My work currently manifests as narrative feature-length films and sculptures made in response to listening to commissioned music. I consider my engagement with the different mediums as a form of call-and-response, building upon and translating the language that is particular or inherent to one specific medium onto the other. These translations become attempts to explain the experience of one medium through a second set of criteria, a process that results in what I call ‘quasi closed-captions’ . ‘Quasi-closed captions’ refers to the differences in content between information conveyed in subtitles for a Deaf or a hard of hearing audience, and the actual words or sound being delivered, despite the general subtext remaining the same for both. I am particularly interested in the poetic possibility within these gaps of information.
My current project, The Tuba Thieves, takes its title from a rash of tuba thefts from Los Angeles area high schools that have occurred over the past few years. It is speculated that the tubas bring a high price on the black market. These massive instruments that make massive sounds remain missing. I’m struck by the resounding impact of these tuba thefts: that communities must emotionally, financially, and musically reconcile with this lack of closure and sound. In response to these thefts, I commissioned three musical scores from three composers (Steve Roden, Christine Sun Kim, Ethan Frederick Greene), whom I presented with poems, news stories about the tuba thefts, photos of concert halls and resonant architecture and other elements to consider as a ‘score’ for their score. My approach reverses the usual process of filmmaking by starting with the music. For months after receiving their compositions, I drove, walked, worked in my studio while listening and allowed their music to inform every decision I made while simultaneously creating a body of objects and writing a screenplay.
What resulted was a film about a Deaf drummer whose relationships with her hearing father and hearing boyfriend are impacted by not only the tuba thefts, but also the reverberations of two concerts from the past: the 1952 premier of John Cage’s 4’33” and a punk concert hosted by Bruce Conner at The Deaf Club in San Francisco in 1980.
Material and formal decisions in sculptures might re-occur in the films and the titles of sculptures are often lines plucked from the screenplay, chosen as poetic associations where formal decisions in the sculptures reflect or refract moments within the filmic narrative and vice versa.
While standing in front of a sculpture titled ‘Tell Nature Boy He Owes Me 50 Bucks’, I hope the audience will create their own filmic, but screen-less narrative based on the limited cues available and therefore move beyond the inaccessible, imagining what kind of scene might contain the sculpture’s title as a line of dialogue, what kind of music informed the decision-making in regards to materials, composition and color, and thus engage in a collaborative, imaginary musical accompaniment that completes the work by cobbling together bits of information to surmise meaning. While each object is given its own narrative arc, simultaneously sound within the film is sculptural, engendering a sensory, physical understanding of the aural sphere. As the film wraps around you, the corporeal space invites the viewer into a collaborative stance or a duet. A form of exploded storytelling emerges therefore between bodies of work and bodies of audience members that carry varying levels of ability and experience, resulting in a more musical and performative narrative arc that is less reliant on traditional script structure and more on physical choreography.
This current body of work extends certain ideas that I began exploring in my first feature length film, Night Sky from 2011, which premiered at Performa 11 with two nights of live performance. Night Sky was conceived and produced in collaboration with a cast of performers, artists, filmmakers, Sign Language interpreters and musicians, half of whom are deaf and half of whom are hearing/non-signing. The film, which is presented with live musical or Sign Language accompaniment, centers on two women, Cleo (played by Deaf actress Evelina Gaina) and Jay (played by Jeanne-Marie Mandell). Cleo is deaf, Jay is hearing and they take a road trip to the California desert near Joshua Tree. Simultaneous to their travels, there is a dance contest happening in a parallel universe, wherein the touch of dancers’ hands affects the music being played by the Los Angeles duo Lucky Dragons. The overall story of the film was understood differently by different audience members, depending upon whether or not they are fluent in American Sign Language, which was not subtitled in the film.