A letter from a friend:
I've been thinking about your work a lot since returning to the belly of the beast. And describing the installation to many friends and colleagues. Some further thoughts.
- 12 or 13 years ago I was on the Film and New Media grants panel of the New York State Council for the Arts. It was period when artists and filmmakers were beginning to experiment with video as an art form. Of course Nam June Paik, Bill Viola and a few others had been at this for a while. At the time it seemed to me that most of the projects we reviewed were mainly repurposing narrative or documentary forms. But it was also clear that as people three or four generations into television, we had been trained to consume moving images in a certain way. When looking at the work of video artists on screens both the viewer and artists are challenged to break with old ways. The artist had to find ways to create insight, emotion and unfamiliarity on extremely familiar devices, and the viewer had to somehow break the habit of being the consumers of simple story telling with moving images where little thought is evoked, though sometimes passions are stirred. Given these difficult challenges, I think Magic of 7 succeeded in both form and content. Maybe "succeed" isn't the right word. In the couple days we had there I observed that people both absorbed and pondered the images multiple times. I was in that circle of screens 5 or 6 times and that repletion continues to conjure reflections and etched many of those images into memories that still stir emotion. In our era of ephemerality, perhaps the "carry home" permanence and impact of the work is the measure.
- I've been thinking about what engaged me and wondering what it stirred up in others. The Magic of 7 was both beautiful and provocative. Both qualities are contradictory. There was a formal beauty to the images, but in the juxtaposition there was the danger of the "aestheticization of the violence". In mathematics there is a "proof from beauty" which some describe as results that establish connections between two areas [of mathematics] that at first sight appear to be unrelated and expressing this insight with a certain elegance or simplicity. But, I asked myself, were the connections and the simplicity of the juxtapositions too didactic? Does the work make an argument and suggest answers or provoke questions? I recently watched a talk by Josh Begley, Setting Targets Around a Circle https://vimeo.com/176869833. Begely is a visual data artist who works with electronic media and visualization. He quotes the American novelist Toni Morrison. "Literature has always been a place to go for me because it's indeterminate and it's provocative and it could be beautiful." Bagely continues, "It seems to me that our best artists, our best intellectuals work at their craft without having all the answers. They work at the craft by asking questions that they don't have the answers to. It's not "this is what I believe" Morrison says, "because that would not be a book. It would be a tract." A book is "this is maybe what I believe, but suppose I'm wrong. What could it be? Or, I don't know what it is, but I'm interested in finding out what it might mean to me as well as the other people."
Barbara and I agreed that The Magic of 7 demands repeated viewings to absorb the images and reflect on their meaning. We also agreed on the essential role of the White Moose. When I asked her what she took away from the piece she said "violence vs serenity." The question that keeps haunting me is the contrast between the power of the violence and the apparent vulnerability of the women around the lake. And the women in the kitchens? Those images, in context, raised many questions about our world: nurturing, work without compensation, gender roles, the many kitchens and women blown apart by the very sophisticated weapons of war paraded in the following segments. What can we do? Coming at it from different life experiences and political involvements. I think that is the question The Magic of 7 provoked both of us to think about: the contrast between now and possible futures. For me, as I've thought about your work over the past few weeks the phrase What Is To Be Done? keeps materializing. Of course that was the title of Lenin's famous 1902 essay. But story has it that he was deeply influenced by the 1863 novel by Nikolai Chernechevskey by the same title, which he allegedly read 5 times in the preceding year. I read the novel sitting around a lake many summers ago, It is a story of a woman's liberation. A story of hope and disappointment and hope again. A kind of utopian socialist dream. The thing is, it is not very clear at all "what is to be done." Or as the young women at our talk kept asking "what should I do?
The Magic of 7 contains beautiful images, horrific images, disturbing juxtapositions, and it poses many more questions than it answers. In fact, I don't think it answers any questions. But as the Moose says, It does give us some clarifying provocations on where we might begin...how to begin thinking differently.
You created a significant work of art that is both beautiful and provocative.
All the best