DPAM video art exhbit ‘Place of Memory’ analyzes the way we remember

Much can be told through the lens of a video camera. DePaul Art Museum’s event “A Place of Memory: Video Art and Chicago” presented how the memory of sites and architectures induces the feelings of personal longing and loss. As part of the “Re: Chicago” exhibition (running until March 4,) “A Place of Memory: Video Art and Chicago” also displayed how video art and Chicago are interrelated.

The emotional experiences that different people had through sites were showcased throughout the video-screening program. Each film had its own take on one’s personal definitions of longing and loss.

Artist Susy Gile’s Buildings and Gestures featured candid interviews of subjects in a white room describing details of iconic buildings around the world. Instead of focusing on each interview individually, the footage was cut to appear as though all subjects described a single building collectively. Despite the different details subjects shared, they indicated a similar nature with how their gestures consisted of awkward pauses and excitement in their voice as they spoke. Their common body language emphasized how one great memory can have profound impact.

“It’s interesting to me how we hold onto memory,” said Gile. “I wanted to provide a narrative that shows how memories can slip away from us at any moment.”

The program’s inception is evident in the artists’ philosophy behind their work. After one summer as a 17-year-old film assistant to the Canadian Broadcasting Company’s ethnographic documentary Men Alive, artist and writer Steve Reinke documents his foreign experience in The Mendi. The year was 1975 when Reinke traveled to Papua New Guinea. The film, shown in red color scheme, is found footage of Reinke’s eye-opening experience of being around tribal people. As a film assistant, Reinke discovers how he had a lot to learn. “I wasn’t looking for a career, I was looking for a way to live,” said Reinke at the beginning of the film. Thirty-one years later, at the age of 48, Reinke looks back at the experience and says, “Now is the time for a new life.”

The proliferation of fan culture is documented in Jesse McLeans’ Magic for Beginners. Through psychedelic montage, different narrators describe their childhood obsessions surrounding films, games, actors, music, and television.

Featuring filming techniques such as television-like color distortion and even a scene that repeatedly flashes light at epileptic shock proportions, the film reveals how you can’t resist the object of distortions just like children can’t fight the drug of fandom. Television take over one’s life to where different perceptions of emotion develop and the unreal exceeds the value of what is real.

The loss of childhood grows more as children no longer use their own imagination to construct their own realities; media is what spoon-feeds them their fantasies instead.

Fifty years after the Cultural Revolution in China, Dark River by DePaul Associate Professor of Art, Media, and Design Chi Jang Yin documents two elderly Chinese women and their connection to the propaganda songs learned at educational camps. While walking along a Chinese village river, the women sing these songs while the film shows shots of the river. For most of the film, we don’t see either of the women’s faces as they reflect and narrate their past. The robbing of their youth in these camps causes them to dwell on desire. “We were so young, energetic, and creative,” said one of the women. It is not until we see one of the women gazing away from the camera at the end of the film that completes the picture of longing for youth.

The power behind photography was captured in DePaul student Jesse Bronaugh’s untitled three minute film, which originally was an art class project. Shown through the lens of a photographic camera, the film shows snapshots of Chicago in all its grit and beauty with the sounds of the city in the background. Symbolic of the process of gathering remembrances, these glimpses of city life represent how memories are temporary and unsolidified by themselves.

Lost Buildings, which was featured on the NPR program This American Life, documents a Chicago boy’s obsession with Louis Sullivan’s Chicago buildings in the 1960’s and 70s. Through graphic illustrations, the story of a boy’s fascination and attachment to Sullivan’s buildings allows him to escape from the boredom of public school. Wandering into Stevenson’s buildings by himself for years, he befriends photographer Richard Nickel. But as Sullivan’s buildings are demolished, the boy experiences “a life of heartbreak” as he saw the beauty how “different buildings have different personalities.” His love for old buildings draws out inspiration for him to eventually become a Chicago historian – the perfect result of his reminiscent nature.

Through this exhibit, one leaves with the notion that the emotional meaning behind the recalling of memories is a universal experience.