SHELLY SILVER AT CORNELL

Shelly Silver’s lecture this evening prefaced the screening of her 2013 film “Touch” — which I unfortunately could not attend — by providing a highly abridged retrospective on her video work. Thematically, Silver’s pieces attend to a broad range of both contemporary and timeless issues, the two of which I believed to be the most prevalent in the work shown to be (1) desire and its constructed as well as inherent origins and (2) the relationship between interiors and exteriors, or private and public, on both physical and metaphysical scales.

One piece in particular that struck me as embodying both fixations was her piece getting in. (1989), in which an amalgamation of clips portraying doors being entered or approached — transitioning in a clear way between the limits of public and private — coupled with intensely sexual vocalizations renders a viewer’s experience laden with cognitive dissonance and sensory depth.  Silver also discussed desire outside of the specificity of sexual desire, but rather in the context of desire as a human instinct, questioning what motivates us to exist in the public realm, or to even exist at all. Her 2003 feature-length film suicide tackles these questions in an glaring way, using herself as the actor for a pseudo-documentary or fictional personal video diary about a photographer struggling with suicidal depression.

My initial reaction to Silver’s work is that it stretches my preconceptions of the limits of what video art can achieve in terms of sensory experience. Her use of sound in such jarring or unexpected ways (often deliberately and blatantly disjointed from the images that are temporally corresponding) intensifies her pieces, making them less accessible in terms of legibility but much more engaging in terms of the “art” experience; I almost felt as if I were being sucked into the piece by way of audio. Another component that strikes me as important is the use of text in her pieces: the language she utilizes is extraordinarily manipulated, both evading yet somehow driving through a didactic or at times satirical message. Additionally, Silver’s style of filmmaking ignited in me the burning question of where we can (or if we should) distinguish the boundaries of video art and entertainment — the latter of which video is most clearly aligned with in popular culture.

Other questions that Silver’s work left me wondering regarded in particular the nature of video art itself, such as: how does the “art” experience change when it is “reproduced” every time it is played on a screen? Is there an original piece that can be “owned,” being a non-material object yet still an art piece? Does the easy distribution of these pieces make its viewership more passive, or allow for more ability for its message to stray from the truth of its intentions? While these are general questions about the nature of this media, Silver’s work seems to emphasize this fact by virtue of its ability (at least in my case) to transcend a feeling of watching moving images on a two-dimensional screen.

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