An Introduction to the Video Essay Suite

Friday, July 15, 2016

The essays in this issue’s video suite present blue-hued bathtubs, greyscaled landscapes and neon thermal images. 

Heather Hall’s “Shark” utilizes quiet, slow moving images nestled within an artfully constructed soundscape. The text and images of Hall’s essay function as literal, yet slightly misaligned echoes of each other, such as when the narration tells us “she liked finding bees that had fallen into a pool” while we watch children’s toys shaped like bulbous honey bees drop into a bathtub as a plastic doll floats across the water’s surface. We’re confronted with a detached, sometimes dream-like voice that evokes fable and a sense of the everyday, and it’s this eerie, quiet dissonance that pulls us through the narration.

Blair Braverman’s "Two Poems About X, 2009 and 2014” features dueling narratives, competing for our attention as they volley back and forth, left to right. The viewer must make a choice: focus on one and experience it fully, or alternate between the two and splice them together into a new, tailor-made narrative—a rare quality in a medium where the viewer is often a passive participant. Braverman’s video invites rewatching, and as one narrative becomes familiar, we’re more capable of digesting the other—most interestingly, opening up a space in which we can experience those narratives in conversation. Much of Braverman’s video is concerned with desire made complicated by gender and terrain, and near its end comes one of its most powerful and beautifully voiced lines: “Half my problems come from wishing that men who have been bad to me would be worse, and the men who have been good would confront them.” 

Ander Monson’s “Rehearsals for Extinct Anatomies” begins with an error tone, a tinny, pre-programmed voice alerting an unidentified caller that the number they’ve tried to reach is no longer in service. Monson’s work has long been concerned with extinction and relics, often juxtapose in relationship to concerns of the digital age. This essay is no exception, as he provides a literary matchup of Depeche Mode quotes, Google searches, and questions of prehistoric intention. The occasional click of a computer mouse behind the speaker’s voice keeps us tethered to a world and narrative at a cross section between the primordial and the technological.

Each of these videos reminds us what the essay can accomplish within this medium—a text made more complex by its fusion with visual language.

Friday, July 15, 2016