Keep Shining: in collaboration with Mimi Cabell
Keep Shining consists of one 90 minute film Supporters, one 3 minute video Guidelines, one web-based project Help Me Be Me, and one performance Keep Shining. Working with what Erving Goffman calls “performance of self in everyday life” we explore how hope and sincerity operate through lived performance.
We live in the zone between what we want to say and can say, between what we think we hear and what we want to hear. Our reality is that speech has a social function, not just a descriptive one. We need to hear affection and compassion despite the pathologies of language. Can we move beyond our awareness of social performance and of the slipperiness of words to recognize our own vulnerabilities and embrace the fallibility of those around us?
A recent study has suggested that therapeutic language can make those suffering from depression regress further, or become violently angry. They intuitively know the language is fake and feel that in hearing this language, in being asked to use it themselves, their true emotions are not being heard and that they are not being validated.
Our question is whether the language of therapeutics — “tomorrow is a new day,” “it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey,” “you don’t know the good without knowing the bad,” can be meaningful when paired with body language, context, or intimacy. Is it language that creates meaning or is it our emotional and spatial relationships that do the talking for us? Is positive language ultimately just a pattern that accompanies true, unspoken communication? Do we have the ability to truly receive each other’s words, to really hear the words? Can we abandon our suspicion to embrace this positive language, and receive its analgesic effect? As speakers, can we use this language genuinely, despite our self-awareness, and our awareness of other peoples self-awareness?
In the pieces comprising Keep Shining we asked couples - lovers, mothers and daughters, friends, and siblings - to sit face to face to talk to each other with the language of therapeutics, to tell each other how much they valued the other, to say whatever crisis each faced would be overcome, to dwell only on the positive. We explored our own ability to sit removed in space and time from each other and use this same language. Was context and immediacy ultimately more important than language, or could our words transcend our computer screens and have the same effect?
Guidelines, 3:30 mins
Guidelines offers “instructions” for how one “should” conduct themselves in social interactions. The “instructions” are both general and specific, and point to the schism between language and action - will following the instructions lead to a “successful” encounter? This text piece is intended to set the stage, to put viewers into the framework of therapeutics. How does one communicate “warmth?” Who is the subject and who is the object? Can one maintain an authentic interaction while following instructions? What does it mean if an individual follows an internal set of instructions without any prompts? Are we guided by an innate self, or the socially accepted constructed self?
Help Me Be Me, screen capture of web-based project, endless loop
In Help Me Be Me the interaction is both real and constructed. We sent video messages back and forth with the constraint that we would speak using only positive terms and never address any real problem - the “problem” discussed remains general and exists elsewhere. Additionally, this piece plays in the browser with an algorithm “playing” the footage in the sequence in which it was made, choosing a random section of each video and playing it for between 5 and 15 seconds. In playing the footage in this way we prioritize a fractured and unconventional narrative, and the system over the “content.” What matters here is the collection, the mass of supportive language, interrupted, never truly making anyone feel any better.
30 minute excerpt from Supporters, 90 minutes
For Supporters we invited existing couples (lovers, friends, sisters, mother and daughter) to improvise scenarios of support. Providing them with an initial prompt like “You’ve had a rough day and your partner is attempting to comfort you,” the couples blended memory of real world experience with perceived expectations of acting for the camera - an amorphous blend of sincerity, generic support, and dramatic cliche. Couples enacted each scenario until they felt the situation had been worked through. Employing a gestalt therapeutic approach combined with reality tv-inspired confessional tropes resulted in a liminality of both melodrama and detachment in the film - a form of improvisational voyeuristic counseling.