ATC Revisited: Kerry Tribe

31 Oct, 2018

ATC Revisited: Kerry Tribe

Recap by KC Forcier, the 2018-2019 Graduate Liaison for the Art, Technology, and Culture Colloquium

"Image and Amnesia" — Kerry Tribe on Film, Memory and Empathy

“I’ve never thought of myself as a new media artist,” Tribe commented before her ATC lecture last Monday night, “but it’s true that film was new media once.” Tribe’s extensive body of film and video art is as preoccupied with questions about the medium of film as with the question of human memory and perception. Tribe uses the unique constraints and affordances of film to tackle the “hard problem of consciousness.” Multi-screen or looped projections interrogate the temporal dimensions of memory, while the documentary qualities of her works raise the issue of photography’s relationship to the real.

H.M., her 2009 piece about a famous amnesiac, centers on the story of a man who underwent experimental brain surgery in 1953, after which he was unable to retain new memories longer than the 20-seconds of typical short-term memory. The two-screen projection is comprised of a single strip of film threaded through two projectors, so that the same image is played twice, at a twenty-second delay. The piece’s documentary images of news events and public figures evoke photography’s capacity to repeat the past, while the materiality of the celluloid film-strip looping through the projectors suggest the potential decay of memory.

In revisiting one of her earliest pieces, Here and Elsewhere from 2002, Tribe commented on photography’s relationship to death and the past. Tribe was struck by the pathos of looking back at the individuals documented by the film fifteen years ago, knowing they no longer exist. The young girl whose perceptions as a ten-year-old are the central focus of the piece is now an adult woman; and her father, who interviews her in the film (film scholar Peter Wollen), is today a profoundly changed man suffering from memory loss. “The piece accidently performed something I was interested in working through,” Tribe observed, referring to photography’s ability to embalm time.

One of Tribe’s most recent pieces looks not at memory or the past, and instead focuses on photography’s unstable relationship to the real. Standardized Patient (2017) is comprised of documentary footage of actors hired to portray patients in simulations for the training of medical students. The piece is a compelling meditation on the everyday performance of the self, and the possibility of connection and empathy via layers of simulation, mediation or performance. Standardized Patient foregrounds the humanism at the center of Tribe’s two decades of work: her study of perception and mediation is always ultimately about how we feel we know one another.

2018 ATC: Kerry Tribe