On January 1, 2018, I began my third phase of research on patterns of human intimacy: preparation for a film project investigating relationships at the scale of immediate families. This project follows on the heels of The Bureau of Self-Recognition (a project at the scale of the self, 2011 - 2013) and The Book of Everyday Instruction (a study of pairs, 2015 - 2017).
Obligation To Others Holds Me In My Place is a poetic investigation of the family format, particularly focusing on American mixed race families. Ultimately manifesting as a four-channel film documenting American mixed race families over standard familial celebrations, the project's current form is an unfolding, multiform family album that serves as the notes for the future film, a questioning of the linear narrative of racial progress, and an identification of gaps in the American archive. This is A Film and Say Something, Jamie are two projects that have emerged from this investigation.
As the White majority in America shrinks, we have seen a corresponding rise of xenophobic, borderline neo-fascist, policies and politicians at the local and national levels. Throughout American history, the mixed race body is usually presented either as a disaster (see: the figure of the tragic mulatto, the mulatto as the racial "canary in the coal mine," or narratives around the violence of passing), or as a kind of magic (see: National Geographic and New York Times features about hybridity as an evolutionary asset, the widespread adoration of openly mixed actors such as Jessica Alba and Rashida Jones, or the common statement "mixed babies are the most beautiful"). The idea of mixing (racially, culturally) is so often the product of violence: war, slavery, trade. No wonder we feel we cannot tolerate an identity that's anything other than singular. Mixture reminds us of the dangers that bring people together, and the challenging conditions that we persist to create.
Obligation To Others Holds Me In My Place borrows from the visual language of family home movies and photo albums to capture the profound and everyday nature of interracial families. As the online research element grows, I will begin to assemble fictitious family moments, calling attention to repeated aesthetic aspects and highlighting select elements of the mixed race American narrative. This work will exist alongside two types of textual intervention: a poetic, more personal text (drawn from my own experiences as mixed-race American), and a series of formal writings that assists viewers to interpret images through a lens focused on uncertain identity.
Like any work of family, this project’s construction and maintenance may prove its own undoing.
This work was supported by the Recess Analog residency.