Talk to a Teen, LMCC Open Studios Installation, April 2016
This installation, done in collaboration with media artist Allen Riley, employs a live-feed camera, situated in front of two chairs, two microphones, a cluster of plants, and a blue screen backdrop. At all times, a teenaged performer sits in one of the chairs wearing a poncho. There’s a sign by the installation that says "Talk to a Teen," with arrows leading you to the empty chair. If you choose to join the teen, s/he offers you a poncho and you sit in the chair behind your own mic. You both wear headphones which play a bed of nature sounds and occasional bits of Chopin on piano, over which you hear your own amplified voices, serving to remove the two of you from the real space and cocoon you in this pretend nature world of secluded dialogue. A small sign next to a small monitor instructs you and the teen to discuss the questions appearing on the monitor. These are big impossible questions that you and the teenager attempt to answer together (e.g. “Is revenge ever okay?” “How can you tell when to resist change and when to adapt to it?” etc.). A new question appears on the monitor after a while, giving you and the teen ample time to dig deep, or go way off on a tangent, before discussing the next quandary. At points the teen offers you a beer from a cooler, and snacks from the bowls in front of you. Meanwhile, inside our studio, about ten feet down the hall, the video feed from the camera is streamed live on an old CRT monitor. A painted Romantic landscape is keyed into the blue screen, and visitors can sit, watch and listen on headphones. The installation fosters intergenerational exchange, in our attempt to create a non-hierarchical space for adults and teens to interact. The teen’s agency is called into question when s/he inevitably "goes off script" and mentions the adult artists who have instructed him/her to inhabit the installation in certain ways, reminding the listener of the semi-exploitative nature of the event, also highlighted by the reductive imperative to "Talk to a Teen." Drawing attention to the layers of control at play creates a sense that everything inside and outside of the frame is acknowledged, even while this highly staged and framed interaction (down to its artificial set and soundtrack) takes place. This paradoxical openness creates a uniquely situated space that allows for surprisingly meaningful exchange between strangers.
Documentation features Kijani Ali-Gaulman in the role of the Teen.