ISOLATED EXPERIMENTS-SoPHIA GORDON
A biweekly series where we focus on short works by fresh voices in experimental moving images. Sign up for our mailing list via our contact page to get email updates about new films as we post them.
This week, we are featuring "The Decay Syndrome" a five minute video piece made by artist Sophia Gordon.
MFW: The idea of ‘The Decay Syndrome’ reminds me of the Cocteau quote about cinema as watching “death at work”, though clearly there’s a few different forms of ‘decay’ at play here—-can you describe for us what the ‘decay syndrome’ is, as suggested in your opening narration?
SG: The Decay Syndrome is the point where a healthy or harmless coping mechanism begins to hinder personal growth and healing. The narration is specifically referencing dissociation, which has been a very helpful and necessary tool for me throughout my whole life. It’s aided me with many of my bipolar 1 and OCD symptoms, but when I began to face my PTSD I became conflicted with how much I was relying on it.
I had become trapped in a cycle where self care and neglect were completely blurred. Dissociation was no longer protecting me. It was interfering with my daily life and distracting me from what I needed to understand about my trauma. I wasn’t healing or even able to function. I thought I was escaping, but I was wasting away in a stagnate pool of my own anger and self hate.
The abuse was accomplishing what it had set out to do. It was slowly killing parts of me off.
MFW: What do you do to counter it? Is there a process of re-association that becomes difficult, after the decay sets in?
SG: There are a few grounding techniques that work fairly well for me in mild situations. Finding a familiar object, which is referenced in the video, is a common one. Another technique I use is naming three things around me that I know for certain are real. I look at and list those three things aloud until I feel safe and grounded again.
There are definitely times when techniques like those don't work at all and that's when it's become difficult in the past. Having a trusted friend or loved one who understands is very important. It took me a long time to feel comfortable with asking for that help, but it's something I can count on to combat the decay now. Having someone I trust to sit with me and reassure me can go a long way. I'm finding more and more that regular interactions with loved ones not only helps ground me, but even prevents the need to dissociate at times.
MFW: One of the recurring images of this video is the aisles of a big-box retail chain, from the looks of it a Target or Wal-Mart, which suggests a kind of parallel socio-cultural decay. Can you talk a little about the inclusion of this imagery and your thoughts behind this?
SG: Yes, I shot that footage at a Target. I don’t dissociate in public places nearly as much, but Target was a very common place for me to do so when I did it frequently. While working on “The Decay Syndrome” I began to pinpoint different red flags for myself. If I began to seek out dissociating in a public space regularly it was because I was afraid to go home and/or be alone.
Using a public space for this piece also allowed me to convey just how easily everyday items and imagery can lead to a person being triggered. During that visit to shoot some footage, I stumbled upon items that eventually caused me to leave in a hurry. Something as simple as a cultural reference can be enough. As a personal example, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to listen to The Beach Boys again.
I know a lot of people like to say, “Well, you’re out of there now”. But that’s simply not the case. Trauma is hard to escape. Even when you’re in a safe place and time has passed, those memories still have a lasting impact. It lingers in the back of your mind, persists in your dreams, and exists in the sensory experiences right outside your door.
MFW: Video, particularly older forms like the VHS you use here tends to have a strong connection to a sense of memory for most people, especially those of us that grew up in the 80s and 90s. Can you talk about the connection between memories, mental healing and your videography methods as exemplified by this piece, and also your work with Teleuphoria Media Network?
SG: VHS, television, and recording television programs onto VHS tapes were big things in my family growing up, so there is definitely a nostalgic and archival connection to it there. I also started film school at a time when people were still using digital tapes and film stock regularly. DSLRs and 4K were just starting to become popular, so I was constantly switching back and forth from analog to digital even then.
I took a pretty long break from video after college to work in other mediums. It wasn’t until 2014 that I started to explore concepts of memory and cybernetics utilizing different forms of glitch art. That got me back into video and tinkering with gadgets fairly quickly. From there it grew into seeing how far I could push the compatibility of old and new technology.
I knew I wanted to shoot everything digitally first, convert it to VHS, circuit bend it, add other analog effects, and then convert it back to digital again. But I didn’t want one format to be valued over the other in the process, so I found ways for analog and digital to compliment each other. I had learned about both in equal doses at the same time and I think that’s why I have a fondness for each of them.
When I moved onto examining my mental health in the format of public access shows, this style helped to reinforce that sense of candid self expression. The connection between VHS and television as well as how important those were to me as a kid all play a large part. It made for a safe environment to talk about stigmatized topics. That project became Miller’s Grove Public Access and in 2018 I hosted my first open call. Artists submitted their video work and I converted the selected entries to VHS (unless they were already shot on or processed with analog gear).
I think that nostalgia factor is there for some of the contributing artists, but others are finding comfort in it in a lot of different ways as well. The most prominent is that it’s allowing artists to express themselves without worrying about what equipment they have to work with or their experience level. The project has even gotten some artists to venture into video for the very first time.
Seeing how much this has benefited artists has encouraged me to move forward with the concept. In 2020 I developed TeleUphoria Media Network so I could host a variety of open calls with the same visual style and DIY sensibility, but geared towards different genres and themes. So far I have two channels and hope to broaden that even further.
MFW: In addition to breaking down those equipment and experiential barriers, there's a revolution in distribution going on here as well. I'd never imagined growing up that it'd be possible that in the future anyone who wanted to could program their own television channel and broadcast to the world, which is essentially what you're doing here (We even do it too, with our workshop channel), and it creates so many possibilities, connecting far-flung artists who might never have met. Since your work with TeleUphoria takes its initial inspiration from an older form of Public Access TV, for the last question can you reflect on how this development changes the very nature of the television medium going forward?
SG: The accessibility of broadcasting online is a dream come true! It brings to mind that Andy Kaufman quote, “…I used to stay in my room and imagine that there was a camera in the wall. And I used to really believe that I was putting on a television show and that it was going out to somewhere in the world.” I felt like that as a kid too or at the very least, hoped it was true, but now I do have that power. I’m able to run my own platform and bring folks together. It’s absolutely incredible!
YouTube and sites like it are the new public access, but the challenge is keeping people’s attention. Not just because you’re competing with millions of others, but also because of passive consumption. Though I use streaming services and enjoy the convenience of them, they have definitely contributed to this. I feel this has leaked into how people interact with art on the whole. That’s one of the biggest reasons why TeleUphoria’s programming is presented as scheduled broadcasts. It’s an experience that won’t always be there for you to watch whenever you want. It’s an event that you have to plan around and put in effort to see.
It’s encouraging to see more of these sites offer live streaming and scheduled premieres. I hope more artists and curators take advantage of this. With live streaming I’ve seen such a huge difference in engagement.
So, while there’s this wonderful increase in accessibility, we still need to keep in mind how folks are interacting with that work and how we’re presenting it. I think there still needs to be some sort of structure there as we continue to move forward.
Producing material that pushes the boundaries of technology, Sophia Gordon’s work spans a variety of mediums and genres. Both glitch art and circuit bending as well as the compatibility of old and new technologies are prominent features within her practice. Her most recent projects have explored mental health, cybernetics, chaos magick, horror, and science fiction.
Sophia graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design with a BFA in Film and Television Production. There she developed a passion for experimental story structure and the meticulous nature of the editing process. Over the course of the last 8 years she has developed a style inspired by public access television and lo-fi digital tape formats.
Currently residing in Nashville, TN, Sophia’s focus is on video production, editing, and curation. She is the founder and operator of the experimental broadcasting company TeleUphoria Media Network where she curates two themed channels (Miller’s Grove Public Access and Channel 43). She is also a member of the transgressive art collective Trance//Furnace.