Artist Shelly Silver spoke at the College on Sept. 19 part of the “Religion, Culture, and Identity” learning community’s artist lecture series. Students were given a chance to view parts of Silver’s films and ask questions and add their own thoughts.
Silver is a New York-based artist who utilizes film, video and photography. Her works have been shown at many film festivals and museums in the United States, Europe and Asia. The recipient of many awards, grants and fellowships for her works, Silver is also a 2005 John Simon Guggenheim Fellow.
“I was very intrigued about the subject matter I am supposed to talk about,” Silver said. She said that her films focus on culture and identity.
“1,” was a reactionary piece Silver made to incidents of police brutality in New York City. The words “The world will devour you so you better taste good” appeared over a split screen image of two NYPD officers as a song by Miles Davis played in the background. Only parts of the cops’ heads, necks and faces were shown. The video had many students wondering if the video was made after the 9/11 attacks, and Silver revealed that it was actually made as a reaction to the Amadou Diallo shooting. She also said that after 9/11, the outlook on this video completely changed, and she was criticized heavily for it.
“Former East/Former West” was a product of Silver’s trip to Berlin with a German academic exchange program. She went there in 1992, which was three years after the Berlin wall fell. She wanted to find out what it was like to be a German, and more specifically, a Berliner, during this time of rebuilding.
She traveled to the many neighborhoods of the city and interviewed many people, asking them about 23 of the same questions. She found the most interesting answers to be to the question, “What does history mean to you?”
The majority of the answers referred to the Holocaust. This period of time caused many Germans to feel like their history was “bothersome,” “embarrassing” and “neither sweet nor honorable.” Silver said that the film is “so much about identity,” and that the people interviewed usually identified themselves with either the east or the west without actually ever saying it. When the film was first viewed, Silver said, “It was really hard for me. People didn’t like it . they felt misrepresented.”
In 1996, Silver completed “37 Stories About Leaving Home.” She made this while in Japan with the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission. In this documentary, Silver talks with several generations of Japanese women about their families and their lives. They speak about their roles as mothers and wives and also about their own experiences with love. A grandmother explains, “It’s been 50 years since I was married. I still don’t know what love is.” She also says that sometimes she finds it “difficult” and “boring” to act like a real woman.
In the 15 minute film “What I’m Looking For” Silver showed intimate photographs of strangers. Silver collected these photographs by placing an ad on an Internet dating site, saying, “I’m looking for people who would like to be photographed in public revealing something of themselves.” The video first premiered at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 2004.
Liselot van der Heijden, assistant professor of art at the College, feels that the lecture series is important because it gives students a chance to actually talk with the artists about their work. “It’s exposure more than anything else. It’s much more personal than books or museums,” she explained.
Sarah Cunningham, director of the College Art Gallery, added, “To be aware of the actual art-making process – to see it is a very educational experience.”