(No) Words; from the journal to the screen

This post incorporates pieces from the paper I submitted to accompany the project, and I have also added new thoughts here and there. Grief is unique and incomparable in each instance, yet from having lost important people in the past couple years to the very recent passing of my grandma Kaye, the piece continues to speak. The timing of this post is not coincidental, as we find ourselves at the anniversary of the specific, sudden, and painful loss which inspired the project.

Using photography, video, and audio media, (No) Words is a piece that explores an experience that is at once deeply personal and yet also unifying and shared among people: grief. (No) Words expresses two seemingly separate aspects of the grieving process: the ongoing nature of grief as a back-and-forth rather than linear process, and the significance of the silences that accompany grief.

Dealing with the sudden loss of an incredibly important person to me and to countless others, I turned to writing daily in a journal. This reflection turned into a safe space to express the complex and overwhelming emotions that consumed me during this time. When prompted to create a media project that engaged the senses, I decided to focus on this grief as a point of communication. I also decided to incorporate my journal into this process. At my partner’s suggestion, who is a constant source of inspiration and intriguing ideas, the idea of focusing on “silence” developed as I continued to explore my written expression of grief.

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I made the project in two parts, separately titled Words and Silence, one focusing on images and the other solely an audio piece. I then added the two pieces together to create (No) Words, which asks viewers to engage multiple senses at once, perhaps even compromising one in order to pay attention to another. While the visual demands attention because of its complexities in layering and jumping from one image to another, the audio demands a concentrated listening; blink and you might miss it.

The seemingly separate pieces do, however, complement each other in certain ways. Words eases into the layers, adding one image atop the other until soon the screen is a mixture of images; Silence opens the opposite way, a jumble of conversations until gradually the voices fade to near silence. This contrast works to actually create a harmony in (No) Words’ opening, and allows the viewer to ease into the experience. When I screened the piece as part of my class, friends confirmed that the two pieces worked well together and created a unique experience that was to some “oppressive,” to others “beautiful,” and to still others “moving.” This diversity in experiences is the type of engagement I sought in the creation of this piece: a range of reactions that mirrors both the range of emotions felt during grief and also the range of experiences between those who grieve.

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In creating (No) Words, it became clear that the process of making is not only a way to express difficult experiences like grief but a valuable way to be critically aware of the impact that technologies in their various forms have on our senses. Recognizing technology’s role in extending our senses opens the door to creating works that engage and stimulate us, works that demand audience participation and contemplation. Written, photographic, video, and audio media engage the senses in various ways; each piece of (No) Words uses one medium to reveal another, making it present (an idea I borrow from McLuhan). Throughout the various stages of making this piece I was keenly aware of the decisions I made throughout the process, including a the continual generation of ideas and a focus on the type of engagement I hoped to inspire in an audience. This allowed the project to develop into a complex representation of emotions, time, space, and thought.

– for Mitch.

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