December 4, 2012
by Whitney Dail
H.M. (2009) by Kerry Tribe. Double projection of a single 16mm film, 18:30 minutes loop Installation view, 1301PE, Los Angeles. Photo: Fredrik Nilson, courtesy of Kerry Tribe
This year, Los Angeles-based filmmaker Kerry Tribe was one of twenty-three artists to receive a visual arts grant from Creative Capital. Tribe will work with health professionals and aphasic patients over the next two years to develop The Language of Forgetting, a large-scale experimental film, video, and installation piece about aphasia, a communication disorder that occurs when the language center of the brain is injured. By working with patients and scientists, Tribe seeks to explain and mimic the disorder through a combination of sound and video. Her project is the result of an ongoing interest in, what she calls, “the phenomenology of memory.” We wanted to know more about her plans for The Language of Forgetting, so we spoke to Tribe through a brief email Q&A.
NEA: Can you tell me a little about The Language of Forgetting and how you conceived the project?
KERRY TRIBE: The Language of Forgetting investigates the neurological condition of aphasia through the language of moving image, sound, and installation. A few years ago, I made a film installation called H.M. that explored the true story of Patient H.M., a man with no long-term episodic memory; he would forget everything that happened to him within about 20 seconds. H.M. describes the condition of amnesia in a (relatively) traditional documentary style while simultaneously producing the experience of short-term memory loss for the viewer by looping the 16mm film through two projectors with a 20 second delay between the images. I see The Language of Forgetting as a continuation of the work I did for H.M., as a project that will both describe the condition of aphasia for the viewer and also “produce” some aspect of the aphasiac experience by playing with the dissociation of images and words.
NEA: What inspired your artistic interest in aphasia?
TRIBE: I’ve been consistently interested in neurological processes and in the ways that the formal aspects of film and video can mirror processes of cognition. If you’re not familiar with the term, aphasia is a cognitive impairment that affects the language centers of the brain. It has many forms, but generally manifests as an inability to remember words or name objects, or as profound difficulties in speaking, reading, or writing. Basically, it is a radical disorder of linguistic communication. As such, aphasia seems like a particularly apt subject for documentary film, in that it might problematize the medium’s basic assumptions: the existence of subjects who are capable of coherent self-expression, and of an audience able to receive and rationally interpret others’ experiences
NEA: How have aphasic patients and researchers responded to your project?
TRIBE: The project is in its early stages, but the scientists and researchers I have approached to date have been very receptive and are putting me in touch with patients. One of the things that I enjoy about my artistic practice is the opportunity to collaborate across disciplines.
NEA: Since The Language of Forgetting is a work-in-progress, what is the expected outcome and timeline?
TRIBE: Generally when I begin a project I have an idea of what it will turn out to be, but ultimately the process determines the outcome. What I can say at this point is that the project will have aspects that can be exhibited in museums and art galleries, and will also most likely result in an experimental film that may travel to festivals. My aim is to create a work that both in its production and reception will bring together disparate communities: patients, scientists, researchers, and audiences of contemporary art and film. I expect the work to be completed in early 2014.
NEA: In what ways can your creative inquiry be applied to existing research on the subject of aphasia?
TRIBE: It’s too early to tell with this project, but in previous collaborations with scientists I have found that for them, approaching their subjects from a radically different, often more philosophical and creative perspective tends to generate new and productive insights.
NEA: Are there any specific insights into the neurological condition that you hope to convey with The Language of Forgetting?
TRIBE: Primarily, I’m interested in developing formal strategies through this work that will allow viewers a more empathic, experiential understanding of what it might be like to live with these kinds of communicative disorders.
NEA: What do you see is the connection between art and science?
TRIBE: The connections between art and science are too vast to enumerate! I think that there is a tendency to place art and science at opposite poles, in that we generally think of art as being the realm of fantasy, and science the realm of reality. But I tend to think of art and science as fundamentally similar endeavors. Both artists and scientists are engaged in forms of cultural production that generate new knowledge and insights into the workings of the world.