American born son of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish Mother; a black Jew; an Israeli Jew who converted to Islam and many others,  all living in the USA), we illustrate some of the assumptions, ambiguities and ambivalences contained in these people’s conceptualizations of the term.

The metaphor of a sign-language “dictionary” serves as a formal access point.  As in our prior work, we utilize visual and auditory scenes documented in the seemingly everyday world, digitally manipulated to heighten the familiar but also to expose its inverse facet, the uncanny.  Additionally, the multiple scenes occurring in diverse outdoor urban locales is tied together via the visual device of a continuous pan.  The staged moments making up this larger panoramic mosaic consist of a “lexicon” or vocabulary of invented and choreographed physical gestures embodied in the context of otherwise ordinary behaviors and postures by several dozen selected actors/dancers.  These gestures are indicative of continuing cultural expressions that are embraced or rejected, consciously or not.

panoramasum 630 215

The key gestures are also shot in studio separately and comprise one of the two video projections, allowing the viewers to learn the fabricated vocabulary.  These same gestures are then be integrated in scenes taking place within the city indoors and outdoors landscape, and are stitched together into long pans which form the second video projection.  Together, these videos function as a visual backdrop for the separately recorded and played back interviews.  Control of the audio interviews is accessible through an interactive installation consisting of two motorized pendulums hung from the ceiling.  The pendulums’ movement triggers a series of sound clips in a restricted (yet multiple) sequence, drawing from a data bank of 15-20 hours of edited conversations.

The sequence of clips is created in real-time by the computer, following a set of predetermined programmed instructions that link thematically associated groups of audio clips.  The audio stream is thus internally interactive regardless of the presence of user interaction, and unfolds either in a “Linear” (un-interrupted/programmed interaction) mode, or through user Interruption.  User interaction changes the link between the audio clips from being thematically oriented, to one that allows single speakers to be expressed continuously.

We hope, through Definition, to quicken, deepen and complicate pre-existing imaginings of arbitrarily understood homogenous human groups.  Our goal is to interrogate fixed notions of what it means to be “native” to any locale or culture, and to “belong” to any perceived ethnic or national group.  We aim to demonstrate the shifting, contingent manifold of psychological and social understandings which make up the idea of “self” and “others”.  We expect this to be particularly likely when the words of those interviewed are “interpreted” by the eclectic, quirky, sometimes startling, and even re-defining, iconography of the gestural lexicon.