The Ensemble (two-channel trailer), November 2019
The creation of this short film about a group of women that proposes an alternative way of working is used to explore and enact methods of persevering through interruption. As the narrative’s individual artists in the group navigate their voices and places in the art world, they are critiqued by a patriarchal ensemble. The artists weigh the comforts of silence and self deprecation with the rewards they discover in collaboratively expressing otherwise unformed ideas.
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This project was directed by Atisha Fordyce and Miranda Friedman who created the story, music, video compositions and illustrations with the generous participation of performers and artists, Nishta Venkatesh, Olivia Wischmeyer and Marj Calapatia.
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The video installation in the Mason Gross Galleries exhibition, No Refunds, exists as a trailer—or a teaser—in two video channels, which enter a dialogue with one another. Although the walls of the channels are adjacent, the two channels rarely address each other directly. However, at any given moment, one channel is likely to be talking over the other.
At the beginning of each day, the videos are played deliberately unsynchronized, and by gallery closing time, the interaction will have taken many forms. The lack of synchronization comments on the choices that women and female-identifying individuals can make to assert their voices and creative ideas—one can be stuck in a cycle of talking underneath someone else or in letting one’s fears be louder than one’s dreams, or one can set aside unconstructive thoughts and try something new.
The film’s promotional video-like form for longer film draws from Friedman’s advertising background and from the group’s exploration of consumer culture as a type of patriarchal direction accepted by many young women. By initiating the video’s roll out with a traditional marketing tactic, the work as a larger force embodies the evolution that the story took as it was developed from the contributions of all participants in the group to the story: separate ideas that become a more visible narrative that pulls from human truth, rather than brand or product insights or a coming attraction. The work’s form is comfortably following a classic model in its first interaction with viewers and—just like the artist characters in the narrative—it will continue to exit its comfort zone, in this case, the space of mainstream content and classic media interactions.
Friedman often uses space to parallel the self-inflicted confinement common in female-identifying individuals of their own ideas and creative expression. The video, which was shot almost entirely in greenscreen, allows the protagonists' moments of release from limitation to exist in shots taken in the outdoors and drawings of the outdoors. Conversely, moments of confinement and restrictive comfort are tucked in the humorous presence of the untreated greenscreen, where Fordyce’s drawings of indoor spaces are applied. Fordyce’s knack for creating worlds via spatial drawing emphasize this juxtaposition.
The title, The Ensemble, is a reminder that the work is an ensemble piece and that the viewer is not only being encouraged to follow two separate worlds simultaneously, but that they are also being invited to invest in the storylines of each character within those worlds. The use of the ensemble structure is an exploration of how female-identifying individuals may value their own goals in comparison to goals of surrounding voices. With the popularization of the ensemble structure in mainstream entertainment and advertising, the artists decided to address the ease at which women may follow external goals that conflict with internal. The video and its narrative structure ask if the comfort of taking direction from someone else while putting one’s own goals aside may be comparable to supporting—as a viewer—two conflicting goals within an ensemble piece. The title also nods to the ability of a more confident external voice to sound like multiple voices overpowering one’s own internal compass and intentions. In the video, as the artists consider how to address the group of critiquing figures, Fordyce’s character says, “this ensemble is doing too much” and the artists proceed with the realization that the feedback they may be receiving from the ensemble of patriarchal voices in the second video channel may not be as important to their mission as they had initially thought.
The participating artists share the goal of building first hand experience in collaboration—from concept to finish. During the production, the group of artists agreed to prioritize process examination in hopes of building tools that can help them create space for future larger collaborative projects for female-identifying artists. The characters’ rebuttal to the patriarchal ensemble, “this is a proposal for a movement...a future world” nods to the mission that values the experience of making together in order to consider past and future collaborative models.