Response 2


Transcript of Ryan Trauman’s Video Response

Male narration [voice over] throughout

I want to start with an image. The camera pointing down at a pair of sneakers. And under the sneakers, a skateboard. And under the skateboard, not pavement, but a puddle, reflecting. And in that reflection, the camera pointing down at a pair of sneakers.

But the skateboard is skating across the puddle’s surface. The puddle is a mirror. The water’s surface a film. Reflecting a camera. Pointing down at a skateboard breaking the puddle’s surface as it moves across. And the skater’s reflected image crumbles underneath the skateboard’s axles. Always continually reflecting and continually breaking. I wish I could say the image is mine, but it belongs to Erin Mullikin. It comes from her myStory which is simply hypnotic, lyric, and surreal.

Greg Ulmer, in his textbook Internet Invention, sets out the function and generic conventions for what he terms a “mystory.” He argues for a text consisting of a few discrete, but intersecting, institutions: career, family, entertainment, history. These institutions, at once both personal and social, might be stitched together to construct what he calls a “wide image.” Ulmer’s “myStory” is a text that sets out to generate, explore, and structure an author’s wide image. The value of Ulmer’s proposed genre lies not only in the highly personal connections it reveals for the author and audience, but as a device for invention, as well. He proposes that that “the purpose [of the myStory process is] to interlink the four sites in a way that brings out a pattern [of … repeating signifiers].”

Mullikin’s text is a powerfully realized example of a this genre. It consists primarily of four separate movies, each pertaining to one of the institutional categories I’ve already mentioned. Taken on their own, each movie borrows conventions from music video genres. That is, the images of each of the videos bear some relationship to the song’s lyrics, sometimes in tension, and sometimes in concert. Mullikin further complicates these semiotic interactions by layering the visual field with additional alphabetic text. In these ways, Mullikin draws not only on her technological skill sets, but also she establishes an intuitive sense of connection across multiple, simultaneous media.

Watching these four video texts, what emerges are two different patterns of repeating signifiers. The first is that of transportation. In the “Career” video of Mullikin’s text, we encounter a montage built around images of a plane in flight, people milling about an airport or some sort or mass transit station, an escalator, and of course the image of the skateboarder mentioned earlier. In the “Family” video, Mullikin focuses almost exclusively on her brothers skateboarding, though this image is complicated by the fact that the boys are skating as recreation rather than transportation. In the text’s “Entertainment” video, Milliken relies on traditional readings of Lewis Carroll’s Alice as being transported between worlds, always escaping one for the other. An in her “History” video, she returns again to more direct references with images of an abandoned bicycle and scooter. Here, again she mixes images of locomotion with stasis. The clouds move past the airplane. Her brothers skating back and forth continually. Riders stand still on the escalator.

The other pattern which emerges for me is that of a self reflected in encountered objects. This theme’s seems most explicit in Mullikin’s “Family” video which opens with an image of words inscribed on a fogged mirror. We encounter another version of this image in Mullikin’s selection of the two-way mirror scene from Alice in Wonderland. Maybe least explicit, yet still suggestively rich, is the way she frames her home town, in the “History” video. Everywhere she looks she sees herself and her ancestors. It’s a beautiful rumination of the inevitable passing of one’s family into ancestry. She asks her grandmother to tell her stories about the ghosts that live there. The suggestion of herself and her brothers as ghosts riding the abandoned bike and scooter is haunting. And in the “Career” video, the image of the filmmaker reflected in the puddle under the skateboard aligns perfectly with the rest of these images of the self in other objects. But these objects and selves reflected in them are never clear or stable. The mirror is fogged, and can be used only for writing rather than seeing. Her own ghost at her grandmother’s house is left only with rusting furniture and abandoned toys. Alice’s mirror is more of a barrier than a source of revelation. And the filmmaker in the puddle is always crumbling under her own axle.

As I understand it, Mullikin’s text is the first myStory to be published by a peer-reviewed online publication. It’s remarkable how fully she seems to inhabit a genre that still has yet to fully realize itself. She has achieved an impressive production polish while maintaining a rough, jump-cut, collagist texture. Which is why that image of that cinematographer-skater I mentioned earlier seems to so perfectly capture the ways this text moves me.