Shelly Silver seems to totally lack humility in terms of the relevance and sustainability of her own project. She takes up space and time with an unusual self-esteem that oozes Reputable Art Filmmaker.
The New York-based artist, photographer and videomaker is previously known for works that deal with the uncertain boundaries between the “Private versus Public”, i.e., the private versus the public sphere. Silver has been represented at what one would call elitist venues – including MoMA, Tate, Berlin, London and the Moscow International Film Festival. Additionally, she is an Associate Professor in the Visual Arts Program at Columbia University.
Ambitious and arrogant? An empty luxury residence is presented in single shots and compiled video triptychs onto a black background. The section is small at the start, before it turns large. Video is being assembled with text. The video section changes within the image, skipping from one side to another. The text is supplemented or repeated by different voice-overs.
The lack of connecting narratives or a red thread creates a distance. At the same time, the overloaded and ambitious bombardment of text and images requires a lot of attention. Silver doesn’t care if we follow or if she takes up too much space. Nor does she care whether the editing, the lighting, the selection of filmed objects or text fragments keeps us interested. A tension occurs in the dissonance between the various elements.
In her insistent belief in the excellency of her own project, she creates a dynamic that offers an entrance. As a spectator, I give in, involuntary and impressed. Captured by the fact that she doesn’t open up to the slightest doubt. Silver works in a monumental way. Not only in terms of ambition, but also in terms of the conceptual interweaving of elements. She works on fine-tuning her inter-conceptual narrative rhythm and her video triptychs.
Seductive, self-ironic, meaningful. The stringency of the numerous triptychs has its own massive and seductive quality. As three coherent units in time with various cuts they both deepen, enrich and elevate each other. The synergy effect of the assembled video footage elevates them from being just observations and objects to become a higher, more striking expression pointing beyond themselves.
The single cuts do not hold the same vitality. It is in the multifaceted that Silver shines – also in a textual manner. She talks about a child’s experience of pain, and further about how a child learns that a cat also feels pain. She makes the spectator aware of the small nuances through an ever-insisting dissonance between the narrator and the text. Or maybe the nuances are not small at all?
«She places intimate everyday objects next to the big questions, social commitment and a trembling conscience.»
Tragedy versus statistics. Early in the film, she takes a leap. A child’s death is a tragedy, thousands of children’s deaths are statistics. Silver asks: “Is there sorrow in knowing one has profited at the expense of someone else?” The answer is a straight forward “No”. Immediately followed by the compulsory and worn out “I feel gratitude”. But with the subsequent sluggish and overstated “Thanks”, the humor becomes clear. It is the humour that shows the way to Silver’s standpoint. She ironizes over her own affiliation to the privileged class, using arbitrary humour and clever assemblies to balance her project.
At the same time, Silver is able to thematize aggression, war and exploitation, while keeping the visual within a luxurious comfort zone. An elaborate iron gate is shown in different sections. A crowded walkin-closet in triptych shots. Ditto marble sinks with golden taps. Silver uses the house as a metaphor. The house has openings. Thus, the house can be entered and this makes it vulnerable. The home – the female safety and the bastion – is, through Silver’s editing, made as vulnerable as the female body. Silver addresses a highly current topic with an unfamiliar and new approach. Her compiled project that at first seemed irritating and self-absorbed to me, I now rather experience as having a bold freshness that offers new opportunities. Silver’s perspective opens up too many layers of reflection, and her inexhaustible confidence and play space in this project, is inspiring.
A Knausgård move. Half-way through the film a change takes place. Worn out children’s shoes and knotted belts are being filmed. Close-ups of dirty dishes. Silver has clearly managed to make an act of genius which corresponds to that of Knausgård. Triviality is being taken to a higher level. Forgotten socks. Worn out pink plastic sandals. A stained bathrobe thrown onto an exclusive bourgeois staircase. A forgotten razor next to a dirty mirror. A lined up, alienated mop. Things most women stay away from in their work if they want to achieve serious positions in society as open-minded and socially critical debaters.
Silver continues in a professional manner. She places intimate everyday objects next to the big questions, social commitment and a trembling conscience. She is like an alchemist mixing elements to create a new higher, wiser entity. The work offers a meditative experience along the way. The start is a bit uneven and the form requires, as mentioned, time to get used to. But eventually, Silver shows off her skills, orchestrating the pace of the different sections that fly across the screen. She triples her own triptychs. Plays them like piano keys. She has multi-faceted voiceovers who work both with and against each other. The audacious use of sound includes roaring, orgasms, moaning, crying and punishing whipping. A solid sequence is birds first at rest and then escaping accompanied by the sound of a chasing helicopter.
Nailing it. The use of compiled sound in an original way, and humour, keep the film from moving into pomposity. Thus, by applying a fragmented and stringent style, Silver can place war, plunder and poverty in a relief next to the lavish interiors and exteriors. The many shots of the automatic watering systems in the gardens of the houses have speed, power and empathy. In other, minor observations there are meeting points between the private and the aggression that apparently is kept safe outside. This is seen in a triptych consisting of a plastic gun, a well-used target and plastic sandals. Silver is a confident conductor of her own elements. She knows how to keep her own project on a tight rope. She makes up for the lack of humility with other moves. Three times, personal questions that lead to a bad conscience and sense of inadequacy, are being answered with a straightforward “No”. Shelly Silver’s irony nails the expected response by those she addresses.