How We Tell Stories to Children is saturated with the threat of something, some brand of violence. But it's off-camera. Can you talk about why you don't show the viewer this violence? And why you choose distancing mechanisms to maintain it at the margins of your images?
I’m not interested in reproducing violence… but how can we be sure that our vehicles and complex mechanisms don’t do that? While I'm definitely consumed with interrogating and thinking through... structural violence... And the catastrophic… or the images that come to the front of the minds of many when the word violence is uttered… But there are steps in between those big images. There is a slow rise to power...
To get to that I'm focused on something more quotidian. Or maybe picturing something more quotidian is more accurate. Something more intimate. Sometimes "invisible". But does the larger image have the larger impact. Is the explosion more traumatic than the slow accumulation of "blows" which at some point will rise to the surface. Pushing through…. puncturing that final layer of flesh.. unfolding the rest of our bodies. This is a question. And in my own experience I have become numb to the catastrophic and I wonder about that.
Also for me it’s like: I can tell you the stove is hot. But you have no concept of hot until you touch that shit for yourself and recoil. Hot is now inscribed in your body...... But “hot” just isn’t an image right, its a picture, a feeling, a smell, a sensation...
For me, my question is why do I need to show you violence. There is this desire to consume images of black pain. And although I will not shy away from the topics that are most urgent to me. I will address them on my own terms. And there is a flirtation with the audience's desire and my disdain for a certain audience’s desire. Why do I need to picture violence. Do the pictures of it even represent it, or unlock something about it for us. The violence is also an accumulation of something…
In both videos we hear your voice, speaking. Lyrical. But there are also moments of whispering, half-spoken words, unintelligible. Why are some forms of language obscured and others so precise?
The question here: is the more “legible” language precise? Natasha you sent me a beautiful passage once:
“Yet the haunting of language by sexual difference is not its only problematic feature. Language is deficient but must, nevertheless, be used. Adynata is a rhetorical term meaning the expression of a full interiority, but because meaning leaks out, cannot be contained by a logic of morphemes; it contaminates the gaps and absences language depends on for the very differentiating power of their emptiness.” -- Women’s Experimental Cinema: Critical Frameworks, edited by Robin Blaetz.
Text or language is medium. For me It is a way of drawing a shape around a “thing.” It is by no means the thing itself, but a way for us to get as close as possible to its thingness.
The spoken language in the videos also just becomes another texture, another layer and a hard rupture to frame the silence. I think the silence is more important to me. This is why that passage keeps haunting me. Language for me is always about the gaps.. The space in between the lines. The sound of silence facilitated by a punctuation mark. My syntactical sensibility is rooted in poetry.
In "History of Silence" there is a moment towards the end of the video in which you speak about someone putting their hands on someone else's thighs. It is a moment saturated sexuality against what looks like video footage of bodies in protest. The complexity of the violence the video describes comes into clear focus. What is at stake for you in this "diary" narrative juxtaposed to the political language and images that surround it in your video?
Audre Lorde is appropriate here. I’m thinking about the Uses of the Erotic:
“This is one reason why the erotic is so feared, and so often relegated to the bedroom alone, when it is recognized at all. For once we begin to feel deeply all the aspects of our lives, we begin to demand from ourselves and from our life-pursuits that they feel in accordance with that joy which we know ourselves to be capable of. Our erotic knowledge empowers us, becomes a lens through which we scrutinize all aspects of our existence, forcing us to evaluate those aspects honestly in terms of their relative meaning within our lives. And this is a grave responsibility, projected from within each of us, not to settle for the convenient, the shoddy, the conventionally expected, nor the merely safe.”
The illustration of these intimacies is important.
Sable Elyse Smith with NM Llorens
Sable Elyse Smith is an interdisciplinary artist and writer based in New York. Her practice considers memory and trauma while enacting an undoing of language. She has performed at the Museum of Modern Art, the New Museum, Eyebeam, and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, CA. Her work has also been screened at Birkbeck Cinema in collaboration with the Serpentine Galleries, London, Artist Television Access, San Francisco, and MoMA Ps1, New York. Her writing has been published in Radical Teacher, Studio Magazine and No Tofu Magazine.. Smith has received grants & fellowships from Creative Capital, the Queens Museum, Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture and Art Matters.