You Play the Black and the Red Comes Up

Project Statement

Dave Beeman

 

As a relatively new Californian, living on a set of fault lines, it's difficult not to think about memory as the shifting of tectonic plates. The security of knowing exactly where we are  -- of a place that can be measured simply by latitude, longitude, or algorithm -- has only limited bearing on the actual ground, which shifts and seizes in an endless and unpredictable (mostly) imperceptible migration. Coordinates become abstractions, transforming the certainty of “here” into something less reliable. Given this unreliability, my work unearths some of the fissures between our own subjective and “authentic” memories and those we create, borrow, suppress, appropriate and/or impose.

 

Growing up a son of a United Methodist minister and having been baptized and confirmed in the church, I was raised with a sense of theological and communal permanence.  Some of these certainties dissolved after coming out as gay during the initial stages of the AIDS crisis, which claimed the lives of several friends. As I withdrew from the church (which, coincidentally, has fractured over the issue of LGBTQI inclusion), a different chosen family emerged through clubbing, camping, bars, drugs and -- as a member of Queer Nation -- activism. 12 years working in the title insurance industry spawned an interest in researching the documented history of place. The first-hand horrors of 9/11 and its aftermath further ruptured my own myths of security and permanence.

 

In Murray Pomerance’s “Notes on Sans Soleil,” he describes Chris Marker’s perception of modern Tokyo as follows: “Living on top of a continually potential earthquake [...] the Japanese have come to inhabit a world of appearances.  But appearances dominate altogether in modernity, and so we must […] ask whether we are all living on ground that could give way at any instant, riding a train that could go off the rails.” Tony Kushner describes the 1906 San Francisco earthquake as the pivotal moment where God deserts humanity. The angels, for whom time has stopped, and who are now confused, aimless and fearful (like Klee’s Angelus Novus as described by Walter Benjamin), beg humanity to cease its constant movement so that God will return. Post-enlightenment humanity refuses.

 

As a photographer, writer and amateur historian, I exploit this friction between memory and its unreliability – between permanence and transience – through a combination of my own photography, textual ephemera, and screen shots of the many anguished roles played by the film actor Olivia de Havilland (who serves as a fictitious “designated mourner”). In capturing, through photography, humans engaging with memory (real, fictitious appropriated, or dictated), coupled with text that includes everything from local newspaper and television archives, to seismic records, mythology, film, gay camp, literature and other sources, I weave together cultural moments of the Freudian uncanny. The resulting work serves to highlight those places where the cracks/creep of history/memory transform not only where we stand, but who we think we are.