“Self And Others”: Bi Artist Patricia Silva Discusses Her Latest Short

photo-originalPatricia Silva’s short Self and Others is set to be shown at queer experimental film festival, MIX NYC, which runs from 10th to 15th November in (you guessed it) New York. The film is about female sexual fluidity and uses only use clips of bi+ characters or BY bi+ characters.

BISCUIT: What inspired you to make a film on this topic?
Patricia: Now that Queer Studies is becoming an institutionalized movement in the Western academy, we need to be far more specific and demanding of who and how that term is serving. 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 sexual fluidity 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.

BISCUIT: What made you decide to use movie history as a backdrop for exploring the topic?
Patricia: All too often we are told that as bi+ people we have no culture. But there have been times when sexual fluidity was far more acceptable, even containing social currency—the 20s and 30s Hollywood era especially capitalized on this. When I look at early cinema, I am primarily looking at how women were being represented, and what those representations contain.

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 sexual fluidity 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.

BISCUIT: Why black and white?
Patricia: The video is technically in colour, but comprised of clips originally made on black and white film. Although I adjusted colour balances across nine sources made with very different budgets across various lighting conditions, I didn’t alter the colour of the original works. It was important to keep the original sense of colour because I wanted to look at what was being shown and how. I didn’t want to alter the original conditions that made these works possible, but present a short survey of certain gestures within the history of cinema.

BISCUIT: Can you explain why you chose to have such a simple soundtrack, with just a recurring whirring/clicking noise and then the piano/heartbeat towards the end?
Patricia: 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. The piano sound was added because I wanted to mix it up a bit, break predictability, and show a pianist playing a tune unexpected for its scene. Silent films were often accompanied by live orchestra or a liner audio piece that ran its own course, parallel to the visual narrative but not necessarily in perfect syncopation. Self and Others has that moment of syncopation with the pianist and the piano track, but simultaneously there is a visual disconcert going on. That was a way of connecting original source materials in a manner that reflects the content I was working with.

Still from Patricia Silva's 2015 video work "Self and Others".

Still from Patricia Silva’s 2015 video work “Self and Others”.

BISCUIT: There are open displays of affection with both male and female partners but there is also a hidden “watcher”: no face, just eyes illuminated. What does this symbolise?
Patricia: Including those clips was a literal way of asserting that, for bi+ people, our gaze is consistent, no matter who we are looking at. As people unfit for the monosexual order, who we look at is a different awareness than what we are looking for. In my opinion, the bi+ spectrum of experiences is adept at looking for, a skill that goes beyond the quick read of ‘looking at’. I think that is the framework for our desire, no matter our orientation within the bisexual umbrella.

BISCUIT:  Which other artists are you most looking forward to seeing at the festival?
I look forward to Mix every year. Luckily, I’ve already seen what I was most looking forward to this year: Jenni Olson’s The Royal Road. Brilliant film, and it is a film in the very sense of the word.

BISCUIT: When can Biscuit readers see the video for themselves? Are any of your other videos online?
Patricia: Anyone who wants to see this work, no matter where you are in the world, let me know and I’ll organize some sort of a free screening. Happy to share with individuals, and even happier if people are willing to engage in a dialogue about it. My contact info is on my website at patriciasilva.com.

BISCUIT: What do you have next in the pipeline?
Looking forward to presenting this work at this year’s Transcending Boundaries Conference next week! Very excited about that, especially to see how bi+ communities respond to the video. I’m scheduled to present Self and Others at an upcoming academic conference in 2016. Both of these audiences will provide very different types of responses, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the video functions in such different contexts. And then, one of my photo books is in an upcoming show at a fantastic gallery in Brazil, and I’m hopelessly sad I can’t make it over there and see all the other books in the show.

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Patricia Silva

Patricia is a Lisbon-born, New York-based artist, writer, and collaborator, working primarily with photography and video. Paralleling a practice of creative output, Patricia has been writing cultural criticism about and around photography since 2010. Recent exhibitions include: Mix NYC, New York (2015); Ethnografilm, Paris (2015); Berlinda, Berlin (2015); Woman with a Movie Camera, NY (2015, 2014); International Center of Photography Pavillion at 43rd Street, NY (2013); Women Realizing Perspectives, NJ (2012); Berlin Biennale, Berlin (2012). Also shown at the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology at Berkeley, and participated in bi-cultural arts panels at Victoria University at Toronto, (Canada); University of California at Berkeley, (United States); and the University of Macau, (China). Bio image © Sophia Banks.
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