Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Midway Point.

It's 10:00pm in Montgomery, Alabama, and after a good week on the road, I've at last managed to carve out a bit of time for some long-overdue blogging. Seven days of movies and long drives and fall leaves and good conversations, all topped off by a rather monumentous sea change for America. These are exciting, heady times, indeed.

I left Chicago, IL last Monday for Jacksonville - a 16mm projector, 80:00 of films, a rubber mask and a vocoder, and my Surinamese friend Benjen Pansa in tow. An actor in my films DAUME and TJUBA TEN, this is Benjen's first visit to the USA, and it's been quite an experience trying to translate the intricacies of the American election, the history of the South, and the vagaries of experimental film into Saramaccan for him. I'm certainly getting better at it.

After landing under grey and windy Florida skies and taking a brief turn towards the Atlantic ocean, we set up for our show in the auditorium at the Florida Community College in Jacksonville - a rather formal space with podiums, wood paneling, and a tall ceiling. The space proved a bit tough to fill, but those who traded my Experimental Ethnographies for pre-election night festivities seemed to be totally excited to be there. There was talk of documentary and ethnography and DIY ethics, among other topics. An indication of things to come.

Tuesday found us en route to Louisville, Kentucky, a town that I'd never visited but that my Southern friends seemed to be rather fond of. The streets smelled of horse and hay and the light was orangeish, all tall buildings and 24-hour skate parks and an electric charge that seemed to have everything to do with Obama vs McCain. We were staying in the Galt House, a two-tiered hotel that faced the river steamboats and was the site of a Republican celebration. Happily, we didn't have a show in Louisville until the following night, so Benjen and I wandered the city streets and drove to the (relatively) Bohemian quarter, drinking red-and-blue microbrews as the election results crawled slowly across TV screens and radio speakers. Back at the Galt House, we tried to check out the Republican party but were handedly rebuffed by security - an initial strike against Southern Hospitality, I suppose...

While I was setting up for the show in the upper floors of the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts, my co-director of TJUBA TEN, Brigid McCaffrey, was arriving by airplane from Los Angeles. She'd recently been in Suriname with myself and Benjen and an Irish Steadicam Operator working on a rather long 16mm film, and it was totally great to find ourselves reunited under Kentucky skies. Our first screening as a trio went down quite well - in addition to the tech details, I've been performing live narration to THE RED AND THE BLUE GODS (in the aforementioned rubber mask and _____), and still felt a bit nervous about standing in front of a relatively unfamiliar audience, but everything was all right. The crowd was enthusiastic and inquisitive, and the three of us began to figure out our own Q&A dynamic - who answers what, how much Saramaccan do I translate, etc.

Tom Trudgeon of the Kentucky Center proved to be an A+ host, and showed us the finer parts of the Louisville late-night food/drink/art scene. Cloud machines, Kara Walker prints galore, and a really well-made Manhattan or two. It was a great balance to the day's earlier encounter with a gregarious antique dealer and his impromptu tour of Lousiville architectural strategies - shotgun houses, camelbacks, etc.

The next day promised a long 6-hour drive from Louisville to Cullowhee, so we did our best to turn in early at the Galt, anticipating a sidetrip through the Great Smokey Mountains along the way...

What luck to be in this part of the world! The trees have been totally startling, a bold swatch of golds and reds and oranges, and our arrival in the GSM coincided just barely with the golden setting sun in North Carolina. Benjen was slack-jawed at the sight of rolling mountains and brilliant colors (the trees where he lives don't tend to lose their foliage), as was I. Less thrilling was the long stretch of Tennessee tourist traps that led up to the mountains - some sort of precursor to Dollywood, dinosaur rides and water parks and all.

Western Carolina University was on the other side of these mountains, past the Cherokee reservation and a great number of faux wigwams and Moccasin shops that I wish we'd had the time to investigate - the commercialization of culture is such a trap on any level, but given the particular histories at play here, it seems pretty vital to address these issues directly. Perhaps in the future.

After the Florida auditorium and the Kentucky screening space, I found myself thoroughly unable to anticipate what the next space/audience might have to offer. Touring with films and performance has been a significant part of my practice over the last few years (this being the 5th tour I've been on, but only the 2nd in the USA and the 1st that someone else has set up for me), so I'm a bit used to the unknown, but I usually get in touch with the venues myself so I have some indication as to what the set-up will be. Having said as much, it was a great surprise to find outselves in a campus theater equipped with stereo sound and a 35mm platter projector. More than we needed and were able to make use of, but certainly exciting nonetheless.

This was the third screening of this particular constellation of films and film-performance, and Brigid and I were beginning to get a good sense of What the Program Is. Questions in the after-moments tended to circulate around TJUBA TEN and issues/notions of representation, queries that I was becoming more skillful at leading towards Benjen so he could speak of his own experience as an actor/collaborator. Good stuff. The Anthropology Club sponsored the reception (though only their leader stuck around), and I found myself becoming more conscious of how my/our films were reading to audiences who were mostly unfamiliar with the terms of experimental cinema and contemporary art. Over the last decade of making films/videos, I've had a pretty good run of showing my work to people who are much more versed in its particular language, and it's been quite lovely to see these films vicariously through brand new eyes.

Okay. That's all I've got for now - more to follow...