An Ongoing Phenomenological Investigation Of The Moving Image

(essay written by the curator Reilly Davidson for the screening FOUR QUARTETS that took place at Field Projects [Chelsea, New York], November 17, 2022)

AnaMary Bilbao builds her visual fictions out of archival footage in an effort to challenge the limits of a single Truth. By abstracting content from origins, she dislodges and rearticulates context. This creates a new vantage point for the viewer to consider these moving images as well as their inscriptions of time-and-place. 

Submarines and life under the sea have been of specific interest within Bilbao’s current headspace, their confidential nature and control structures producing a ripe basis for examination. Some of her recent videos, like Words Don’t Come Easy (Hope That You Believe It’s True) (2022) for example, feature excerpts from archival films that were created in the 1950s. They illustrate oceanic circumstances and a guide for the management of the sea-bound vessels, which are often shrouded in secrecy, per governmental operations.

Words Don’t Come Easy (Hope That You Believe It’s True), is aptly titled as the video features F. R. David’s performance of the song “Words,” which is edited so that the lyric “words don't come easy” repeats over and over again. The linguistic tension is magnified by the spate of letters flashing across the screen, evidently to no end as there is no clear connection between them besides their aesthetic congruence. However, this content was sourced from an archival film which delineates the tactics for controlling and defending against submarines.

Other good example here is Dance of Light (2022), that illustrates the ambiguity of origins overshadowed by the quest for understanding. The short video is a montage of what appears to be microscopic aquatic life that transforms in its new context. The moving images become fireworks and strands of silk floating across the screen. In Bilbao’s own words, “the origin’s abstraction can give rise to alternatives for the future since it implies the liberation of meaning.” These blurred finitudes breach boundaries, weighing the infrastructure of human time against one that is nonlinear. Crucially, light and water are already inscribed with the keeping of time; the shifting of the sun and of the tide. For Bilbao to place these two concepts at the fore of her temporally-focused practice is a well-considered move.

Bilbao doubles down on the all-too-human desire to make sense of the world. “Established logics,” however, are only ever approximations as the issue of how the world came to be is still unresolved. Bilbao hones in on just one aspect of such meaning-making in order to reduce a giant question mark to a more manageable scale. Temporal understanding is fractured by her rehabilitation of found footage. The desire to bridge the gap between analog and digital technologies is a consistent pulse in Bilbao’s practice as she uses archaic forms within a contemporary context. Her rituals emerge without beginning or end, as she participates in an ongoing phenomenological investigation of the moving image.

Reilly Davidson, November 2022 (*)

(*) Reilly Davidson is a writer and curator based in New York. She is also the partner/director at Shoot the Lobster.

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