Gloria Chung Discusses Memory, Non-places, and Diary Filmmaking
Interview by Sage Ó Tuama
You’ve described your projects as “records of places real and imagined,” and “attempts to visualize the functions of memory.”
How did your “Memory” films come about, and how do they fit into your overall explorations as an artist?
An article called "The Then and Now of Memory" really started my interest in making these films. The author discusses how scientists were able to prove "traces of contextual memory", how our brains form and recall memories in a kaleidoscopic fashion, and this instantly hit me as a very visual notion. I wanted to see how the questions I had about this and about memory and its functions in general could be represented in the moving image.
All films are about or deal with memory to some extent. An astronomer in Patricio Guzmán's "Nostalgia for the Light" describes how there really is no 'present'. Everything is essentially in the past as soon as it happens; as soon as we encounter something or someone, the moment has already moved into the past. So in a very pure sense, life is one continuous exercise in recall and memory.
Part of the mystery of your “Memory” films is that we don’t necessarily know where the images were recorded. The cities feel like they could be any city. The blur of lights in apartment windows, a foggy sunset observed from a moving vehicle, silhouettes of people walking through some kind of cave. It feels like this is intentional, like the cultural associations of a place are being rendered unimportant by your films, and how the physical spaces make you feel comes out instead. It made me think of this book “Non-places,” by Marc Augé which I haven’t actually read, but according to Wikipedia deals with “spaces of transience where human beings remain anonymous, and that do not hold enough significance to be regarded as places.” Am I on the right track?
Yes. Exactly right in that I am interested in how a place makes you feel. The less tethered I am to the specifics of a place, the freer my thoughts and memories. Usually.
Until recently, I think my recording method has been very 'place-centric' in that I usually record all the video for a project in one place, one city, one country, without a specific ‘idea’—just recording anything and everything that is visually interesting to me. But in editing, I try to figure out what ideas and emotions are prompted by images of this place. I include few cultural markers or indicators of specific places because I’m trying to explore less what the place is and more what was revealed by the place—subconscious thoughts and ideas that may have been elicited, prompted, provoked by the place.
I think I’ll read the Marc Augé book you mention. If “non-places” are where people congregate but do not connect or commune/communicate with each other and remain anonymous, it seems most places are non-places in today’s society with everyone in their own (phone-/tablet-) worlds in every public space. Fascinating and depressing!
One of the ideas of this festival is to pay tribute to Jonas Mekas, and create more space for diary films. But at the same time we want to keep a loose definition of “diary film” so we’re calling it a “festival of home video and personal documentary.” Do you identify with the idea of “diary filmmaking” or do you feel your work falls outside of that ?
For me my filmmaking is very much diaristic in a literal sense. I had a tumblr account where I posted a photo each day for five years, and that led to a habit of always recording photos and videos each day, whether I’m commuting, traveling, or walking around the neighborhood. And eventually projects come out in the editing from these daily archives. While the films might not be diaristic in reflecting any personal details per se, they are diaristic in the sense of being a visual record of what I see and encounter on a daily basis. I love the notion of more space for diary films and am very excited to watch all the incredible films you've brought together.
Are you currently working on any new projects?
When the pandemic happened, there was much less traveling and walking around the neighborhood, so I became slightly obsessed with streaming web cameras. My next project will probably involve screenshots from Icelandic weather cameras, although I’m not sure in what form yet. I should probably stop taking so many screenshots and just start editing!
Gloria Chung lives and work in New York. Her works have screened at film festivals in the U.S. and internationally. Film Diary NYC will present two short films by Chung, Thursday, 11/4, at Spectacle: "MEMORY IV FIELDS OF LIGHT" and "MEMORY VIII I Remember You From the Future."
Sage Ó Tuama is a filmmaker and co-founder of Film Diary NYC.