…photography by Lee Ann Paynter

Being With Artist Statement

Being With

TRT: 39:24

Artist Statement


Being With is a video installation that consists of 5 separate pieces on 7 monitors.  It is site specific, in that the work is arranged in a way that intervenes with the public passers by in the L-Shape gallery (ostensibly a hallway) where a viewer can consciously engage with the work to view and hear the videos, or possibly be non-consciously affected as they pass through the space. The video pieces are cut into three – four minute clips and are choreographed to appear on the different monitors at different times, giving variation to the conversation heard, the tempo of the work, and to the experience of the viewer.

This project, an observation of the present using interaction as a point of departure and the main informer, intends to strip away the constraints of the ideology of the mass-media, and to suggest possibilities in our relation to the other.  The perpetuation of extreme ideology and righteousness is a false representation of the perception of the American people. In response to the current cultural and political climate, an insistent accusatorial and negative rhetoric, I began to formulate a series of questions with the goal of hearing what people, the public, really think, seeking to reveal what is repressed by the media, and to make visible a different reality than that which is currently represented.

The investigation began with my trip to the Rally to Restore Sanity held in Washington, DC, where I interviewed rally goers.  That particular experience is represented in a video all its own, and it inspired me to continue and further the process interviewing people out in the field – interacting with others – and asking them about their opinions and beliefs.  I set up in coffee shops placing a sign by the cash register, as well as one on my table, inviting people to be interviewed. This interaction with strangers was an incredible experience and I discovered many different people of many different backgrounds and beliefs, willing to, even eager to voice their opinions.  As I reviewed this material, it made me think about my own acquaintances, my friends, and how different they are personally.  This brought me to the next stage of my interaction, interviewing my friends.  These 30 interviews culminated in four additional videos which are based on their answers to the aforementioned list of questions.

My work is about interaction with the other and the value of listening, both of which are as important as the end result in a gallery space.  With the installation I am not only giving voice to these individuals, but I am creating a new reality in this transitional space. The ideological polarization expressed in the mass media, one where opinions are borrowed from TV personalities and decisions are made based on inherited biases and bigotry, is not the reality of our world and the importance of representing a different way of being, Being With, is what drives this work.  I see this as an extension of the work I’ve done previously with interventions, as well as a new and different way of speaking about my previous subject matter of intolerance.

Art should engage the viewer, asking them to contemplate their own relationship to the subject matter, and thus the rest of the world.  I love questioning human intent, and feel that my work is most effective when it instills self-reflection in viewer.  Being With is a project grounded in the concept of relational aesthetics, and framed around the idea of co-existence.  As the scholar and writer JP Ricco suggests in From Cave to Grotto (Journal of Visual Culture, 2009 Vol.9), I make the connection of being to existence in that what it is to be is to also always ‘be with’, and what it to exist is to also always ‘coexist’.  Thus the space between us, what separates us, is neither owned nor quantifiable, and is ‘the there’ of being that we share.  This inter-human negotiation where exchange and communication take place, produces relations and relationships that shape the world, that are the world.