Matt Keegan on “Generation” and the new significance of home during Covid-19
Matt Keegan, Generation, 2016, Two-channel video, 44:30 minutes
Matt Keegan’s interdisciplinary work explores the relationship between image, language, cognition and identity. Addressing the subjective nature of language, Keegan’s work examines the ways in which words and phrases are bound to specific cultural and historical circumstances but are always shifting along with our changing ideas and positions. In the midst of Covid-19, Keegan looks back at his 2016 two-channel video, “Generation,” which maps the ideological transmission of meanings among his family.
“In the lead up to the election of 2016, I was disgusted with the campaign that Donald Trump was running, and the language he used to frame immigrant populations. My mother is a first generation Cuban-American who taught English as a second language (ESL) coursework to public high school and adult education students for twenty-five years. Since 2010, I’ve worked with a homemade image-only set of 400+ flashcards that she created to facilitate her weekly lessons. Removing any text from images she found in magazines, catalogues, and newspapers, my mother assigned her own words and phrases to each flashcard, creating her own visual vocabulary. My 2011 video, “N, as in Nancy” documents 60 flashcards from her larger collection:
Matt Keegan, “N” as in Nancy, 2011, Two-channel video, 03:08 minutes
In my mother’s learning aids, the image dominates and directs language. For “Generation” I worked with my family members (parents, siblings, nieces and nephew) to access definitions of 19 words and concepts, but also asked them to assign color, shape, form, weight, and movement to certain words. Their descriptions generate animations. The video begins by assigning a definition to the word “name” and continues to “mother” and “father.” The selected words move from the parental to the sexual and poetic, and on to the ideological. In contrast with the portrait of this country that was developing in the lead-up to Trump’s inauguration, I wanted to make a portrait of a (lower-to-middle class coastal) family that happens to be my own. In addition to filming each family member with colored backdrops, I interviewed them in their respective homes, and asked how they came to reside there.
In the midst of Covid-19, home takes on a new significance. My father’s currently getting stir crazy in his apartment, where he lives alone, above his 93-year-old landlady. My mom talks with neighbors in her senior residence and says that she maintains 6 feet of distance. My nieces are finishing up their freshman and sophomore years of high school from home, and my sister and I worry that my nephew will start his senior year via Zoom. My siblings are keeping busy with their jobs and day-to-day lives. And I’m wrapping up a book project titled 1996 that provides a critical overview of Bill Clinton’s two-term presidency and first-hand accounts of that early-to-late 90s moment, as we move toward the presumptive nomination of Joe Biden. The distributable form of a publication is especially desirable at the moment. We’re all negotiating different ways to experience art, and video provides a great option. I wish you could watch the above videos as installed 2-screen projections, but for now, I’m happy to share these works to watch in the comfort and safety of your home.”
– Matt Keegan