Everyday, people collect and share narratives to help formulate meaning and purpose in their lives. Whether through stories, memories, dreams or cinematic artifacts, my work as an artist reflects my belief that once personal narratives are expressed, distilled and examined, a new mode of awareness can be achieved. This belief has generated two types of work: poetic nonfiction films and videos, and intergenerational video collaborations.
In my film and videos I combine nonfiction and experimental cinematic forms to create meditative visual documents. I strive to capture the essence of personal and individual histories and reconstruct them into new montages in which identity is erased and past and present are intertwined.
To achieve this, I first collect or recreate visual and oral narratives. I have used home videos, visuals suggested by dreams, photographs, well-known paintings from art history, and interviews with men, women and children. Then I review the footage in the editing room and extract moments that provoke emotional and intellectual reflection. Finally, I reassemble the chosen visuals and sounds and use them as inspiration to shoot new imagery. This new imagery is then inter-cut with the original footage.
I consider my films and videos abstract nonfictions. They are visual cinematic journeys, in which viewers are invited to interact with what they see on the screen to create story and meaning by reflecting on their own experiences, ideas and truths.
An extension of my artistic practice is civic engagement. For four years I have been the director of Iowa City Senior Center Television (ICSCTV), where a dozen crewmembers ranging from sixty to eighty-nine-years in age, create six hours of television each month for the Internet and three public access channels. The purpose of this twenty-year-old station is to generate programming that actively confronts stereotypes of the older adult.
In 2006, using my filmmaking practice as an instructional model, I launched the "Linn Street Intergenerational Collective," a series of short and long term collaborative video projects with the Senior Center video crew and students from The University of Iowa. For these collaborations, which have resulted in programs about immigration, race, gender, sexuality and politics, I act as a facilitator, producer and teacher rather than a filmmaker. The ultimate goal of the “Linn Street Collective" lies not only in the videos that the intergenerational producers create, but also in the conversations that occur and the personal reflections that result while making the videos. This collective has offered an opportunity to individuals who have traditionally been socially segregated by age to share their personal stories and in doing so gain a renewed sense of who they are and the society in which they live.
An example of this collaborative effort is a program called “Neighbors and Friends,” co-produced by an eighty-five-year-old self proclaimed lesbian activist and a twenty-eight-year-old graduate student. Every month, this show interviews different religious and community leaders in Iowa City about their opinions regarding homosexuality. This program’s goal is to not extend a certain agenda, but to open up a dialogue among people in the same community, who are of diverse ages, beliefs and backgrounds. To quote the graduate student co-producer: “Until now, I never realized how inclusive and exclusive our society can be. Personal beliefs aside, it’s difficult to not to be inspired by Elsie, a woman who lived a straight life until her Seventies because she was fearful of not being accepted by her friends and family.”
Since it’s launch, “The Linn Street Intergenerational Collective” has produced over forty videos with graduate and undergraduate students from the Cinema department, the School of Art and Art History, the Psychology department, the Spanish department and The School of Social Work. Most recently, the collective has branched out and started a new video diary series with four English Language Learning students from a local high school and four Senior Television Crew members.
In my poetic nonfiction films and videos and my intergenerational collaborations, I seek ways to move beyond making art that is merely an aesthetically pleasing, clever, or entertaining product. Instead, I approach my art as a forum for dialogue and introspection. Our stories and beliefs, the photographs and videos that we make into artifacts so as to lend meaning and purpose to our lives have the capacity to connect people to one another. Whether viewers interacting with what is on the screen or collaborators creating a project, I invite participants to investigate the narratives that formulate identity and to bridge the gaps that separate us.