Portrait of an Artist

Visiting professor Kerry Tribe ventures into the intersection of art and memory through her installation based pieces

Kerry Tribe
Jabulani R. Barber

Visiting professor Kerry Tribe ventures into the intersection of art and memory through her installation based pieces.

What happens to memories if we don’t remember them? Do films truly tell the whole story? These are some of the questions that artist and Visual and Environmental Sciences [VES]visiting lecturer Kerry Tribe explores through her film, video, and sound art installations. Through this medium, Tribe delves into the ephemeral and seeks to challenge the understanding of memory, subjectivity and doubt, as well as the limits of representation. Her work has been exhibited in world-renowned museums across America and Europe, from the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York to the Generali Foundation in Vienna. Tribe is currently teaching two classes, “The Art of Forgetting” and “Sound-Film-Video-Installation,” and also has her own work on display in the Carpenter Center. On September 23, Tribe will be participating in the event “Artist Talks,” a series of informal discussions implemented to encourage dialogue between undergraduates and VES faculty.

The Harvard Crimson: When did you start exploring the ideas of memory, doubt, and installation art?

Kerry Tribe: When I was an undergraduate at Brown, I took a production class on documentary. I tried to make a video about my grandfather, who was at the time becoming quite senile, and this introduced all kinds of problems for me. The documentary ended up becoming a document about how difficult it can be to make something that’s objective and accurate when your subject is somebody who can’t remember, and the project became very much about the problems about documentary. This project kind of initiated these twin interests for me in representation and its limits, and memory and its limits.

THC: What are the challenges of working with a time-based art?

KT: One challenge is dealing with a viewer that can come and go. When you go into a movie theater, you sit down, the film rolls, the credits follow, and then it’s over. In an art installation, it’s difficult to say how long a project is. Do you want to spend 15 minutes looking at my work? Through a photograph or a painting, you’re able to take it in in a lot less time. Another challenge is preservation and issues of media specificity. I create work in 16 mm film, work that gets saved and played on DVDs. DVDs get scratched. Films break. Formats change. There are a lot of issues that are physical and material that come up for me in the process.


THC: What is this artistic process like for you?

KT: I have a set of people that I really love to collaborate with as editors and sound designers, but I don’t make a lot of work. Typically I’ll think about something for months, upwards towards a year before I will shoot. The production part of the project is very short. For example, the idea for the piece up at the Carpenter Center right now, “The Last Soviet,” had been turning around back and forth and the scripting had taken about a year, but afterwards, it was just one day of shooting.

THC: What is particularly special about art installation to you?

KT: I think every artist ends up making the work they want to see in the world. You get an idea, and it becomes a bee in your bonnet, and you sort of have to see it realized. But also, my background is in conceptual art, and a founding principle of conceptual art, is the idea that the work is really the idea, and it has to get realized in whatever medium or form best suits the idea. Because my ideas make sense to me in a temporal medium, they are often about the passage of time. I try to use the format that I’m showing the work, to talk about time: what gets remembered and what gets forgotten.

THC: What are the different reactions you have gotten about your works?

KT: It’s not like I always have a clear idea of what a work will mean. It’s often realized in the process. The work is interpretable. The reader or the viewer of the work is always going to bring their own associations to it, and I try to make work for a range of audiences so that people who have a lot of experiences looking at experimental film might find something of interest in it, I hope, and hopefully an audience of people like my parents, who are perfectly intelligent, lovely people, but who haven’t seen a lot of art, might also find a lot of intrigue in it.

THC: What do you hope to gain from your time at Harvard?

KT: For me, it’s really terrific to take a step back from making for a few months. I’m not working hard on any major new project right now. I’m using my classes as a kind of laboratory to think through ideas. I’m seeing students’ work that feels refreshing.