Knowing and Not-Knowing
Intimacy and Solitude in a Video Portrait
Artist Statement by Bo Gehring
"The idea of my portraits is to record intimately emotional response over time as the subject listens to a favorite piece of music. For her portrait, Jessica Wickham, a precision woodworker in Beacon, New York, chose Arvo Pärt’s “Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten.”
A precisely controlled video camera hovering inches away from the subject travels the length of her body, timed to synchronize with the length of the piece of music. The camera, nearer than the eye can focus, captures minute actions like breathing and pulse as living elements of the portrait. The camera also closely explores the drape and wear of clothing, expressions of personal choice that Jessica (like each of us) has chosen to present to the world."
-- from Youtube interview. Click here.
An Interview with Bo Gehring Below
Published on Youtube, Mar 29, 2013
"Interview with Bo Gehring, winner of first prize at the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition 2013 for his work "Jessica Wickham." The Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition is a juried exhibition of portraits at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery. The exhibition includes 48 works created from both traditional media like oil paintings, drawings and photographs as well as more surprising materials such as rice, glitter, thread and video. The museum received over 3,000 entries in a variety of visual arts media. The competition and exhibition are made possible by the vision and generosity of Virginia Outwin Boochever. Bo Gehring was interviewed on March 22. 2013 at NPG."
-- from Youtube interview. Click here.
Intimacy and Solitude
Reflection by Jay McDaniel
What do you think when you see Jessica Wickham's face at the end? She is looking at you but then she looks away. There's an intimacy but also a separation. She has her own life.
And how about Arvo Pärt’s “Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten." I'm glad she chose it. It is beautiful and, besides that, there is an intimacy in music that overcomes visual separation. When we listen to music with another person it is inside both of us at the same time and in a way that is different from what happens when we see each other. Music is a lot like God. It can be in two places at once.
Remember the point where we see her breathing? Is it emotional breathing or bodily breathing, or both? Did you breathe with her for a bit? Maybe so, but not completely. After all, she turns away at the end.
And don't we all turn away at the end? At least when we die, but often long before that, many, many times. Yes, we look at others, but we need to look away, too, so that we can have our own thoughts? And isn't this a good thing? "Religion is what a person does with solitariness," says Whitehead.
In Western culture where we are so hounded by the ideology of individualism, we talk a lot about the need for community. But in the big scheme of things there's a need for solitude. People can suffer from too much community and not have lives of their own. And people can suffer from too much solitude and not have communion. This is the beauty of skin. It both connects and separates. It reminds us that we are not identical with others even as we can share in their lives and feelings.
Memory is a kind of skin, too. A kind of membrane that both connects and separates us from the past. In truth we are not identical with our past selves, either. At least this is what Whitehead thinks. He thinks we are different at each moment.
Perhaps this is why, when we see photographs of ourselves from the past, it can sometimes seem as if we are looking at a past life. We are never who we were; our lives our a series of lives within a single life span. Even skin changes over time. Such is the theology of dermatology. Such is the wisdom of aging.
Imagine a Life who lacks skin. This Life might share our emotions with us, share our space completely and everyone else's too. The Life could be everywhere at once, without skin or clothes, naked to the sky and naked to the world.
Perhaps this is what some people mean by God. Perhaps God is a border-less love whose body is the universe. But wouldn't God be a little too diffuse? Maybe even lonely? Wouldn't God need the experience of intimacy through separation? Wouldn't even God need to age just a little bit, and change with the times.
Some Christians think that God is a Trinity. I'm not so sure about this, but it does seem to me that even God needs to be different from moment to moment, if God is to hear new songs feel new feelings. I can well imagine that God would suffocate from too much unity.
God or no God, we need differences. We want to share but we also want not to share. We want to be at-one also at-two and at-three. The beauty of bodies is that they give us this opportunity. They provide solitude in community and community in solitude.
In any case one purpose of portraiture is to hold the two in balance: the difference and the sharing. The portrait artist wants to help us be very close to the one who is portrayed and to enjoy the separation. We want to know and do not know the other person. In the knowing and the not-knowing -- the cataphatic and the apophatic -- lies the harmony.
Perhaps it is a little like furniture making. You work with the wood, but you must also let the wood have its own mystery. The wood is always more than the table and the table is always more than the table-maker. Jessica Wickham is not a table but she is a table maker. I suspect that Bo Gehring would be the first to tell us that she is more than her portrait and, for that matter, more than a table-maker. I am sure she would agree.
This, for me, is what his video portrait reveals. The transcendence of the individual in the particularity of detail.