My Human Being
Mixed-media installation and performance
live video projection
outdoor video projection
single channel monitor, 5.1 sound
In 2005 I moved into an old rural farmhouse with no furniture, no job, and a directive to just make work. My budding meditation practice led me to dream the three words “my human being” written in the landscape. The ensuing multi-media installation and performance piece My Human Being contemplates temporality in nature, futility of language, and dark ecology.
I began in late fall, a desolate time in rural Vermont, writing the words in piles of maple leaves that filled the yard, the mundane task of raking becoming something full of meaning, as I filmed the act from the top floor of the farmhouse. Over a period of several weeks I filmed in time-lapse as the leaves were strewn and deformed by the wind. In the winter, in snow, I again wrote the words, and watched as the words melted, blurred, and were covered again by fresh snow, their heady and bold proclamation distorted and erased. In the spring, mud and sticks were used to repeat the gesture, and in the summer a slow and meticulous process of watching the words grow from seeded grass.
The films lay dormant for some time until the winter of 2010 when I constructed a wall of snow and projected the winter version of the film over 10 days during a residency at Goddard College. This led to a larger scale installation of the work at Julian Scott Gallery in 2012. The gallery is comprised of three solid walls and one wall of glass that looks out onto a courtyard. It was here that a large scale wall of snow was constructed and made to look like the “fourth wall” of the gallery. The winter version of the film was projected from inside the gallery out onto this wall. Over a period of month the wall melts, and the surface of the projection changes.
Inside the gallery on one interior wall, I performed the inscription of the words, this time chiseling them into the dry wall and erasing them again with joint compound. Small chunks of snow-like material were left to accumulate on the gallery floor. Opposite this wall was a live feed of the performance. Viewers were seated facing the projection rather than the live event, creating a disjunction between the real and filmed versions of the act. Finally a 6 channel sound piece of slowed-down, sampled voice recordings of the same words creates a sonic counterpart to the visual text.
My Human Being is a layered and meditative collapse of captured and actual experiences of nature. In the coalescence of legibility in sounds and words, and the blurring of boundaries between inside/outside a question arises via technological intermediaries about the subject’s (in)ability to represent or capture nature. We relate to nature as both Other and as fantasy object. In the “My” there’s a question of displacement, I am outside of myself, looking from the outside in on to my own alien “Human Being”. There’s also a kind of desperate violence in that act of claiming ownership—I am a bulwark against that aspect of nature that tries to destroy me. The illogic of the words mirrors the temporal and fleeting quality in the gesture of inscription. The element of time and the disconnect with the technology means that it is impossible to capture every moment of nature, and then of course impossible to view. There is a lot of failure here (failure to communicate, failure to accurately capture, failure to dominate) and perhaps it is this failure that opens up a space for nature to exist.