After a short hiatus, Resident Video is back! This monthly series provides exclusive access to films from emerging artists. This month, we bring Trust Fall, a collaboration between Jeanne Donegan and Eileen Rae Walsh.
While defining post-postmodernism in his 2006 essay “The Death of Post Modernism and Beyond,” the very cynical Alan Kirby writes that “a triteness, a shallowness dominates all” internet-based/influenced cultural production. Even though cultural output produced in the early 2000s already proved Kirby wrong, it seems almost laughable in our current moment (where even memes are rightfully taken very seriously) that meaningful, if not profound, cultural interaction cannot occur online.
Trust Fall is a film made without a camera, sourced from the internet, that not only disregards copyright law, but treats Hollywood blockbusters and user-generated content in the same way. It dismantles Kirby’s misunderstanding of the impact of networked technology. It is also fun, unsettling, and sexy. For us, the film is a perfect example of how contemporary art can use internet-fueled tropes like copy/paste, linking, and co-authorship to probe our relationships with media, history, and sexuality.
In the interview below, we talk to Jeanne and Eileen about the collaboration process, the haptic nature of their work, and much more.
We’re interested in your relationship with “the archive.” Before Trust Fall, Jeanne, you’ve experimented with archival, or found, footage in Come (2016) and Thrill of the Chase (2016), and Eileen, you explore one of the world’s biggest public archive in The Sky (2015) – not to mention your photography exhibitions are (more metaphorically) archival as well. Could y’all talk about how the notion of the archive factors into your work and where Trust Fall fits in?
Eileen: I’m really interested in the search for meaning within the archive — engaging in the internet-spiral, and then surfacing, having extracted a feeling. I’m always considering how photography has absorbed a particular phenomenon (the sky), and then flipping that notion to create moments of pleasure through contact. It is both acknowledging a numbness, a type of hesitation or cynicism when it comes to dealing with images, while maintaining the somewhat romantic notion that it is still possible to have a genuine experience of x.
Jeanne: For me, the use of archival or found imagery is associated with a reflection of contemporary culture. Notions and gestures that we represent over and over again subconsciously are very telling. In Come (2016) I was isolating this specific use of the “come hither” motion as something that is both casual and seductive, yet also a gesture most commonly referred to in tutorials on stimulating a woman’s g-spot. In Thrill of the Chase (2016), it was more about examining the subtle and unsubtle representations of sexism throughout American film. There’s something about amassing an archive that speaks to the permeation of these issues in our culture.
E: When making Trust Fall, working with archival footage felt like a way to articulate something visually that didn’t lean into either of our individual aesthetics too heavily. We wanted to make something that felt truly collaborative.
J: Exactly, we were attempting to articulate, visually, something that was difficult for both of us to find language for. Both of our practices deal with the sensual in different ways. In this instance, we were focusing on a specific sensation of “the gasp” –a provocation that steals the breath from your lungs, and how that moment can be induced by both fear and pleasure.
E: That space is our fertile ground together: the exhilarating combustion of terror and bliss, the physiological and emotional sensation of being alive while also being conscious of its temporality. When talking about sex, death, and the sky, there is fear, pleasure, and even humor. Orchestrating these clips together gave us traction for navigating that space.
There is this perfect moment when Moon-Watcher’s bone spirals down and turns into a ballet dancer rolling off their partner’s shoulder. Is that what the collaboration process for Trust Fall was like? (It’s appropriate to note here that Trust Fall, which takes its name from a team building exercise, came out of a team building exercise called Carpool.)
E: It certainly wasn’t always as succinct as that moment feels. We landed on this idea of trust falling on our drive together to Milwaukee to create this exhibition that we hadn’t talked about at all, previously. Carpool is really great because it removes the privilege of the slow build to a project and forces a true guttural, immediate kind of making. There isn’t a lot of room for second-guessing or ego. You have roughly 48 hours of making before an exhibition takes place.
J: The transition in that scene does seamlessly refer to the concept of a “trust fall” in a way –this vulnerable moment filled with fear and uncertainty that ends in the arms of your best friend. We feel the reason our collaboration was so fruitful was because of a strong foundation of trust we have with one another and an ability to be raw and exposed together. Our process involved sitting beside one another on a couch creating source material folders and constantly saying, “how do you feel about this?” to one another.
In your individual work, you both take traditionally flat mediums and make them more tactile. Eileen, your photos billow off the walls, are stacked and layered on top of each other, include other objects like fluorescent acrylic, and in Slow Stretch (2016) your work interacts with the sculptural works of Sarah and Joseph Belknap, including rocks and metal work. Jeanne, your video work is haptic. In almost all of your films, you enact the sense of touch through focused, uncanny actions.
The tactile is also present in Trust Fall in multiple ways – even the pixilation. How do y’all see this haptic quality in relation to the sometimes tense sexual metaphors running through the film?
J & E: For us, the moments of sexual tension and physical touch exist on the same plane as the moments of natural, cosmic, and idiosyncratic phenomenon in the film. We are oscillating between these micro and macro sensations that, while seemingly disparate, elicit the same physiological sensation of the gasp, but hit a vastly different emotional tone.
Working with found material and choosing to embrace the image resolution of each clip, for us, creates the understanding that these are all things that have been witnessed, recorded, and shared. Within Trust Fall, sensations of touch exist next to images of nuclear bombs that could be mistaken for clouds. The texture of the video allows for this kind of morphing, the psychological swirl of responses that exist within the gasp-spectrum.
Any future collaboration with each other planned?
J & E: Since we created Trust Fall, we’ve been in a constant dialog back and forth about expanding the space between our practices. We’ve learned a lot from each other in a brief period. We recently sat together at one of our favorite bars and talked a lot about orgasms, porn, edging and death. We can’t say specifically what is coming up, but we’ve got a few things tucked away and are actively sharing and collaborating. Stay tuned.
Don’t forget to check out the rest of the Resident Video series. While the films are no longer available, the interviews remain until our servers dissolve.