When I began to make video, at 20, and it was nothing short of a revelation to me. You could say I began to get my life. I found a place to put my ache for the night-time feeling. In video there was enough room for myself, my body, and my spirit; enough room for the sage and the clown. I found a space for my own self, and more and less than that; to make work about the -isms and to float around them; to build cities and stories; to mess with time, language, sound; to be fast and untethered.
Growing up as an only child in a suburb of Washington, D.C. to a working mother and father, TV wa always part of the picture. As much as it was a fantasy escape from the conformity of Northern Virginia, it was a great source of comfort and entertainment. I would spend Saturdays baking with my mom and watching Tracey Takes On on HBO, where Ullman would play a variety of offbeat characters. She, Anna Deavere Smith, and Laurie Anderson, were eye-opening artists for me. I encountered their fearless play and transformation in comedy, identity, music, and technology via TV and recorded video, not yet knowing that their influence would plant the seed for what I make today at the intersection between sketch, performance art, video, and theater.
To see the work of the artists in GYL! is to witness a highly joyous, hilarious, and refreshing creative process. Working with the camera yields an understanding of self-perception and self-construction through the screen, one that is not only a vital cognitive but also political process in our media-saturated world. To be able to make video, and become comfortable on camera and in front of others is a gift. To be able to be funny, confident, and inventive beyond a narrative of oppression is a powerful tool.
To cast your own image is hardly a new idea for this century, but in the course of human history it’s still pretty radical. To have authority (or decided lack thereof) over the performance of the self, in a experimental medium is a meaningful act. When making video, you are free to expand, rather than police, the expression of your own curious body-object, mouth-instrument, and mind-machine, an present it in infinitely variable documents. And wow, you can even make some fun with the crisis of living in this world. At any age, the experience of making such work can be liberating.
Today we see that oppression is a primary narrative in art and politics. At the same time as man people are coming into their own sense of self-possession, they are also re-constricting themselves along established lines of identity. What is celebrated in art – both in the market and many institution– are self-identified POC (short for People of Color), queer, women, trans, and/or otherwise historically politically disenfranchised artists re-enacting unenergetic narratives of identity in apparent defiance of the cisgendered, straight, white, wealthy, male imperialist force. I find this act, and the proposed opponent, to be a limiting narrative when it comes to the symbolic potential for art. Art now extends the politics of American Idol: it wants capitalize on the story of cultural damages and foo certain people into thinking those damages are equivalent to their skills, traditions, inventions, and talents.
All who have been denied equal opportunities, justice, or even just a fair and favorable opinion have been faced by a system that seeks to limit the imagination. As artists, we can strive to advance the stories of culture, bring our own individual and nuanced perspectives, and stimulate our capacity to see and build beyond what is given to us. I want to create with a fierce spirit and inventiveness, rather than merely re-enter a wound that does not heal. In this authoritarian era, it is critical to remember that identity is as much a fact of life, as it is a figment of the imagination, and to simultaneously embrac both is to embrace that un-dead self.
Here, I would like to propose a new term: People of Culture. People of Culture are people who understand that their identities are shifting, constantly recontextualized by the interactions between the culture in which they were raised and the cultures they move through and interact with in life. As People of Culture, we understand that we are part of an intricate continuum of both historical an fictional narratives. We understand that we come from somewhere and likewise have somewhere to go. It is heartening that this young generation of artists who make up GYL! have begun their lives as artists from a place of utter self-validation, experimentation, and play. Even within familiar video structures such as reality TV, interviews, or infomercials, the work is entirely individual, kooky, and touching. It speaks to the unpolished pleasures that can inherently be found in video art, and exist apart from the glossy and seamless video material we see elsewhere in the world.
In the vast sea of moving images, boundaries between the physically real and unreal have already dissolved; how this dissolution will affect us globally and individually is yet to be seen. GYL!’s bod of work is a valuable record of video media created by the first digitally native generation on the eve o the virtual reality age. It captures the collective’s personalities, their ideas of what is interesting and of value, but also their reality, their physicality, and perhaps most importantly, the process by which all of those are constructed and transformed. It is making this process visible – the theater of it all – that is so vital to our lives.