An Introduction to Video Essays

Monday, July 16, 2018

Our summer issue insists that video can offer much more to an essay or poem than a background. These three new videos reveal how materials transmit meaning, and feature all the ways a sentence can shift in the presence of a gesture, a brush, or a pile of sequins. 

Our first piece, “Defiled Prophesies,” uses the video essay to push beyond the classic limits of translation. This project offers what author Rajnesh Chakrapani calls “something that reading a poem or book translated by a largely white literary space cannot provide” and what the artist Madhu Kaza writes as ”a sense of hospitality.” To do this Chakrapani gives the audience multiple access points to meaning: footage of a delicately embroidered shirt, a conversation about subtle eye contact, and the subtitle: “When my parents arrived in the USA an Arabic speaker helped them buy a Cutlass Supreme.” This multifaceted approach extends visually to videos of rooms playing inside other videos of rooms, a technique that lets the viewer encounter something like déjà vu—a sense of familiarity in the face of new information. As a “translation” as well as a video essay, “Defiled Prophesies” achieves what the authors of Skopos theory may have meant when they described translation as “the fulfillment of a text’s original purpose” rather than a word-for-word rendition; the communication, instead, of some impossible familiarity.

“I know what it is to be human. Bathtubs and minimum sunlight. Sad sad women,” writes Claire Krueger in the first lines of her collaboration with artist Ashley Farmer, the second video in our suite. Their project “Wings and Wires” is a landscape of disco lights, graceful hands, magazine collages, and butterfly tattoos, a place where different types of women are waiting. “Some women wait for Jesus,” Krueger writes, “and some women wait for Cain. Some women wait for themselves around the corner and call the empty spot peace.” “Wings and Wires” features objects in so many textured pinks, they seem to ache. And how campy the trappings of femininity, all finally seen together. But “Wings and Wires” is using its camp to flag something more—the dark humor past the limits of this language. Its materiality reveals all that women and texts stand at the edge of. 

In our third video, “Likeness,” Leah Christianson pairs footage of Los Angeles traffic with her mother’s oil paintings of “Santa Ana’s liquid shadows,” and photos of the family who came to America one hundred years before her mother was born in Inglewood to Sicilian immigrants. Between these pairings, Christianson notices the details. At first, how her mother can resurrect “who preferred yellow over navy” by painting “folding chairs in the garden, smells of bolognaise and jasmine in the air. The sun as a key lime pie.” These details, Christianson tells us, are signs of careful looking, how skilled her mother is at “finding things,” like “misplaced keys, school reports,” and also “the expression my father gets when clutching his surfboard.” Later, as traffic bleeds through an indigo-painted sky, “Likeness” ultimately considers how paintings situate their makers in closer proximity to subjects and places once photographs no longer can. 

We’re proud to feature three new videos that rely on texture, as much as language, in transmitting their singular perspectives. Each reminds us that looking is the first step toward touch. Please enjoy this video suite, and the rest of our summer issue. 




Monday, July 16, 2018