An Introduction to Video Essays

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The two videos in our winter suite are, on the surface, startlingly different—one is made in the tradition of personal documentary film, containing home footage and direct narration, while the other constructs its framework out of seemingly disjointed and often indefinite elements.

“Rendering” by Allain Daigle opens with a black screen and the sound of ripping paper. Text appears in quick succession, one word at a time, overlying nearly still, abstracted images. Often, the visuals begin to animate only in transition between sentences within the narrative, and the hyper-close focus on small details of objects creates eerie silhouettes. This causes us to focus less on the “what” of the object (often scraps of torn paper) and more on the sum of these objects’ shape. What’s so interesting about the juxtaposition of word and image is that the textual narrative is quite direct—we engage with dialogue, character, and all the hallmark elements of a scene—while the images create a non-linear mood-scape. Sound is perhaps the video’s most important element, providing a murky, sometimes uneasy, yet always beautiful backdrop that pushes the piece’s elements towards coherence. As the video progresses, the paper and books that are sourced as images seem to deconstruct—chunks of books are literally cut out and removed, leaving empty spaces.

If “Rendering” opens abstractly, “Of the Hearts” by Taney Kurth could not be more different. We’re greeted with disquieting footage of open-heart surgery, unrelentingly focused on the organ’s beating as skin is peeled away to reveal its purply, rasping cadence. Set atop the footage is an audio clip of a sermon, announcing to the viewer that when we purify our hearts, “we grow closer to God.” Soon, the narrative flips to the author, who addresses the reader in a voice that’s classically conversational and essayistic. He tells us about his daughter’s heart condition—a hole in the organ that over-oxygenates the blood—and soon we’re confronted by images of her, too, perhaps even more unrelenting than the surgery’s footage. The baby lies on the floor as a tube is carefully inserted into her nose by her parent. The baby struggles and cries, and the viewer feels an impulse to turn away—just as her parents must (but the camera doesn’t turn away, just as her parents cannot). The video becomes not only a narrative chronicle of a family and an illness, but also a meditation on faith.

The common thread between the two videos is their emphasis, even subtly, on absence—the paragraphs sliced away from a book’s pages, the hole in a child’s heart that interrupts its function. It’s from these empty craters that the narratives are born, and from which we can explore what we can build out of what we lack.



Tuesday, January 24, 2017