Installation View: The Promise of Happiness: Stranded Image from the Age of Revolution
Installation View: The Promise of Happiness: Stranded Image from the Age of Revolution, 2016, 4-screen moving image installation; 16 mm film, analog and digital video.
What happens to those joyful, sometimes triumphant, images when those revolutions are destroyed or disappoint? Do they, in turn, become images of failure? What is to become of such images as their meanings become unmoored by the shifting currents of history? Stranded objects is a term used by Eric L. Santner to describe “the labor of recollecting a cultural inheritance fragmented and poisoned by an unspeakable horror.” The question for me is, how do such “stranded objects” become part of a historical narrative that helps transform the present? Or has this history and its artifacts become so much cultural baggage, exhausted, now merely nostalgic impediments to our critical rethinking of the past and original reimagining of the future?
Within this installation, the medium is not only the message, it is history itself. Not just image documents of past struggles, this piece is also an archeology of Cinema, exploring the different ways filmed images have shaped our ideas of revolution—their color, texture, resolution. Their flickering light!
Here I return to my own 1986 film Nicaragua: Hear-Say/See-Here, filmed during the Contra War in Nicaragua in 16mm film, as well as to my more recent digital video The Promise of Happiness Pt #1 Vietnam, shot in Vietnam from 2001-2005. I place these visual accounts in the context of a range of film and video newsreels and other archival materials that documented the Vietnamese and Nicaraguan struggles and their victories. These images are further contextualized by an even earlier moment of film history—that of the Soviet Revolution, in images from the landmark film Earth (Zemlya), (1930) by the Ukrainian director Alexander Dovzhenko. All of these indelible images, placed in relation to one another, become revolutionary narrative exploded! We move among and between these images and geographies, gleaning, often by chance, relationships and contexts and emotions that are as fluid and ephemeral as History itself.