"Fractured Selves" by Gearóid Dolan. May, 2021
Fractured Selves is an experimental interactive website: a form of self-portrait documentary that brings together my four public personas
and examines their histories and points of conflation and diversion. Interactive elements allow for a non-linear consuming of the content
and user directed navigation through four timelines, one for each character. As users travel through these timelines, points of intersection
between them are highlighted and users can jump back and forth between them at these locations. Each timeline is populated with roving
animated characters, clickable buttons for asides along with the main interview talking head video sections.
The content of the primary interview videos are a hybrid of live talking head video and background video with animated cut-out photo parts
providing highly stylized moving images accompanied by “natural” spoken voice. Each of the four characters, with interventions and comments
by a host, offers a series of personal testimonies that are the backbone organizing the visuals, providing a structure for the complex
interaction of images. Each series comprises a historical survey, starting with childhood experiences, and examines how these developed
into the fully-fledged personas that now exist. In the style of a Zoom video seminar, each of the four personas and the host, chat,
against backdrops of video content. The effect is a somewhat surreal black and white photo/video collage world that is referring to
subjective memories of real events and histories. Linear video sequences, photographs, pdfs and other media depicting examples or
details of items discussed and other aside content, are separated out from the main timeline content in pop-up windows.
2. Project Description
In my public life I live in different spaces with compartmentalized different public
personas (online and IRL), each with a different name and each stemming from different elements of myself that have roots that stretch back into my childhood.
My activist artworks are branded as screaMachine works and that is the name I use for exhibitions and festivals.
screaMachine has a website, YouTube channel, Soundcloud, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook pages,
is featured on many art sites and publications, and produces many IRL public interactions
and is involved with many galleries and events.
My dance music productions and DJ persona is under the name G-man.
Online G-man has a presence on various recording artist sites and a
Soundcloud, Facebook and Instagram page and IRL DJs and performs live events.
My costume/fashion design work and club scene persona goes under the name Gerhardt Dekunst who has Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts.
IRL Gerhardt Dekunst creates custom fashion and costume commissions and is a presence in the New York underground nightclub scene.
My martial arts practice and jujitsu teaching name is Sensei G.
Online Sensei G has a website, Facebook page, Google Meet classroom and
YouTube channel and teaches IRL and practices Eizan-Ryu Jujitsu regularly in a dojo in East Harlem.
All of the above, while having a lot of intersectional cross-over, have distinct separate public lives, social media presences and followers.
screaMachine is my nearest and dearest because it is the expression of my social consciousness, my politics, my core beliefs. At the same
time it is my least personal... Represented in a stark black and white aesthetic, screaMachine works exist in many media, often mimicking the
look of propaganda posters and advertisements. The “persona” of screaMachine is non-descript, a background figure to the manufacturing of art
and a silent performer in the works. As a projection of self, screaMachine is a series of assemblages of ideas and opinions, more than a
Gerhardt Dekunst is a flamboyant and bigger than life expression of my self, my gender identity, my place or lack of such in society...
Gerhardt is a person, a physical presence that engages with people IRL, often in a nightclub, on the dance floor and online.
There are many people who only know me as Gerhardt. Originally created as a Facebook identity to separate out my work life from my personal life,
that I did not want to share with my co-workers or students, it took on a life of its own and became my dominant social media persona.
G-man music is an exuberant, abstract expression of musical joy... Because dance music tends towards abstraction, is apolitical, my existence
as G-man is removed from opinionated conversations and is free from any concerns beyond producing content that is enjoyable and unconstrained.
It is a space where I liberate myself from myself, and create from a joyful spontaneous and emotional center.
Sensei G provides a public service teaching self-defense without compensation at a not- for-profit dojo and, since CoVid19, has been offering
free classes online. For me, jujitsu is a discipline in movement arts and a way to maintain my broken, otherwise disabled, body with a functional
degree of mobility. It is also a practice that brings me great joy and fulfillment.
As the subjects of this work, these four personas, or characters as I will refer to them for the purpose of this text, are examined in terms of
their parallel and intersecting histories, through their individual subjective and even conflicting testimonies. They offer an insight into the
nature of memory, personal history and the very nature of what constitutes identity.
I use these testimonies, the interactive and non-linear nature of the presentation, the ancillary documents and the surreal space housing all the above,
to examine what we think of as ourselves and what projections of our selves we offer to the world and what projections the world imposes on or demands of us.
What comprises a personal identity or a structure that could be called a “self”, may seem at first obvious, as it is not something we generally
call into question. We just are and it just is. But different disciplines of study find it hard to define and often have very different understandings
and languages to try to describe personhood. (Mathews et al. 2). Neuroscience tries to understand what it is in relation to physical structures and
functions of the brain and how they effect our interactions with the world, thus requiring a physical body or at least a working brain to be present.
Philosophers have many, often
conflicting, ideas on how to define the self, most of them centered on how we relate to each other and don’t necessitate a body at all... a person
may be defined, not as an individual but a larger, or even smaller, structure that relates to others in a certain way. Psychiatrists look at our
behavior and often differentiate between personality and identity, such that personality can change while identity remains fixed (3). To me these
views are merely different facets of the same object. Philosopher Carol Rovane writes “the existence of a person... is always bound up with the
exercise of effort and will” and as such is founded on the creation and continuation of commitments, which can include things like adherence to a
political cause, a religion, a fitness regimen, a career and marriage. By this definition, changes in one’s commitments can produce a different
person and the loss of commitments can mean the loss of identity (5). Rovane’s peer, Mayra Schechtman speaks of a “forensic person”, that identity
is connected to “the ability to enter into moral and contractual commitments and to form a narrative conception of himself or herself,” which implies
there are levels of personhood relative to our ability to interact in the world and reflect upon it (2). Neurologist Samuel Barondes’ points out that
we “show different faces of ourselves in different contexts” producing differing reactions from others, without being different people when we do that.
He believes we are “the same person – replete with the inconsistencies and contingent behaviours and the unconscious motives and the self-deceptions
that each of us has in considerable measure,” thus arguing that we don’t become different people over time and under changes of circumstances, but
may alter our behavior in response to change (7). I see reflections on all the above in my own history and the basis of my multiple projections of
self fits into the notions of different contexts, different commitments and self-awareness of this compartmentalization.
This project presents a personal case study that provides much of the data needed to examine this question from all these perspectives, implying
the questions to the viewer and encouraging the debate. The question of identity is pushed to the front: which am I? And which reality is the truth?
Karen Barad says, in Nature's Queer Performativity “Identity is a phenomenal matter; it is not an individual affair. Identity is multiple within
itself; or rather, identity is diffracted through itself—identity is diffraction /difference /differing /deferring /differentiating” (125), and
many reflecting on the subject find this manifesting in different ways for their perceived “differences”. In NOPE (a manifesto) artist E. Jane
writes : “I am not an identity artist just because I am a Black artist with multiple selves” (Russel 17), as she experiences the “double consciousness”
coined by WEB Dubois when discussing the experiences of Black Americans (Boxill 2), something similar to the “demographic duality” experiences of the
colonized (Fanon 9). In defining difference, we separate: “Difference... is that which undermines the very idea of identity... It subverts the
foundations of any affirmation or vindication of value” (Trinh 15). Many of us find multiple intersectional identities forced upon us by society as
we straddle multiple definitions like immigrant or colonized, or queer, or Black, or Asian and on. “Many people think of “intersectional” as a
stand-in for “most marginalized.” But that’s problematic, partly because “intersectional” isn’t an identity in itself, but also because “most
marginalized” is so often defined by our own blind spots, created by whatever privilege we may have.
Even those of us with disadvantaged identities have more power than some others. U.S. citizens have more power than immigrants; documented immigrants
more than undocumented; undocumented children over undocumented adults.” (Sen).
In Tongues Untied, Marlon Riggs attempts to find “the convergence of the two” (Kleinhans and Lesage 120), race and sexuality, such a complex state in
this country, Black and gay... Duality comes up again and
again for many people. Trinh T. Minh-ha speaks of the plurality of naming in Vietnam where you can be 3 names at once (Mayne 8). In Ireland we all
have 2 versions of our names, the Irish and the English versions, unless like my first name, the Irish is used for both, while my surname is different
in each language: all official signs, street signs, directions, legal documents are always in both languages too, and anything published by the
government... this leads to a bifurcation of identity, where some see those of us using the Irish versions as different, maybe nationalist or
anti-imperialist or anti-colonial, or folksy, but not “normal.” In the republic of Ireland, people do not distinguish between the two, both are one,
though you may be judged for using the native (I was berated as a child by the other children for my “weird” non-English name, as discussed by the
Sensei G character in their timeline). For example, my Dad’s name is Gerard, the English form of Gearóid. Before Irish driver’s licenses had photos,
I was able to use my dad’s license along with my photo id (hoping they did not look at the birth date). People do not care that one says Gerard and
the other Gearóid. In Northern Ireland, however, each is on one side of the sectarian divide in opposition: you cannot be both. For Trinh, this
multiplicity makes it more understandable when she speaks of the apparent division between truth and fiction: it makes sense that both can exist and
the “artifice of boundaries” only pops up when one examines it closer, like finding Schrödinger’s cat alive or dead, thus, “every representation of
truth involves elements of fiction” (Mayne 8). I play with this notion that the multiple selves depicted can be and are, in conflict with each other
in depicting the “truth” of my story, my identity. My project centers on these various, often ill-defined identities. Growing up in Ireland the
conflict between being Irish and consuming British media, playing with British toys, listening to British music, constantly comes up. This is
reminiscent of Fanon’s description of the colonized children dreaming of luxury goods (Fanon 69), to have what the oppressors have and achieve it
have, as if what they offer as example (like with consumer goods) is the only option. To be rejected in my own country as being a deviant, a pariah
due to non-compliance to gender roles was very problematic in Ireland because being Irish was already such a fragile identity. Exiting that for a new
life in another country brings with it the identity of immigrant, and the layers of that, starting with the lowest level, undocumented adult (Sen).
3. My Relationship to This Subject
Four years ago my life changed dramatically: I was laid off from a wonderful job that I held for almost two decades and that was an integral part of my
self-identity. I had difficulty finding employment and within a year my wife of 11 years took off leaving me unemployed and alone. According to Rovane,
the loss of these two significant commitments necessitates that I became someone else... I see it somewhat differently: I recognized the loss and actively
set about reinventing myself, embarking on a voyage of self-examination and discovery and took it upon myself to rebuild my life including updating my
qualifications. Through this process I have increased my skills, my knowledge and my self- awareness, and as I
approach the final leg of this journey I think it is befitting to create a project that caps this process of self-evaluation and expanded creativity.
It is also a product of the past year of isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic, which reduced me to hermit-like, wallowing in this world of self and
forced new ways of existing in the world. All this has brought into question the very nature of me and of my identity and how I present that to the
This project is an analysis of my multi-faceted public presence. In this current moment where we are all offering avatars of ourselves to the world as
our social stand-ins, this notion of having this kind of presence, whether online or in real life, is a part of modern living and something we all have
to deal with on some level. My compartmentalizing of different aspects of my self is not a new thing, not specific to an online world. I have had these
public presentations of myself for decades, more in the real world than online, though as social media has advanced, so has the online presence of each
of these characters. They do somewhat represent different qualities of me, ones that, while they have a lot of crossover, do exist as separated
entities, which allows me to afford more clarity in each of the directions they represent.
I do not normally make art about my gender identity, or about my identity as Irish, or the abuse I suffered at the hands of educators or about being an
immigrant, or about my issues with disability. My art, as represented by screaMachine, was always about the bigger picture, world politics, war, climate
change, civil rights etc. My presence was curatorial, was more about my opinions in choosing the subject matter than being the subject matter directly.
In this project I am allowing myself to discuss and expose the personal, which should help me grow and may be useful to others. I am diving deep into my
personal history, my fantasies and inaccurate memories and rendering them in the forms that are true to my passions, which are animation, collage, black
and white photography and filmmaking and audio works. All of these housed in an interactive structure that allows the user to find their own path
through this somewhat surreal landscape of animated characters and content from the histories of these four characters.
4. Representation of the Subject, Media and Style
Given that this is a project created during COVID-19 lockdown and about characters that only exist as unique and separate in public projections,
especially online and almost exclusively so since the pandemic, I thought it appropriate to structure it around the mode of communication
and social interaction that has become our lives during lockdown, that of the Zoom meeting or webinar. But it is also about fragmentation and
subjectivity and the non-linear structure of memory, so I built this fragmentation and non-linearity into it by making it an interactive project that
requires the viewer/participant to piece together the evidence to create an overview of the subject. And it has a density and difficulty of readability
that calls for interpretation and subjectivity from the viewers. No two people will experience it the same way, see all the same material in the same
order or through the same lens. With many hours of content, from the four sets of testimonies to all the supporting materials and the content
populating the interim spaces, it offers a multitude of possible deep dives to examine otherwise hidden relationships between parts and nobody will
experience it all. It is a world that you get to visit and journey through with the knowledge you have only had a partial view. It is structured
somewhat simply too, so a superficial, fairly linear perusal of the content is also possible: the viewer chooses the level of depth they experience.
Research for this project had two major elements, that of the historical nature of the content and how that related to the subjective nature of memory,
and the context of this work in its presentation as an artwork and the cross disciplinary questions regarding documentary, psychology and philosophy it
is addressing. For my personal history, I have scoured the family photo archives and questioned my family members for clarification. But I was not so
interested in an exact history, more in creating a version of my perception of my history. I gathered every image and video of me that I could find for
potential use in the project and as a way of stimulating further recall. Locating, scanning and indexing all these helped to hone down the stories to be
presented and led to many insights. This process, to some degree, was dangerous to the fragile nature of subjective memory: it has been shown that
memories are formed and stored by creating strong neural pathways, shored up by repeated recall (Ofen 1708). But recall can be indistinct and open to
suggestion: looking at photographs tends to supplant the original memories with this fixed moment version of it, as it cohabitates the recall, just as
poor recall can morph the memories into further and further removed versions, as shown in studies of the veracity of recall in eye witness testimony
(Migueles and Garcia‐Bajos 257). I was hyper aware that the
process of research might change my memories and found that in fact many of the memories were already fixed by previous viewings of these photographs and
video clips... This then also became part of the project as the photographs which represent the events of the past are also analogs of the memories they
supplanted, and create a feedback loop where this new presentation of them will supplant again and the project’s presentations will become part of my
memory bank. Hence the project becomes an appropriate devise to discuss memory, self and identity. Chris
Marker remarks on the supplanting of memory when he points out that pictures or film can replace the memories as fixed instead of interpreted: “I remember
the images I filmed of the month of January. They have substituted themselves for my memory. They are my memory” (Rosenstone 156). This too has been
shown in perceptive psychology studies. Many subjects will remember the same scene differently. The concept of a shared reality is quite removed from
what memory is capable of achieving, “allowing for the speaking of more than one kind of truth, of even contradictory truths” and that our idea of
history consisting “of data arranged into neat building blocks, each one a part of a grand edifice of knowledge” is impossible (165) . The well known
phrase that history is written by the victors comes to mind... Rosenstone speaks of how everything can be represented differently “depending upon who
sits at the board of control” (166). In Ireland history had to be rewritten after the revolution, from our perspective, like a history of the US written
by Native Americans... Rosenstone says Marker goes one step further with his work, suggesting that “we must learn to create our own histories... public
history is no more than a collective dream” (165).
In this process of creating my own histories, multiple parallel histories, I encounter the lack of evidence and for the purpose of this project, created
artificial artifacts as stand-ins for these voids. Marita Sturken, speaking of Rea Tajiri’s “History and Memory” where she “presents video as memory...
as a means to construct countermemories to history” (Sturken 5), asks: “Where are the memories of those events for which there are no witnesses?... Where
are the unphotographed images?” (6).
Recreation in documentary is a device that can be “fixing” of how to view an event unless it is offered in multiple ways like Errol Morris’ “The Thin Blue
Line”, Linda Williams says “Truth is "not guaranteed" and cannot be transparently reflected by a mirror with a memory” and suggests Morris “digs toward
an impossible archeology, picking at the scabs of lies which have covered over the inaccessible originary event” (Williams 316). By offering multiple
timelines of the events of the past I acknowledge this lack of certainty and by presenting with different versions of myself point to myself, my own
memory, as the source of this ambiguity.
Following the amassing of biographical media, I did extensive image searches for objects, locations and other items I needed to create the collaged and
animated content. This included the dolls, action figures and other toys I played with, the comics I read and the tools used to beat me, the uniform of
the marching band I played in and anything else I needed to create the planned scenes. I further researched details about the places, events and
institutions that were part of the stories. For instance, the elementary school I was in had just converted from an “industrial school”, essentially a
prison for boys and was staffed and run the same way. I researched its history and the history of abuse there. In 2000 The Commission into Irish Child
Abuse released its findings and it has a whole chapter on my school’s past. This research not only informed my story and understanding of what I
experienced but also became part of the archive of secondary content offered in the project. I also grew up during “The Troubles”, the fighting in
Northern Ireland between the Irish freedom fighters (or terrorists depending on your perspective) and the occupying British forces. I reviewed Irish
history and records of events I remember, especially as related to British paramilitary forces planting bombs in Dublin where I lived. As many of these
research tracks covered periods when I was a child, they informed me of relationships I was not aware of when they were happening, such as the limited
access of Irish children to toys that were not British. So I played with action figures that were representations of British soldiers, dressed identically
to those who in real life were killing Irish people in the North. As a child I did not make that connection but researching the toys I played with and
the history of “The Troubles” and doing image searches on both, brought this to light and added to my understanding on how my identity as Irish was formed,
and allowed me to include this finding as part of the project.
In “The Oppositional Gaze”, Bell Hooks states that “To stare at the television, or mainstream movies, to engage its images, was to engage its negation
of black representation” (Hooks 117) something very similar to being Irish growing up watching British TV and films (prior to Ireland developing its
own TV and film industry)... little to no representation of Irish people and when they were represented they were there for comic relief as fools, as
the other, as a contrast to “regular/normal” people, just like Hooks describes looking at Amos & Andy and Our Gang. “we laughed with the black men,
with the white people. We laughed at this black woman [Saphire in Amos & Andy] who was not us... her black female image was not the body of desire.
There was nothing to see. She was not us.” (120) Again reminds me of my experiences laughing at the depictions of the dumb Irish cavorting comically
on screen for the amusement of the English creators... and they were funny (such as the Irish builder featured in Fawlty Towers, played by a real and
quality Irish actor belittling and lampooning himself) but they were not us... and at the same time as I laughed, I felt shame... Hooks describes the
older viewers resenting “the way she was mocked... the way these screen images would assault”. (131) Hooks quotes Stuart Hall saying that identity is
constituted “not outside but within representation... as that form of representation which is able to constitute us as new kinds of subjects and
thereby enable us to discover who we are”. Here representation becomes the enabler of self-identity... Just as one can have memories without photos
one can have identity without representation, but once depicted in this fixed medium it can supplant and replace.
This project is an amalgam of different media housed under the umbrella of interactive web presentation and as such reflects traditions and practices
from a number of diverse spaces. In terms of style it adopts the black and white stylings of early film and photographic media, which started as the
only choice but later persisted as a formal quality that enhances and focuses attention, much in the same way as Eisenstein and the early Russian
filmmakers rejected sound as it was developed for film, due to its interference with the formal qualities in montage editing. It also reflects the
use of the photocollage and its black and white roots seen in agitprop art, dada (notably John Heartfield) and other commentators on propagandist
styles including the resurgence in the 70’s and 80’s as part of the punk movement. Mixed into that aesthetic along the way is the addition of animated
movement seen in the works of Jan Lenica, Stan VanDerBeek and Terry Gilliam, often resulting in a hybrid of surrealist landscapes and imagery combined
with political commentary and humor. Add in the rather ugly and fixed aesthetic of the Zoom meeting, that space we have all been forced to live in
for the past year, as the structure within which the main content is presented, and you get a styling that spans the entire history of lens based
When I think of the web as a new form of public space, I think of it as expansive and user generated, unconfined, but this is in part aspirational and
part of my experiences in the early days of web 1.0. Now we see constraints and corralling into capitalized spaces as is the concern of Tim Berners-Lee
when he speaks of how “Your social-networking site becomes a central platform—a closed silo of content, and one that does not give you full control over
your information in it. The more this kind of architecture gains widespread use, the more the Web becomes fragmented, and the less we enjoy a single,
universal information space.” (Berners-Lee 82) To be political is to engage with others in public space and express the freedom that Hannah
Arendt seeks “the true meaning of the political: It is the realization of freedom through interaction with others in public spaces. The individual is
able to realize her freedom only in action, in actively experiencing her worldly and public nature. Therefore, the public space is not a natural
consequence of human coexistence. It is artificial: created by a human “web of relations”” (Thuma 2). So to be free to be political is to create and
inhabit public space and the web offers this possibility and simultaneously tries to constrain and monetize it. I think it is particularly appropriate
for my project due to the forced social interactions in the very limited, non-public space of Zoom meetings brought on by the COVID-19 lockdown. My
project is in the public space of non-social-media space, on my own website without constraints, but plays with the structure of the constraints of
the Zoom meeting. It also references the ever-widening public online video platforms, where countless others speak to the cameras from their homes
with niche specializations and all kinds of user generated content. The use of video as activist space goes back as far as the medium itself but with
the rise of the internet this space has exponentially expanded (Robé).
My project plays with the faulty webinar model, complete with manufactured glitches, streaming feed problems and noise and, references the talk show
model, which as I write is starting to return to the desk and couch setup, but for the past year has mostly been the Zoom meeting model, with centered
talking heads talking directly into the lens but with the subject addressing the host not the audience, while the host fluctuates between addressing
the interview subject and the viewers. Additional devices are in place to emphasize the manufactured nature of the presentation, such as when the
animated content, normally behind the talking person, wanders in front of them, breaking the rules of the illusionary Zoom background and flatness
of that space, or when the disembodied speaking mouth of the host wanders the space in front of them...
This is a hybrid form of web documentary, one that never really claims truth but has a semblance of such. Now the classic question of authenticity,
“The tricky question, then, might be not whether documentaries are committed to telling the truth but what gives legitimacy to their truth claims –
what makes a particular film or video worthy of our trust... documentaries are not replicas of lived reality. They are... representations”
(Spence and Navarro 13-14). It plays with representation in an overt manner, formally acknowledging the construction of this set of manufactured
realities, in a manner similar to John Heartfield’s photocollages, as Allan Sekula says: “social truth is something other than a matter of convincing
style. I need only cite John Heartfield's overtly constructed images, images in which the formal device is absolutely naked, as examples of an early
attempt to go beyond the phenomenal and ideological surface of the social realm.” (Sekula 864)
It navigates multiple areas as discussed by Paolo Favero in discussing interactive documentaries that “ask us to merge the insights gathered from visual
culture and film theory with those from digital culture and the study of web-based communication and interactivity” (Favero 263) and exhibits “the more
stylized, self- conscious, and ironic forms we are likely to find in activist and experimental film and video practice” (Kahana 51). And it comes from
a tradition of the self-portrait video, with personal testimony spoken directly to the camera.
It also tells the story of an immigrant and is intended to be revelatory, not in the sense of documenting ongoing life as in Ny and Nakasako’s
a.k.a. Don Bonus, but still similar in the intent of speaking from the mouth and experience of the immigrant, a personal testament (Chew and Collier).
Taking agency and speaking for oneself is key: Ousmane Sembène famously said to Jean Rouch, “you look at us like insects” when making a case for Africans
making their own films about themselves, stating that “a certain kind of reality is being constructed” and expressing desire to be the author of that
reality (Prédal 78).
Marlon Riggs found himself unexpectedly centering himself in order to address his subject matter, in “Tongues Untied. He dared to go or let himself be
“pushed” into his own story when it came to discussing interracial attraction” and created a work which reflected the popular genre of video at the time:
“I don’t care if it looks like MTV. If it works, that’s fine for me”” (Kleinhans and Lesage 121). No longer in the era of MTV my project reflects the
web video space where, as Brian Holmes puts it, it “offered access to the intimate thoughts of strangers, to newly invented rituals of exchange, to
debates and dialogues on the most important issues, to crowds on the streets and above all to political agency.” Russell says “the digital world
provides a potential space where this can play out. Through the digital, we make new worlds and dare to modify our own. Through the digital, the body
‘in glitch’ finds its genesis.” (Russell 11) These sequences sit well amongst the plethora of other manufactured interviews from the fake comedy
interviews of Stephen Colbert in The Late Show and Randy Rainbow on YouTube, to the even more related Famous Interviews with Lady Mary Pozah created
by Derek Fox and published on various social media platforms. Fox becomes the bigger than life Lady Mary Pozah, a somewhat monstrous drag persona who
interviews dead, mostly female, celebrities, also played by Fox in drag, situated in flamboyant talk show sets. With a decidedly queer perspective,
both because of the drag element and the choice of guests like Katherine Hepburn, Divine, Joan Rivers, Carol Channing and more, like in my project,
Fox is essentially interviewing projections of himself.
There is also a growing tradition online for artists to explore and occupy these online spaces with projections of self, expansions and explorations of
self, often involving dense imagery and interactive elements, such as in the works of Jacolby Satterwhite and Danielle
Brathwaite-Shirley. Satterwhite’s densely packed 3D videoscapes are inhabited by dancing naked men, renderings of their mother’s art, fantastical
architecture like a wedding cake styled skyscraper, expressing unreservedly their selfness, their unique identity and personality in an exuberant bigger
than life projection. “Bringing together such practices as vogueing, 3D animation, and drawing, Satterwhite’s dreamlike videos explore his own body and
queerness while also incorporating his mother’s identity, her schizophrenia, and the thousands of illustrations she made throughout his childhood”
(Art21). Satterwhite also takes it to the streets,
brings his character into the real world, much like my Gerhardt Dekunst does. Brathwaite- Shirley dives deep into a gamification of the stories of Black
trans people “in a world determined to erase them” (Guobadia 1) with the project WE ARE HERE BECAUSE OF THOSE THAT ARE NOT which presents in an
overwhelming video space of images, sound and text that provides different trajectories for differently identified people, calling to task non-Black
trans people and supporting trans and especially Black trans people with encouragement and access to have their own story told and images rendered. “
‘We'd create characters together having a conversation around 'What parts of yourself do you want to archive?' and 'What thoughts about yourself would
you like to archive maybe in the form of your avatar that you're making?'” (2)
Others use these new spaces to explore identity, shift identity, be someone or something else, or see the opportunity be the real themselves in a place
where repercussions are limited to text comments and the occasional flame war, seen in the online lives and net performances of Mhysa, Shawné Michaelain
Holloway, Juliana Huxtable and more. “Performance offered a powerful way to deal with questions of self-erasure or presence, tempting an audience with
the idea that I am performing to enable their consumption of my image or my body — and then to ultimately refuse that. Text and video and all of this
media become modes of abstracting
presence or abstracting myself in the present.” (Russell 53) Very much like Gerhardt Dekunst, Huxtable was “already a frequent party host and promoter
at the time, she decided to tear up her image as the “pretty girl at the party” by picking up DJing and launching her “nightlife gender project”
#SHOCKVALUE, which soon became the city’s queer coven. Often dismissed as irrelevant or vain by cultural elites, the history of clubs and dance music
is essentially an alternate history closely tied to marginalized communities, especially queer people of color.” (Li) Huxtable, a poet, performer and
“cyborg”, who uses “online space as a site to re-present and re- perform their gender identities”, (Russell 54) says: “the problem [with identity] is
the way identity is spoken about and has historically been approached... I am basically just using that medium [of identity] and hopefully can get to
a place where I can explode it, because I don’t believe in an identity politics, really.” (Li) Mhysa is a virtual projection of artist E. Jane,
mentioned previously for her NOPE (a manifesto). Mhysa is an online pop star turned IRL performer after releasing their first album Fantasii in 2017.
“The versatile performer shares this latest work through the veil of alter ego, and as E. Jane takes on Mhysa – the self-proclaimed “Queer Black Diva
and underground popstar for the cyber resistance,” – they introduce themselves as the creative beast they truly are.” (McClellan) Cyberspace was the
space Jane could become Mhysa, and the resultant fame brought about the “moment when “ the slippage between IRL and URL ” deepened as Mhysa performed
songs and sets AFK, stepping out into E. Jane’s world and perforating the carefully constructed divide between on - and offline selfdom.” (Russell 19)
Shawné Michaelain Holloway is also an online performer and musician, who self describes as a “dirty new media artist” and “international play gurl”
(Holloway). She offers lessons in sexuality and new media and “re-shapes the rhetorics of technology and sexuality by critically engaging the technical
language of instruction, specifically from queer feminist BDSM
communities, to direct viewers to read, play, or listen their way through narratives that guide them in and out of visceral memories.”(Duffy)
How we socialize; how we communicate with cameras and network connections has become a primary question of living during the COVID-19 lockdown and my
project tries to address this question and the engendered bigger question of “Who are we when we are performing for the camera in these structures?”
Others, turning the lens outward seek to explore these spaces as new grounds for documentary, creating multifaceted and content rich environments that
viewers explore, self navigate, become participants in, using the tools of interactivity, AR and VR, databases, live feeds, forms, conversation platforms
and more. Brett Gaylor’s “Do Not Track” and Jonathan Harris “I Love Your Work” are examples of deep interactive works. Gaylor’s “Do Not Track” is a
seven-episode documentary website that self describes as “a personalized documentary series about privacy and the web economy.” Each episode asks the
viewer to input data before continuing with a modified version utilizing the input data to exemplify the points being made about data mining, resulting
in a user specific experience. Harris’s work is all about process, in an updated, web 2.0 version, of conceptual art, wherein artists worked on sets of
instructions to produce the works. In “I Love Your Work” (2013), Harris created a database of 2202 ten second video clips generated by shooting ten
seconds of video every five minutes over a twenty-four- hour period, documenting a woman who was involved in filming a lesbian porn series. He repeated
this process for nine different women in the series resulting in the approximately six hours of footage published on http://iloveyourwork.net. Just like
paid porn sites, viewers rent time on the site to view it. (Engberg 36) Harris leverages the web’s ability to use databases to provide media rich
interactive environments and creates matrixes of images as navigational
tools, also seen in his 2007 photo array The Whale Hunt for which he spent nine days with an Inupiat Eskimo family in Barrow, Alaska.
One further context and a more personal one that may not be so obvious due to the medium, is that this is my version of what is a big tradition in Irish
arts, mostly known in literature, of telling your individual personal history in detail with humor, hardship and self- deprecation, often with variants
or stand-in characters for the author. Some of the more famous examples include James Joyce with, "Dubliners" (1914), "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man"
(1916) and of course "Ulysses" (1922), Flann O’ Brien with "The Hard Life" (1961) and many more, Roddy Doyle with the "The Barrytown Trilogy" (1991) and "Paddy
Clarke Ha Ha Ha" (1993) and Frank McCourt’s "Angelas Ashes" (1996). Joyce, like myself, exited Ireland for a better world where he could be creative and
free. He reminisces of his life in Ireland in these books, with the literary avatar, Stephen Dedalus as his stand-in and is critical of the religious
and state institutions he attended as a child. I did in fact go to the same secondary school as James Joyce and my Sensei G’s testimony of dealing with
the abuse of the Jesuits there harkens back to his similar testimony almost a century before, in which, coincidentally, he speaks of being beaten by
Father Dolan, a Jesuit of my namesake. Flann O’ Brien, like me, went from Christian Brothers to Jesuits in school and in his typically hilarious and
scathing style, writes of the squalor of Irish life and the horrors of corporal punishment in the schools, with details of the use of “the leather” in
"The Hard Life" not unlike that of my testimony. McCourt’s "Angelas Ashes" is also about squalor and suffering through Irish childhood, and while nothing
like the quality of literature of the others, is probably the most known text on the subject, on which it takes delight in indulging and romanticizing.
Roddy Doyle’s more contemporary novels are set in my childhood neighborhood about ten years after the events I recollect in my stories. In "The
Commitments", a group of Dublin teens form a band that plays in local pubs, much like I did and G-man testifies to, though they are successful. All three books as well as
"Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha" deal with poor Northside Dubliners’ struggles, and do so with humor. This tiny island with such a long history of oppression, poverty and
struggle, has those elements deeply entwined within its national identity and reflected, often with a wry grin, in its storytelling. So I consider
this project part of a long lineage of such Irish works.
6. Production Process
Production of this project has been difficult in many ways, not least doing it in its entirety at home during COVID-19 lockdown. I created four timelines
in parallel, with matching hotspots allowing the viewer to switch between timelines. There are six chapters in each timeline, six video clips covering
approximately the same timespans. After watching a clip, or scrolling past one vertically, the viewer is offered an array of four buttons to choose
which timeline to continue watching. I brought in the host character to interact further with each character, asking questions, making snide comments
and, not part of the original plan, addressing the viewers directly, much like a talk show host would on a TV show. As I worked, the form and structure
of the project became clearer and more intuitive and the style of mimicking a talk show was enhanced. Shooting alone brought a number of problems:
things as simple as focusing the cameras or setting sound levels were more difficult. I had to use a dressmaking dummy to stand in for me for focus
and had to do multiple sound tests to ascertain the optimum sound levels. I did omit to turn off the motorized focus on camera 1, the wider shot, main
camera, a DSLR and at one point accidentally touched the shooting button which activated the focus drive and focused the camera on my body standing
just inches in front, so the entire shoot of that evening and the next day were blurred. I could not tell while shooting, as it was not blurred enough
to be clear on the small
monitor screen. It was not until I downloaded and reviewed the footage on my computer I realized the mistake and had to redo two days of shooting.
Another mistake that happened, that would have been caught if I had a crew, was that I shot a bunch of scenes with a piece of food stuck in my teeth.
I had taken a break for lunch and just resumed. I was in full makeup already so didn’t think to go back to the mirror and check on myself. Again it
was small enough to only be seen on the big screen. I shot everything in front of a blue screen in my living room which has a very large skylight, so
I would wait till after dark to shoot, so varying sunlight would not interfere with my lighting, which I needed to be clean-and-even on the backdrop
for accurate chroma-keying. Some of the shoots went far into the early hours of the morning and I found, on a few occasions, the morning chorus of
waking birds interfering with my audio, even though it was still dark out. I had to work between the time it got dark and when the birds started to
chirp, usually around 3:30am. I also had issues with wind noise, which can make a classic ‘howling’ sound when pushing through the gaps in my
skylight directly above my shoot, something that is quite unpredictable. I did know to avoid shooting on rainy days as the rain on the skylight
would make decent sound recording impossible. I did, however, not mind some extraneous noise: this is mimicking the Zoom meeting scenario and people
at home do not generally have sound dead environments to occupy when attending meetings, so I was fine with a more natural occasional environmental
sound. I did have to stop one evening due to an ice cream truck.
I have only done a few simple videos in the past where I address the camera, one for an application for a grant and a few for demonstrating finished
class projects for classes taking place remotely during the lockdown, so I am not used to doing this. I learned a lot about this form of presenting
oneself, overcoming the usual dislike of my own voice was the first thing I had to accomplish. I actually learned that I am way more asymmetrical than
I knew: my facial muscles move much more on the right than the left and my skeletal structure seems more twisted than I had imagined, both probably from
my Poland Syndrome and made more visible by being centered in a rectangular frame. Part of my process was to use the close-up camera to provide the source
footage for a roving mouth-tracking rectangle on the host character scenes and so spent many hours with each shot manually tracking my mouth, keeping
this rectangle centered on it. It not only showed me the fairly extreme difference between my left and right-side lip movements, but also made me very
aware of my crooked teeth and any other flaws visible. So while the project itself is an examination of self and discusses in detail my physical issues
and body image, the production also provided for a further examination of this, and through the many hours of editing, took the revelation of some of
these elements beyond the initial shock to assimilation and acceptance. I have definitely learned a lot about shooting in front of a chroma-key
background, and I am now much more comfortable being a “talking head” on camera and while I never thought to make spoken word pieces before, or
considered myself a writer, I now feel I have that as a tool in my belt for further use in future projects.
7. Audience and Exhibition
This project is aimed at those who find themselves with compartmentalized, fractured selves, whether due to restrictions of work, location or society,
where they might find they have to hide elements of their true selves, like those experiencing bias against them, due to race, ethnicity, sexual or gender
identity etc. It is not an offering of a solution, rather a presentation of how I navigate these questions. Due to the nature of this project being a
website, open and available to all, my plan is to post links to it on social media, on the pages and sites of the four public personas depicted and on
listservs and other net spaces, with the hope that others will help to propagate it further and wider into the world. Once up and running I will reach
out to various communities to suggest it for viewing and to seek their help in reaching my intended audience. I already have deep connections to the
New York disability community, many LGBTQ organizations, nightclub and music communities, martial arts groups and Irish groups and will connect with
them all for appropriate posting of this site.
8. Fair use rationale
This project makes extensive use of fragments of content downloaded from various sources online. None are shown in their entirety. The few items where a
true replication of the original is presented, such as a clip from a film or TV show, it is shown at low resolution with minimal length, just enough to
act as a reference to the original and as part of a critical commentary on it, not a presentation of it in and of itself. Most of the items used are only
used in part, such as the arm or leg from a photo, that is then further highly modified and included in an artistic repurposing such that they are far
removed from the original and stand to not replicate it or stand in for it in any way. None are monetized, use any substantial part of the whole or
effect the potential market or value of the copyrighted work and, as such all of the materials used in this project fall under the Fair Use doctrine as
defined in Section 107 of the Copyright Act.
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