How did you get into filmmaking?
No disrespect, but I consider myself an video artist, not a filmmaker because I don’t come from a tradition of working with the traditional cinematic process. I reserve the term “filmmaker” for people who work with actual film or did so before migrating to a digital workflow. Until the arrival of digital video in point and shoot photography cameras, filmmaking was entirely inaccessible to me. Making photographs from slide film, which I still make and print, is already a significant expense. These terms will inevitably evolve, but for the sake of clarity I happily identify as a video artist. And I do enjoy working with moving images that evolve from the photographic apparatus itself, as a continuation of a lineage: photographs have always been edited in a non-linear process, as is digital video. That form of assembly is what I am used to and want to build on.
What drives you to make the videos that you make?
Increasingly, Queer Studies is becoming an institutionalized movement in Western academies. We need to be far more specific, demanding, and vigilant of who and how that term is serving. Some prominent bi activists in the U.S. state that the history of the LGBT movement is the history of bisexual erasure, and the same can be said for visual art history. Bisexuality has required a very different codification of how we relate, different from how lesbians and gays read each other, which of course becomes the dominant queer language at the core of what people now study as queer. That, and other experiences, provided momentum for me to give visual form to the cultures of the fluid orientations under the bisexual umbrella by combing through a series of films with an eye for how bi desire has been encapsulated on screen. Looking for those moments when a gesture slips (Garbo), or a grand movement is maximized (Deitreich). The way we bi+ people identify each other hovers on a whole different spectrum, and it’s wonderfully difficult to pin down. It’s what I love about bi+ cultures: our resistance is always going to be ahead of linguistic containment.
Your video, Self and Others, is a study of the visual language of sexual fluidity as captured through the lens of film history. Can you tell me more about it?
All too often we are told that as bi+ people we have no culture. But there have been times when fluid orientations were far more acceptable, even contained social currency—the 20s and 30s Hollywood era especially capitalized on this. Self and Others covers 26 years of cinema history from 1920-1946, four of the nine films were made during the Hayes Code era. I only chose films that featured people with an open history of fluid orientation at that time, and in the case of Salomé, the film was made with an all-queer cast. By queer I mean mostly bi, although that term wasn’t used then. Assembling and editing this source material became a formal study of some of the earliest modern visual signs of sexually fluid cultures, and their complex structure for recognition. Bisexual books on cinema usually focus on the personal behaviours of actors and directors, not necessarily on the on-screen language of gesture. So I made my own compilation, in a sense, just by looking for the varying amounts of latitude sexual fluidity affords onscreen, observing what this invisibility actually looks like.
This was a silent work up until the moment I decided to include the scene where Deitreich crosses a divider (the fence, the boundary), has a drink, gallantly kisses a femme then throws the flower plucked from the woman’s hair onto a male-presenting audience member. In this scene, I slowed down the time it takes Marlene to cross that divider. To prevent viewers from doubting that such a change in speed might be due to equipment failure, I decided to add sound for stability. To communicate to the viewer that what is being shown is deliberate. Up until that scene was chosen for inclusion, it was a silent work.
What is your experience of making videos and getting them shown at festivals?
I’ve been making moving image works at the capacity that I make them now only since 2012. Before that I collected clips that I would make here and there. Some of those remain in a drive for future assembly while I work slowly, editing and re-editing a great deal. Not only does looking take time, my work also hinges on an elongation of gazes, glimpses, and circumstance: a magnification of manners of looking and ways of exchanging signals.
Showing at festivals has been a very positive experience for me. Being present for screenings is a valuable opportunity to see how a work is experienced by different audiences, and how people connect with the work. It’s so rewarding for someone like me who shoots, edits, and researches material on my own. I’m particularly excited to screen at SQIFF because the programming this year is so supportive of bisexuality! I have never shown my movies in such deliberate bisexual programming. It’s wonderful to provide that for audiences and artists. For an orientation that truly pivots on macking spectrums of attraction in dynamic ways, providing platforms for multiplicity is key. The bisexual programming at SQIFF this year is so delightfully well-researched and thoughtful, I’m truly honored to be included.
Patricia Silva is a Lisbon-born, New York-based photo and video artist experimenting with original and archival media forms to reclaim and rescreen queer expression. Self and Others is their most internationally screened work to date. Patricia studied photography and received an MFA in Advanced Photographic Studies from Bard College (2013), where they were ICP Director’s Fellow (2011-2013), and earned a BFA in Photography from the School of Visual Arts in 1999. Currently faculty at The School of the International Center of Photography in New York. In 2011, Patricia curated the first Luso-Brazillian Pop-Up Arts Festival in New York City, and has been writing visual/cultural criticism about and around photography since 2010. Their videos have screened at MIT List Visual Arts Center, USA (2017); Anthology Film Archives, USA (2017); IFC Theater, USA (2016); MoMA PS1 Theater, USA (2016); British Film Institute, UK (2016); Colorado Photographic Arts Center, USA (2016); Tengis Cinema, Mongolia (2016); Cervantes Institute Brazil (2016); Cine 13, France (2015); and the International Center of Photography, USA (2014). You can follow them on twitter @senseandsight.
Patricia Silva’s video Self and Others will screen at the Scottish Queer International Film Festival at the CCA on 30th September 2017 as part of the Looking Awry: Representing Bisexual Desires on Screen, alongside Nowhere, directed by Gregg Araki. Silva will be attending the screening in person – this is their first time at SQIFF and in Scotland!
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