Letters, conversations: New York-Chicago, Fall 2001

Mary Patten

2002 | 00:11:40 | United States | English | Color | Stereo | 4:3 | Video

Collection: Single Titles

Tags: Crime or Violence, Death and Dying, Diary, Politics

Letters, conversations: New York-Chicago, Fall, 2001 is driven by a fragmented voice-over that criss-crosses between two female voices – one seemingly formal and distant, the other more conversational and intimate. It begins with short excerpts from emails, phone conversations and letters between friends, family, ex-lovers and acquaintances in the days and weeks following September 11th, 2001. These words echo the mundane, urgent chants uttered by people during that time, and the struggle to locate one another amidst a new, traumatized geography whose coordinates were, for many in the U.S., previously unknown or unimaginable. The accompanying imagery moves from oblique, peripheral shots near the site of the felled buildings of the World Trade Center – traces of fingerprints, ghostly graffiti on dust-covered windows and walls, shots of rescue workers and sanitation crews – to the backs and feet of onlookers at barricades, mutely watching what the viewer can barely see. This "looking away" from the site alternates with Chicago views of buildings, streets, water and sky that seem haunted by New York.

As the voice-over unfolds, synapses sometimes misfire, disconnect. The everyday vernacular of concern and helplessness is overtaken by musings about Oklahoma City and Timothy McVeigh, an epidemic of birds, the mortality of elderly parents, the allure of codes and secret languages. Childhood recollections of The Arabian Nights evoke an image of Scheherazade that maps onto the faces and bodies of burka-clad women. For the most part, the only faces visible in Letters, conversations: New York-Chicago, Fall, 2001 are slow pans of men, women, and children from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. But these are not "real people," only extreme close-ups of photos published in magazines and newspapers during the past year - images that have come to substitute for peoples whose lives and realities were barely acknowledged in the U.S. before the Fall of 2001. The tape negotiates feelings of belonging and rootlessness, normalcy and fear, the struggle between political knowledge and despair, numbness and empathy.

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