Stand in the Stream
By Stanya Kahn ©2017
HD digital video with sound, TRT: 60:24.
Courtesy of the artist and Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects
“The dialectical image is an image that emerges suddenly, in a flash. What has been is to be held fast—as an image flashing up in the now of its recognizability.” —Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project
Stand in the Stream is an ambient digital film that defies categories. A Vertovian fever dream moving swiftly between lived and online spaces, Stand in the Stream is about life, death, the inextricability of the personal from the political and the primacy of the image. Following the arc of a mother’s deterioration and death amidst shifting political and digital landscapes, the film was made over the course of six years and shot on multiple camera formats to reflect our screen-saturated perspectives. With a dense and visceral sound score, Stand in the Stream moves through the home, the wild, online chat rooms and the streets. From the birth of a child to the onset of dementia, from Tahrir Square to Standing Rock and Trump's inauguration, Stand in the Stream is an urgent contemporary ode and a story for the people.
Made from live action footage interwoven with live video captured from online streams (without using found footage), Stand in the Stream is dense with imagery and edited with the speed and intensity of its soundtrack. Driven by narratives of change, the film documents the deterioration of the filmmaker's “worker/activist mother,” her own role as a mother, and the tactics, demands, and modes of visibility linking resistance movements across the globe. The film tries to locate our bodies as we consume the daily image-world and asks us to consider how we distinguish high stakes from low in a digital lanscape that threatens to equalize everything in a currency of clips and clicks.
Set within the context of Kahn’s persistent shooting of daily life and screen recordings of live-stream events online, the intimately personal is woven with the radically public, caught with various devices, mirroring our increasingly blended on-screen and IRL lives. In a nod to feminist film history in which women’s work, women’s time, and a female gaze are forefront, Kahn places her own toiling body at the center of shooting, but wearing POV cameras while conducting the daily and work of raising a child and running a life as a working parent and artist. Where POV cameras are usually used for sports action footage to show off athletic prowess, Kahn’s tongue-in-cheek use of the devices here casts a side-eye on the unseen “prowess” it takes to pull off unpaid workloads. Against isolation, however, Kahn participates in community and public spaces. Traveling the globe virtually, Kahn records live-streams of international events as they occur, sometimes waking in the night to record. Real-time presence becomes significant in resisting the ease with which the internet allows us view and forget, to detach and disconnect. Where one can easily download found footage and use it as source material, Kahn’s insistence on “shooting”/recording it herself is an act of maintaining a physical stake where virtuality increasingly offers an illusion of safety and the ability to turn off.
While the the computer screen and its vortex of windows is a recurring location, and all interactions are mediated by a lens, Stand in the Stream returns to the body (human, animal, plant, the artist’s.) History here is speeding and dynamic, a storm to be watched and catalogued, even while it resists categorization. Personal life here is inextricable from politicized being. Varying stakes in participation and accountability move in and out of focus as we slide from the tangible world to comment feeds, to independent live-streams and back.
Kahn’s sound design includes original compositions by Kahn and by the musician/composer Alexia Riner (a solo artist and half of the duo Madame Gandhi.)
The title, Stand in the Stream, comes from the Bertolt Brecht play Mann ist Mann (Man Equals Man). The play is about the forcible transformation of an ordinary citizen (Galy Gay) into a soldier: the pliability of identity in the post-industrial West and the possibility, as Brecht suggested, that people are like machines and can be dismantled and rebuilt (not unlike identity and information construction in the internet age.) In a brief interlude in the play, the character Widow Begbick tells the audience that “Herr Brecht hopes you will feel the ground on which you stand, slither your toes like shifting sand so that the case of Galy Gay the porter makes you aware life on this earth is a hazardous affair.” Then a voice is heard declaring the start of war. The Widow Begbick sings:
Don’t try to hold onto the wave that’s breaking against your foot/
So long as you stand in the stream/ fresh waves will always keep
breaking against it.