Living the Dream


“At my old job, whenever someone asked my ex-boss how he was doing, he’d reply, “Living the Dream” with a sarcastic wistfulness that I can still hear with piercing clarity.  Not sure how many colleagues picked up on it or read much into it, but for me it spoke for my own sense of subjugation to a less than ideal life, the kind of compromise that we’re all expected to make sooner or later, and that I had made way too soon in my life, I now realize. And I also realize that, quite unexpectedly, I have escaped that fate. I am now cognizant of how much direction I can give to my own life. I have no one to blame but myself… and blame isn’t much use anyway.”

I wrote this back in 2010 at the conclusion of my blog project Shooting Down Pictures. These words return to me now that I’m concluding another blog project as part of a residency period that has been something of a dream, a special opportunity to detach from the obligations and concerns that have accompanied me for much of my career, and, to use an ersatz marketing phrase, dream big. Having considered this prospect over the last three months, I can’t say that I’ve achieved this aim or concluded that I’m even capable of it.

I flash back to a screening event of my work at my alma mater Williams College last year. At the end, a professor asked me, “What is your dream project?” I stumbled for an answer until I offered that I’m more interested in exploring the idea of a dream project than in having one of my own. Maybe this is why I made video essays in the first place. I made them at a time when I was struggling to understand how to make a film, leading me to study some of the greatest films ever made, the dreamiest of dream projects. So maybe this exploration of the dreams of others is what I’ve been doing all along, the dream I’m meant to pursue.

This gives me a useful anchor to engage with the main project laid out before me at this time, an investigation of terrorist media, how it is produced, how it circulates, how it is received and what it does for its various audiences. On the one hand, I am interested in the technical operations of these images: how they are intended to function in operating the machinery of contemporary global media apparatus, and how these functions can be discerned in their form and design. These are quite Farockian concerns.

On the other hand, I’m also interested in the machinery of individual desires and imaginations, and these images as manifestations and activations of different dreams for diverse selves and their worlds. I seem to be particularly drawn to western agents engaged with this sort of media: journalists, filmmakers and scholars, and investigating their personal histories and interests in this subject matter. Perhaps it’s a way of deflecting the question of my own interest by using these figures as surrogates. Or it could be a way to get at that question directly by using these figures as mirrors.

Other projects in various stages of development:

  • Occupation, a collaboration with filmmaker and critic Steven Boone exploring his experiences sleeping in ATM lobbies. We filmed extensively in summer 2016, then we collaborated with the musical collective Fused Muse Ensemble to develop a score and soundtrack for the video. A short film is the current outcome, but something tells me that there’s more to be done with this project, as it touches on a lot of things that engage me: exploring the spaces and systems of money and power, public vs. private space, dreams of making films on no budget.
  • Future Delights, an exploration of public LED screens and other instances of the culture of light in China, as a means of investigating the contemporary concept of The Chinese Dream. This was my thesis project from my Masters in Visual and Critical Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.  I engaged with it heavily in the summer of 2015 through spring of 2016, and haven’t touched it since. This may be the most personally difficult and necessary project I’ve engaged with to date. Ostensibly it concerns public screens in China, but potentially it could delve into how various screens reflect my longstanding history with China and Chinese culture.
  • Martyrs for the Mass, a video project examining a Bill Viola installation in cooperation with St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Tate, as a point of intersection between the worlds of contemporary religion, art and global tourism, what each of these institutions dreams of the other and of the unsuspecting viewer.