WHAT YOU ARE SPEAKS SO LOUD, I CAN'T HEAR WHAT YOU SAY / DON'T TELL ME WORDS DON'T MATTER

2-channel video installation with sound installation playing from microphone on speaker's podium. Duration 10 min. looped, 2008

In a speech given during the Democratic Primary, Barack Obama argued that words are not just empty promises, but that they are vital for inspiring to hope and action. The speech was a response to criticism from his opponents that he was all rhetoric and no action. He was later accused of plagiarism, as the speech highly resembled a speech earlier presented by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, who, like Obama, has David Axelrod as his speechwriter. Deval Patrick later told The New York Times that he had given Obama a portion of his speech, saying: "The point is more important than whose argument it is. It's a transcendent argument." The concept of plagiarism doesn't apply easily in the context of political speeches. The famous lines Obama quoted, after all, were themselves taken from un-credited sources: Franklin D. Roosevelt's "We have nothing to fear but fear itself” closely resembles Henry David Thoreau's "Nothing is so much to be feared as fear", which itself echoes Francis Bacon's "Nothing is terrible except fear itself."  John F. Kennedy's "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country" is not only very close to something Kahlil Gibran wrote in 1925 "Are you a politician asking what your country can do for you or a zealous one asking what you can do for your country?" -it also came from Kahlil Gibran's work entitled The New Frontier, which is what John F. Kennedy called his administration's new policy philosophy.

In What you are speaks to loud, I can't hear what you say / Don't tell me words don't matter Eleven actors were asked to study and impersonate the gestures and tone of voice of a number of famous speakers. The speeches performed were chosen from across the political spectrum and speak from very different positions and with varying degrees of political and personal stakes. A common thread across the speeches chosen is a concern the possibilities, limitations, necessities, or dangers of being silent or silenced and of speaking for oneself or speaking on behalf of others. A group of college students were asked to act as audience and were instructed to give emotional responses to the words and performance of an imaginary speaker by the use of facial expressions, body language and acclamation. Their actions were choreographed as well as improvised. The recorded sound and video of the performed speeches and the audience was later separated, edited, and reassembled.



Concept and editing: Jane Jin Kaisen

Camera: Francisca Caporali, Tomas Eller

Podium text: Avi Alpert

Choreography: Lindsay L. Benedict

Actors & Voices: Virginia Baeta, Larkin Clark, Melanee Ferrah, Deokumar Gandharri, Robert Gonyo, Imani Henry, Stephen Parker, Fulya Peker, Gita Reddy, Kelley Vollmer, Charles Williams

Audience: Students from LaGuardia Community College: Vena Chanprichar, Silvia English, Emanuel Molina, Zelpha Nelson, Marcellus Oparah, Anna Souza, Georgina Adjare-Nimako, Maria Duran, Stephanie García, Liliana Gomez, Ladaisha “Daisy” Livingston, Maria Trujillo, Aaron Davis

Supported by: The Danish Arts Council & LaGuardia Community College

 

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