Editor’s note: This blog post is a letter sent by Eric to the participants in preparation for his workshop with the Spring Sessions.
The year I lived in Jordan, the summer was the hottest on record. It drove me a little bit crazy and I have been recovering ever since. I’m not yet healed. Though it is summer again, and I can imagine the khamseen occupying my dreams, I am eager to return to Amman to see old friends, eat my favorite foods and meet all of you. Does the hotel have air conditioning?
I wanted to write a post here so that you have some idea of what I am thinking and where I am coming from. I am most interested, as always in my work, in the conversations that surround it, and in the idea of conversation more broadly (literally, the intimacy or “living among” but also the mutual coexistence of a statement and its reversal). So I hope that these ideas are just the beginning of a path that leads somewhere else.
My initial question/idea is this: what does it look like for two strangers, from different and politically/culturally opposed parts of society, to occupy the same space at the same time and to stare deeply into each others’ eyes? Can they come to some sort of comfort? My thought was to construct a camera that can record two people staring into the camera but also into each others’ eyes.
This idea comes in part from my observation while living in Jordan that it is made up of so many people from so many other places, many of whom came from conflict and who are trying to make a space for themselves in a new land. Most conflicts happen when it is impossible to separate people (through space or time) who are different from one another. We human beings can compartmentalize, placing our fears, angers, insecurities, hatred into little rooms that we need not access… until these emotions take form in another human being, staring at you in the same room or on the same street. Then these emotions flood back and form into actions. What might it look like if we go back to the moment these emotions are unlocked from their rooms? Is it possible to create alternative actions through dialogue, conversation, and connection? If a photograph can only be made in physical proximity to its subject (and I know there are exceptions to this), then does the physical presence demanded by a camera create an alternative space for social interaction?
I came to this from many different places and I wanted to share with you some of the things that perhaps brought me to this place so you can start thinking about it too. I am not sure how these ideas relate to each other, or even if they do at all.
Something Kaelen Wilson-Goldie said in a recent piece in Artforum about Meeting Points 7 (seen in its entirety here; the whole thing, like most of what she writes, is masterful):
That “looking, thinking and listening” together at the exhibition were rendered “all the more meaningful in such close proximity to the violence next door.”
Jordan seems in a near constant state of proximity to violence. What if looking, thinking and listening were an antidote? Is listening contagious; can looking and thinking permeate borders ?
As I’ve explained this idea to people, this keeps coming up as a reference.
I look into the eyes of people on Skype more and more often. But on Skype, suspending for a moment the notion that the screen divides, my eyes are not aiming at the other’s eyes; rather, I am looking at the camera or my own image. And she is looking at me, but it looks like she is looking down. She breaks up into undecipherable pixels, as though she is morphing or transporting somewhere else entirely.
I have friends of every race, religion, sexual orientation, from several different countries and who speak several different languages.
But I cannot think of a single friend of mine who is a Republican.
Why does politics divide so strongly? Is this an American thing, an urban thing; that we can so easily compartmentalize ourselves into lives in which we need not face people with opposing views? Is it a luxury or a detriment? Is it because I am an artist?
This project, where the photographer, Richard Renaldi, asks strangers to touch each other as they pose for the camera.
When I worked at a darkroom in San Francisco, I came into work at 4 p.m., worked until midnight, clocked out and then continued working in the darkroom printing my personal pictures until 4 or 5 in the morning. 12 hours in the dim red light, breathing in fumes, listening to the same album on repeat, slowly descending into a state of semiconsciousness. I felt like I owned that space. I knew every inch of the air in the room, the cracks in the walls, the corners of the ceiling. And I went home and slept and woke up and came back into work at 4 p.m. the next day. When I arrived, someone else was in the darkroom. He had been there for 12 hours, like me. The same room was his now.
Hotels are also fixed spaces (100 rooms, a lobby, a pool, a parking lot) but through these static spaces cycle many different lives. One night, a room may be a site for intimacy, perhaps the first night lovers spend together. The next, the same room may host a lonely businessman traveling to visit his dying parents. And the next, a cot is brought in for the older couple who no longer shares the same bed. The whole thing works because these different people occupy the same space at different times. The cleaning staff plays a pivotal role: the businessman does not conceive of what happened in his bed the previous night.
Questioner: “What were you trying to achieve [by using the Interrotron]?”
Errol Morris: “The first person. When someone watches my films, it is as though the characters are talking to directly to them… There is no third party.”
I think we should watch The Act of Killing together. It may be the best movie I’ve ever seen. I know, that is a big claim. But it so changes everything we know about who is watching who, and it places us in proximity to the things that we never would claim to know anything about, like being a perpetrator of violence.