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Shelly Silver

1990 00:04:00 United StatesEnglishB&W and ColorMono4:3Video


In a visually difficult construction, Silver plays with the viewer’s ability to focus and take in an entire image. This puzzling tape is composed of three basic elements: a scrolling text, an image of street traffic that occupies one half of the split screen, and on the other side the image of a man masturbating, focusing on the hand and penis. The viewer’s attention is suspended between these two disparate images, unable to make sense of their correlation. This confusion demonstrates the meaning of the text that reads, “If we keep attaching meanings to everything we perceive ... we are bound to go crazy someday.”

"Even as the text instructs us otherwise, it is impossible not to read We's two images - that is, to respond to their symbolic quality, their suggestiveness. In a stream of associations, the rhythmic flow of people on the left becomes an ejaculation while the rhythmic hand on the right marks detachment, self-centeredness. Simultaneously, we may say to ourselves, 'Yes, it is only a crowd of anonymous people. It is only a penis.' But even as we attempt to discipline our interpretative urges, the hermeneutic created by this simple juxtaposition is driving us crazy with questions: Who is he? Why is he alone? Does he have a lover? Does everyone in this crowd masturbate? Do they seek isolation from the mass? Are they aware of one another? Are they relational in less-populated situations? Why was this private image made public? Why is this image private?" -Chris Straayer, Deviant Eyes, Deviant Bodies, Sexual Orientation in Film and Video (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996)

Quoting from the established genres of experimental, documentary, and fiction film and television, Shelly Silver’s work is funny, poetic and formally beautiful, seducing the viewer into pondering such difficult issues as the cracks in our most common assumptions, the impossibility of a shared language, and the ambivalent and yet overwhelming need to belong—to a family, a nation, a gender, an ideology. Exploring the psychology of public and private space, the ambivalence inherent in familial and societal relations and the seduction and repulsion of voyeurism, Silver’s work elicits equal amounts of pleasure and discomfort.