PHYSICAL BODY OF WORK;
a love letter to an evolving self, The Trilogy
The Archive is not Truth—
the Archive is Power over History,
the Archive is Memory +
the Knowledge one must access,
to activate it, to bring it to Light.
What remains valuable within the sepulcher?
How must we curate our physical/digital realms
to leave the essence of our
There is no one true Self,
just as there is no
one true History.
“That-has-been” will forever be incomplete
+ will forever react as an evolving body
to its shifting environments,
just as our psyches adapt
to time and the unknown...
PHYSICAL BODY lies between concepts of whether the loss of an archive is a rite of passage or a tragedy.
Documenting and analyzing the ruin of the artist’s archive (from 2004-2018) due to a flood, Dedman works to investigate traces of bereavement left behind.
The artist uses alchemy to create and maintain new selves, new archives by virtue of iterations of degraded information through media.
“Amnesia” digs into the effects of the flood on Dedman’s writing archive.
“Aporia” shows the burning of the moldy, ruined notebooks in ritual.
“Folly” is a scripted short that contemplates the internal narrative work that arose when the impression of memory became the only remnant of the archive.
The trilogy of experimental short films began within a therapeutic artist residency with TAR Project from 2019-2020.
*“Part I: Amnesia”
+ screened at the 2020 NOFLASH Video Show
+ transcript published in Analog Cookbook Vol. 2, a zine about analog film processes.
"Folly" uses many sounds from the freesound.org library, licensed under the Creative Commons.
Here is the list of all the sounds used.
This work was inspired by:
+ Glitch Feminism: A Manifesto by Legacy Russell
+ “A Museum for James Baldwin” by Fritz J. Raddatz, James A. Baldwin, Magdalena J. Zaborowska, and Theaster Gates from 032c Magazine
+ “Delete Yr Account: Speculations on Trans Digital Lives and the Anti-Archival Part I & II” by Cassius Adair from the DIGITAL RESEARCH ETHICS COLLABORATORY
+ Archive Fever by Jacques Derrida
+ the films of the Structuralist filmmaker, Dara Friedman, from her retrospective Perfect Stranger
A STORY OF QUEER REBIRTH IN THREE PARTS: 'PHYSICAL BODY OF WORK' BY SHANE DEDMAN
Virtual Remains, part of the 2021 Atlanta Biennial, is currently on display at the Atlanta Contemporary. Part of this exhibition includes Shane Dedman’s Physical Body of Work, a film and installation project occupying the basement space of the Contemporary. In this quiet cove lives a work that moves the viewer through the mind of a queer artist through trauma, darkness, introspection and rebirth.
Shane Dedman’s work comprises three short films. The individual films are connected through original poetry, mostly read through voice-over. Dedman takes advantage of the storytelling potential of a subtitle, cleverly pairing the image on-screen with phrases that both describe the sound and sway the mood of the scene. Each frame becomes its own poetic composition.
The first film is called Amnesia. There is the grassy sound of cicadas and crickets. On-screen are close-ups of pages faded in black mold and violet ink spread out like an autopsy on a blanket. What was once legible becomes blotched abstractions of itself. “I can no longer look back on the document”, the voice-over reads. “An archive exists, not as truth.” As the poem continues and the notebooks bleed one into the other, we can see how our past selves are not our current selves, but mere testaments of where and who we’ve been. The poem repeats “An archive exists, not as truth, but as proof.”
Next, Aporia begins. It is a black night. Silence, then a match strike. Fire burns the notebooks. “I destroyed it all”, the voice says. Fire burns, the notebook’s ashes make grim faces between the flames, the flames dance like golden-white ghosts on the wilting paper. How very Atlanta, for Dedman’s journals to be set on fire, the evidence of a former self burned away in the darkness, artistic traces gone up in smoke.
The burning feels like a reckoning, a ritual of healing. Dedman cuts ties with the past, a choice to be alive in the present. With this gesture, Dedman seems to step into themselves empty and unburdened. There is something meaningful, too, how the destruction of an archive on paper is being archived on film. The books transform, no longer useful in its original bound form, but given new crackling life. “It’s all gone”, the voice says. Behind the poem is the sound of rain, a far-off storm. We live out our painful catharsis, and then, who are we?
The final and longest film, Folly, plays on a neighboring screen. The viewer must reorient themselves in space for the end of the trilogy. In this chapter, we see the first body, a hand in white lace, red wavy hair, clown paint, Artemis eats berries off the branch. Artemis, our protagonist, is in a state of earthly delights, a loud chewing and burping femme wandering the dream-like landscape.
Artemis is invited to the Dedman Circus, where Dedman embodies various distinct personas interacting with each other. There is an almost vaudeville sense of humor throughout these moments. These characters perform, serve each other, irritate and bore each other. One persona charms another in a cabaret set to house music. Another reads a gloomy poem. These are the capabilities of our minds. Artemis runs through the holographic and glitching woods, toying with a stream, putting bits of the field in their hair, laying their hands over every living surface.
These films have a great deal to do with psyche, how the self deals with the self. Who are we, how do we treat ourselves, during idle thought, trauma and memory? We are contradictory and complementary, disjointed and perfectly whole. We find answers through play, through action, by fire, by air. Through a queer lens, the film is about what it feels like to make sense of these different performances of gender and identity in conjunction with performances of style and artistry.
Speaking as a queer person, non-binary particularly, I often find that we feel more ways about ourselves at any one time than we can portray on the outside. We contain multitudes. This is a magic wrinkle of our existence, a challenge and blessing. As complex as this feeling is to put into words, there is great care in the worlds Dedman renders. Dedman portrays nuance in a masterful and affirming way, a way the viewer can experience, take part in.
After the film, I was aware of how much I could let go of and part with, in order to reimagine who I could be. There’s so much to destroy, so much to honor, so much to build. Leaving the basement, it felt right to escape into the Contemporary’s garden of breath-giving rosemary. The sunlight was steady upon the plants’ reaching heads. I felt included in the freedom and space Dedman created, the new spring warmth upon me, the day’s possibilities opened up before me.
Virtual Remains, curated by TK Smith is on display at the Atlanta Contemporary until August 1, 2021.
Nicholas Goodly is an Atlanta-based poet and the writing editor of Wussy Magazine.