CAA: Truth or Dare

March 2, 2009

I got to be on one of those panels that really works. Well curated (by Julie Wyman) with people whose projects bounce off each other so that everyone learns. The other four panelists (Lucas Hildebrand, Adele Horne, Liza Johnson, Julia Meltzer and David Thorne), either writing about or making experimental documentary, made my cynical work on YouTube pop. Just as I was holding YouTube to its ubiquitous irony, allowing only for sarcastic, uncontextualized documentary play, here was a table-full of hot contemporary media artists making work, that I must say, was…sincere. Although we were all on the panel because our interests in “documentary” intersect with fictional strategies, the assembled panelists admitted to using fiction to locate truths about diverse people and places usually left unseen. Now, of course, that sounds like traditional, garden variety documentary. But remember, these are the special documentarians using experimental, fictional strategies; the ones that usually question representational practices, truth claims, meaning. Except these artists, while engaging in truly wonderful and creative strategies of performance and scripting with real people (Eliza), or filming people re-enacting their lives (Adele), were shooting with artfully rendered although truly traditional observational or fictional techniques. Julia and David, in the meantime, pushed us all by showing a straight forward cinema verite rendering of a Qur’an School for girls in Syria. Which led me to note some freakish flip, where the experimental part of their documentary practice in the ironic free fall of YouTube and Bush was to seek clarity, true stories, and according to Lucas Hildebrand a “return to history” and an “implicit humanism.” Imagine.