When I think about how I have grown to consume media and pop culture, I find that I give myself over to the media to have an engaging emotional journey rather than passively experiencing it. Engaging with media in this way has always felt natural, for example, in high school I found solace and chosen family in the hardcore and punk music scene where I made many friends that are still in my life today. Going to the shows, slamming our bodies into one another, screaming the songs back to the band was an exorcism of everything bad in our heads and lives. Apart from these collective experiences, I have built personal rituals around media. Each night, for example, I fall asleep to something on the TV, letting it run through the entire night while I sleep. When I was younger, I would sleep listening to the radio or my favourite CDs because I didn’t have the ability to play audiovisual media. I recall on countless occasions calling into the radio station, requesting all sorts of songs, from Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s, “‘03 Bonnie & Clyde,” to Nirvana’s, “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Eventually, I got my hands on a portable DVD player that I could prop next to my bed, further allowing my mind to wander in my sleep. In my dreams I would have flashes and pangs of the media playing mere inches from my head through the night. I recall watching Donnie Darko (2001) every night for months. I saw myself in the character of Donnie; he had been given a shit chance at life—having to sacrifice himself in order to not have reality cave in—yet did cool and amazing things. I’ve always found that I am drawn to similar characters who, like Donnie, were met with heinous experiences, yet managed to enact various forms of change. When I was younger, I found comfort with Matilda and her magic, while later, into my twenties, I saw myself reflected in Laura Palmer’s hellish teenage years, and even now, I see myself in characters like Dani, from Midsommar (2019).
I recall being in a deep bout of depression a few years ago, which led to me being represcribed antidepressants. I had made plans to go see the movie, Midsommar with Scott and my friend, Georgia. I was really excited, but also extremely worried that, given my mental state at the time, the likely heavy subject matter of a woman losing her entire family to murder-suicide by her sister’s hand,
might be a bit much.
Regardless, I went to the movie, ultimately finding nothing but catharsis in the character of Dani. I witnessed her struggling yet overcoming her feelings of loss and grief in such an amplified way that’s really only possible within constructed media—in this case, with old people throwing themselves off a cliff, an entirely overblown flower dress, and endlessly insane theatrics. Even though the film is entirely fictional and fantastical, I found that it still acted as a mirror of my own mental state during that viewing. My experience was vastly different from hers at the time, as I was contending with depression without understanding the cause, while she was dealing with a very tangible set of events. Despite the difference in experience, I found that the emotional arc of Dani provided an outlet to express my feelings, even if only to myself. I was screaming with others in the theatre, but really, I was mostly screaming alongside Dani as she watched her boyfriend burn up in a funeral pyre.
Beyond characters and stories reflecting my inner feelings back to me, for as long as I can remember, I have shared various media, from songs to movies, with others as a means of divulging my own feelings, struggles, and excitements. To this day, I have struggled with expressing my feelings to others through conventional means like a simple conversation, but have found that I am able to lean on media as a form of opening up and letting others in on what I may be emotionally contending with. When I was in grade 10 or 11 I had a painting assignment for art class. I found myself trawling through an endless stream of Myspace photos, ultimately choosing one to paint of two guys kissing. I painted the picture in watercolours and promptly wrote something really literal and corny over the painting, like “gay.” This signaled to my mom that I was most likely ready to come out to myself, to her, or to whomever. Following the making of this embarrassing painting, I didn’t come out to either of my parents, but rather was simply asked by each of them on separate occasions. To some, this would likely be a huge overstepping of boundaries, and not something I would necessarily recommend to most parents, but in my case, it made sense. Realistically, it was the only way I ever would’ve come out “officially.” Had I not been asked directly, I most likely wouldn’t have ever come out officially, but rather would’ve just gone on with my life as a gay person, not making a big deal of it. Through the use of this seemingly arbitrary, yet meticulously chosen gay photo from Myspace, I was able to signal to my mom that I was in a comfortable enough spot to have some form of dialogue about my sexuality if she so chose.
More recently, my artistic practice has become my primary form of expressing feelings and discussing events that I have a hard time talking about. I recall sending the song “Kiss and Control'' by AFI to my friend in high school as a way of saying “I’m depressed and want to die.” This worked for an angst-fueled teenager unable to express their feelings, but as I’ve gotten older, the events and emotions that are hard to discuss, such as a parent’s suicide, are more challenging. Now, I feel more comfortable outwardly saying “I’m depressed and want to die” when I feel that way, without the need to present media as a representation of those feelings. So when something arises that necessitates my use of media to convey how I feel, the events are likely murkier and less concise. These events and emotions are too difficult to convey with a single song or Myspace photo. It feels like a necessary evolution for me to create something equally murky when I’m at a loss for words and, really, the only way that makes sense is by Frankensteining disparate media into something new; something stitched together by my own hand. Rather than relying on a single source, I’ve built my practice on collaging media together. Due to the weightier nature of the events I make my video work in response to, I find it necessary to utilize multiple sources to convey the variety of emotions I have. A singular song or a clip from a film works great as a building block for addressing the larger events and emotions I make work in response to, such as the grief felt in the wake of a parent’s visible struggle with mental health. When I composite media together, the resulting video is often overwhelming and bursting with violent colours and hectic audio, which allows me to transform the media I use into a personalized letter to the viewer, much in the way the songs I used to send to friends in my adolescence were a means of conveying my emotions.