Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Framing the Frame

Dear friends,

During my most recent silences I have been thinking about what a blog is or does and worrying that in addition to keeping a public record of what one is thinking and doing the blog also seems to be a record of what one is not thinking and doing. And yet it is impossible to be exhaustive and it is even exhausting to do the possible. So there are many live performances, conference talks, and many thoughts about art and artists that I want to describe to and for you here. But I am also thinking about what it means to say these things and not others. I gave myself the task of sticking to creative practice in here, because once I begin to talk about other things that are very present on my mind -- all the suffering around me, for example -- I will be saying enough to fill ten thousand blogs, and, frankly, I have to do other things to make a living.

There is also something else. Since childhood I have had an understanding of my mission to be a bearer of good news and good energy. The older I have gotten, the more important I have felt this mission to be. I know you can become overpowered by all of the soul-killing forces out there if you don't study and seek out what is good -- not just what has been good or will be good, but what is good. If you're from my culture, you might have heard somebody ask, "What you know good?" in place of "What's happening?" or "What's up?" But only recently have I truly tried to think of something good to tell somebody when they ask me that question. In any case, I will say that right now, that my mind has been on suffering and lately the sadness I feel has been escalating. I think the same is true of Keith. We are thinking of what to do with this feeling as artists and world citizens.

In the meantime, in an effort to avoid the mind-numbing effects of commercial media when we're having downtime, we've been watching a lot of the Public Broadcasting Service -- which, interestingly has commercials lately, have you noticed? Or perhaps I should say: has to have commercials, now, due to budget cuts for public television. Lately we've been watching a lot of In the Life, which has been as wonderful, as usual, instructive -- though also flawed. We heard maybe one person of color on the last show; others have been better. Then last night we watched a documentary about political prisoners in Burma on Frontline/World. I wrestled with the ethics of reporting -- using hidden cameras to shoot after someone says not to take photos or he and his family will be harmed. The reporter, Evan Williams risked the lives and well-being of people who weren't willing to make those sacrifices. But he also clearly allowed people who wanted to make those sacrifices to be heard. I came away feeling so much sadness for the people suffering everywhere. Thinking about Louisiana, Mississippi. People abandoned by their own government. And then today the headline reads: "In the process of attacking Senator John Kerry over remarks about Iraq, President Bush brought renewed attention to the war." It's an election year. Have we forgotten the war? Many may hope we have.


Two nights last week we watched a documentary by Laura Poitras called My Country, My Country. The documentary follows Dr. Riyadh who works in a free clinic in Iraq ends up running for office in the provincial council. I was most moved by the conversations that happened in his home, especially those that involved women. I don't know if, as a woman, I identified more with them, or if is that I am just so hungry to see what women think about war around the world that I paid more attention. What I appreciate most about Poitras' view is that she shows the framing devices. In the trailer you can see an American politician, standing in front of a backdrop, but Poitras shoots so you can see the sky around the top and sides of that backdrop, framing the frame. That gesture underscores the necessity of looking at the bigger picture, the context in which he is saying what he is saying. She includes her own voice in the film, so we know / don't forget that when Dr. Riyadh looks at the camera, he is talking to an American woman. When Dr. Riyadh talks to her, you feel the distance, sometimes hesitation, judgment, and it is highlighted by what we see when she films other US American journalists interviewing and filming him. Different distances, different hesitations, judgments. Her shots show us that there are silences and help us to look for the silences. It helps us read when we hear US military personnel talk about loss and making connections to both other US American soldiers and Iraqi citizens. What is getting held back with the voice cracks? When someone pauses before answering a question?

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