Reception in Experimental Film and Video

From: Bernard Roddy (email suppressed)
Date: Wed Feb 06 2008 - 11:23:55 PST

The exchange between Adam Hyman and Regina Muff lifts
out several valuable themes. These bear on the
reception of experimental film and video (its lack of
theorization), varieties of criticism of experimental
film and video (where these two constitute our model
critics), and the importance of reflection on audience
as an artist working in experimental film and video.

Regina expresses her response to No Lies with affect,
Adam steps in to . . (there's so much to say!). Adam,
I wonder why "fucked up" isn't as good as the way you
characterize the film. But perhaps what is worrisome
is that you take the mocking of documentary to be
sufficient to deflect what is objectionable in it - to
"unfuck" it.

The exchange is wonderful for the way it highlights
issues of reception. I recall showing Couple in a
Cage, the video of the performance by Fusco and
Gomez-Pena, to a class of black Chicago
community-college students. Just watching the video
myself in their presence had a transforming impact on
how I understood it. But it was particularly after
trying to discuss the video that I realized just how
much it seemed to speak to a white upper-middle class
audience. And this was not just a problem with my
students' education.

By temperament I sympathize with Regina. I want to
see her language developed, but even more - I want to
see her passion expressed. The criticism that might
prove satisfying in this respect is, for me, very
difficult to find.

Finally, the exchange raises questions about the
construction of audience(s) as artists - that is, the
way we as makers envision our own audience, whether
this conception changes as we grow, and how that
affects our capacity to continue working if, for
example, the audience we construct and find more
valuable narrows the actual audience members we are
likely to have. How much of our self-esteem depends
on our understanding of who we make work for, on the
very existence of such an audience, and on the
discrepancy between our vision of an audience and the
actual responses we feel we can expect. In fact,
isn't it true that you become your audience? You have
to take up the subject position, so to speak, of
someone likely to appreciate your work. Either you
become less and less accessible to existing viewers
who could make your work personally profitable, or
else you re-evaluate yourself in order to appreciate
and be appreciated, to value the same things that, as
far as you can see, will be valued but are less
valuable. But could this involve adopting an outlook
you have little respect for?

What will you do to get shown?


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