Sable Elyse Smith
Much of my practice is derived from the intersection of cinema, language, particularly the written text, and image making: construction, deconstruction, and abstraction. I am interested in the potential of language as object– folding itself around itself. It’s desire for accuracy and its potential undoing. At the core of my practice is a desire to understand the many ways that trauma and violence is graphed and marked across bodies. But also the language we use and construct to articulate that. And the things that are picture just beyond the frame. To do this we must look at the trickery of memory. The poetry embedded in the fictions we create for ourselves, the fictions of our desires. The fictions of the systems and structures governing our lives. How
do we know what we’re looking at? I work from the archive of my own body creating new syntax for knowing and not knowing, thereby marking the difference between witnessing and watching. These are two very distinct subject positions. Think of the one who bears witness and the one who watches to consume. “Between looking and being looked at, spectacle and spectatorship, enjoyment and being enjoyed, lies and moves the economy of what Saidiyah Hartman calls hypervisibility”
My current body of work is focused on mass incarceration. Using aerial views of prison complexes as a point of reference as well as the architectural materials and markings of their interiors, I extract colors (blues in particular), demarcation lines, and other fragments that touch on the experience of visiting my father in various prisons over the past 20 years. The subsequent works examine and dismantle regulatory codes that are both embedded in the body yet deeply impersonal. What became hyper interesting to me over time as my body moved in and out of these very charged spaces. That I developed a type of muscle memory so that every time I crossed the threshold of the architecture of the prison I started performing small gestures subconsciously tiny repetitions that I did not
consciously tell my body to start doing. Simple things like adjusting my posture, tucking in and straighten my clothing, tempering the tone and volume of my speech. And so when I became aware of this I started to think about the other things that I may have internalized throughout my experience moving in and out of these spaces and other structures that might be oppressive in ways.
I started to wonder and sort of obsess about the accumulation of these small and sometimes insignificant internalizations over time and what that does the body and what that does to you.
I looking at a quotidian violence, the invisible interactions and transgressions of the day to day and I’m more concerned in the work at least with their profound impact more so than the catastrophic. In the terror that can hardly be discerned This is the residue of the things I’m wrestling with in the work. Or as Fred Moten has articulated “At issue here is the precariousness of empathy and the uncertain line between witness and spectator.
Only more obscene than the brutality unleashed at the whipping post is the demand that this suffering be materialized and evidenced by the display of the tortured body or endless recitations of the ghastly and terrible. In light of this, how does one give expression to these outrages without exacerbating the indifference to suffering that is the consequence of the benumbing spectacle or contend with the
narcissistic identification that obliterates the other or the prurience that too often is the response to such displays?”
My formal attention is really rooted in the poetic. In fragmentation, a repetition that is about dissolution,
collage, the landscape of memory, and in the tension between narrative and non narrative. The video
work of course has a relationship to experimental cinema but also an engagement with a cinematic