Academic journal article ARIEL

"Nothing Big. Nothing Small": Allyson Mitchell's Video Autobiography

Academic journal article ARIEL

"Nothing Big. Nothing Small": Allyson Mitchell's Video Autobiography

Article excerpt

Allyson Mitchell, Canadian-based filmmaker, videographer, and visual artist, theorizes and practices a re-historicizing and re-membering in her low tech/high concept, small fuss/big story work. In this paper, I discuss one of Mitchell's videos, My Life in 5 Minutes (2000, 7 min), to examine how it produces her life story as the simultaneity of what she calls "nothing big," (its ordinary everydayness) and as "nothing small," (the struggles of political, embodied subjectivity). This video autobiography engages the temporal and corporeal as Mitchell thinks the body at its 'limits,' materializing the intersections of gender, disability, and sexuality in her history of a life compressed to provisional and perishable moments. The pedagogical implications of Mitchell's work resonate in her practice of theorizing spectator accountability and power/knowledge relations, particularly as constituted in gender, family, sexuality, fatness, and disability. I analyze the video as a theorizing text and take up its structural practices with a view to understanding how it generates meaning through different registers. While the video may be described as "visual autobiography," it is not limited to one visual practice. Instead, Mitchell weaves a complex mix of music, photography, painting, and animation.

My Life in 5 Minutes is an experimental form of media and can be described as animation, animated documentary, experimental short film, autobiographical video, and video art. In her record of work, Mitchell locates it as "computer animation," referring to the construction of the video. Like Mitchell's painting, sculpture, performance work, and installations, the video is constructed in a "DIY" (do-it-yourself) style of art-making. That is, the work is deliberately low-tech, raw, frayed, edgy, and messy. Mitchell's work is often composed of detritus: scraps of fabric, bits of craft supplies, discarded objects, and derelict materials. Mitchell is known for working with found materials, activist art, alternative media production, DIY, and craft production, as well as for her critical and political cultural practice. Through exhibitions, awards, residencies, and critical writing, she is recognized in national and international contexts. Mitchell, who describes herself as a feminist artist investigating ideas about autobiography, sexuality, and the body, is also an interdisciplinary academic in the areas of women's studies, cultural studies, and the arts. Her artistic and scholarly activities are mutually informing, and her video can be understood, as I will argue in this paper, as theorizing urgent cultural issues.

My Life in 5 Minutes traces Mitchell's life from uncomplicated childhood activities through complex and troubled embodiments of youth and adulthood. The visuals are comprised of family album photographs and painted self-portraits. The photographs depict Mitchell alone, with family members, and with friends and lovers. That is, she is present in all the images. Her self-portraits, which interrupt the photographs throughout the video, are flat depictions of a woman's head. They have a cartoon aesthetic and appear child-like in construction. Each portrait, depicted in vivid colours and filling most of the frame, takes up considerable visual space. Print captions accompany the self-portraits, functioning as titles of life chapters or as marked moments in Mitchell's narrative. Music is another significant structural element: throughout the video, Mitchell sings about her life events, conditions, and contexts. In what follows, I will discuss the three strategies, soundscape, photographic montage, and self-portraits with captions, to explore how these expressive and confrontational modalities produce political subjectivity, particularly in terms of queer and disability cultures. While exploring the personal and the local, Mitchell's imaginative work calls for social awareness of the forces that shape the possibilities and impossibilities of a life and of lives. …

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