18th Street Arts Center Begs Audience to ‘Come a Little Closer’

In an evening of performance artwork, University of Southern California artists explore the concept of online witnessing, questioning what it means to be present with the realities of others through the screen. Through the following pieces, the audience comes closer to the artist’s perspective on gender, religion, colonialism, collective memory. 

(Come a Little Closer, University of Southern California’s Roski School of Art and Design)

Karaoke X’mas by Diane Williams

This short film is a robot voice talking about infuriating imperialism and the taking back the white man superimposed over a woman singing karaoke Christmas carols. Initially, I think most viewers were confused about what to make of this bizarre experience. However, after listening to Williams answer questions about the film she explained that the Magic Singalong microphone is an integral part of Philipinx identity as so many households join in singing with family and friends. Williams said that karaoke is the embodiment of social mimicry and so it reflects both the familial legacy in the Philippines but also the colonial legacy. After reflecting on the film with this information it was one of the most brilliant examinations of internalized colonial identity and certainly got the viewer closer to a more authentic representation.

Rakta Mikvah by Gabriella Shira Broom and Vrinda Aggarwal

Both Shira Broom and Aggarwal’s directing and performance were excellent and cemented it as the most interesting film of the evening. The film explores the relationship between menstruation and the two artists’ respective religions of Judaism and Hinduism, by having them exchange rituals. Aggarwal follows the instructions of Shira Broom’s narration of the traditional observances of Nidah. She narrates that in Judaism menstruation is considered impure and for seven days if you check your vagina with a bedikah cloth and have no blood—only then can you go into mikvah. As well as giving other details over Aggarwal performing like that this ritual is only for married women or that when taking the bath some women are super intentioned about what they’re asking God for. As the actresses and creators both literally and figuratively strip down onscreen to make each other’s respective culture’s relationship with menstruation authentic. Ratka is blood in Hindi and mikvah roughly translates to a bath, so the play on words in the title reminds one of the stereotypical ‘gentle nature’ of women that permeates almost every culture. While answering questions, Vrinda and Gabrielle said they decided that while making the film that they weren’t allowed to research the others’ customs, only through one another’s described actions. This film was a beautiful exploration of the relationship between gender and religion—I’m very excited to see what these two filmmakers do in the future.

Witness of Land by Hings Lim

This short film opens with a long vertical shot of a palm tree. From the aspect ratio, it looks like it is shot on an iPhone and the camera is shaky and there is heavy breathing in the back. Until a man says seemingly to the tree: “Hi there I know you have been living on this land for more than 180 years…. You have witnessed climate change, migration, construction, destruction, gentrification, exploitation, colonization, violence, death, injustice, extinction, theft, and killing.” Witness of Land is a mediation on how trees are living time capsules of land. While talking to the tree Lim begins backing up and maneuvers augmented reality (AR) technology to bring forth a row of black trees. He using spoken spells or incantations call forth the land’s memories; and while going back towards the original non-virtual palm tree, he is apologizing on behalf of humans for the past injustices. Hings Lim’s choice of camera work and AR aided excellently in the film’s exploration of the emerging dynamic of nature and technology.

Walking along the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Wall by Rachel Zaretsky

This video collage piece walks viewers along the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall done by artist Maya Lin in Washington D.C. If you’ve never been to the memorial, 21-year-old artist Maya Lin designed a V-shaped wall of polished black granite sunken into the ground of the Constitutional Garden etched with the names of 58,000 American servicemen listed in chronological order of their loss. The monument was incredibly controversial even though Lin intended it to be apolitical, many critics remarked it seemed like a dark scar of shame. Lin herself remarked, “I went to see the site. I had a general idea that I wanted to describe a journey…a journey that would make you experience death and where you’d have to be an observer, where you could never really fully be with the dead. It wasn’t going to be something that was going to say, ‘It’s all right, it’s all over,’ because it’s not.” Zaretsky tapped into this attempt to be apolitical almost 40 years later when politics seems to be entrenched into almost everything. Zaretsky used a mix of google maps and real-life recordings so she considers the piece a sort of collage. Some of the shots include the washing of the memorial, people putting paper over names, and sketching their outline, this type of dimension was important for her since the actual memorial relies so heavily on touch. It was a very nice homage to Lin in a time when touch seems so far . . .and loss so close.

A Nonchalant Vacation by Jiyoon Kim

 The film is a long shot of a person in a dark backyard organizing lights to eventually spell out ‘Imperfect’. In this, she said she wanted to interrogate conditions where she had overlooked her labor when she was continuously working to adapt somewhere. In A Nonchalant Vacation, Kim said she wanted to reflect the bewilderment from encountering a habituated guilt inside her about not being diligent enough. With autobiographical narratives, the film is a great addition to the Come a Little Closer collection since Kim creates a great intimacy with her audience.

Mucho Mucho by Nao Bustamante

 The film opens with performance artist Marcus Kuiland-Nazario slowly brushing over a sequined pillow with elaborate and colorful nails, rings, and bracelets. The sequined pillow slowly reveals the image of Walter Mercado, the legendary Puerto Rican astrologer, actor, dancer (March 1932 – November 2019). The graphic for the Mercado pillow was created by Paulson Lee and Bustamante collaborated with Roberto Carlos Lange on the sound score. The score aids the sort of kitschy ecocentrism Bustamante cultivates in her mise en scene that memorializes Mercado elegantly.

© [Fiona Flanagan] ([February 19th, 2021]) FF2 Media

 

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