In The Box: Bethel

Jennifer Lange

Apr 01, 2019


"An Ongoing Healing Thing"

This month, we’re screening a new work by Columbus-based visual artist Bobby T Luck—who will serve as a juror awarding the Grand Prize in this year’s Ohio Shorts festival (April 29). Below, Film/Video Studio Curator Jennifer Lange asks Luck about this latest project completed through a residency in the center’s Film/Video Studio.

Jennifer Lange (JL): Bethel is the first in a series of videos you are planning about the possibilities and problems of memory. How did this series start? What do you expect from subsequent works in the series?

Bobby T Luck (BTL): Bethel started out in 2011 as a series of written essays about my life in the mountains as a child and my familial relationships. I had no intention of turning it into film or even approaching film in general. However, in late 2015 I was a victim of a hate crime and sustained brain damage that affected my memories. As I was recuperating, I revisited the essays, and they helped me regain memories that had been lost. Not trusting my newly formed memories, I decided later that I wanted to recreate them through film, so as to experience them again. I was hoping that through warped repetition I would become more attached to the memories that resurfaced, and it would make them feel less fabricated. The first Bethel was definitely a recreation of said memories mixed with memories from the year I lost them. It is very much chaotic, layered stream of consciousness. All of the following films will be explorations of memories that have resurfaced from working closely with this first one. It has been an ongoing healing thing, a growth process for me.

JL: The title makes an explicit biblical reference, Bethel being the site of Jacob's famous dream of the ladder to heaven and the place where he changed his name to Israel. What's the meaning of Bethel in relation to your work?

BTL: Christianity was at the forefront of my life as a child. My father and I would sit for hours and have debates about theology and biblical theory, even at a very young age. The Bethel story was always very close to my heart. I related to Jacob’s hopelessness. Like Jacob fleeing from his brother who was trying to kill him, I had a horribly abusive relationship with my brother as a child—and, the street I lived on growing up was called Bethel Hill Road. I often daydreamed about God sending a ladder down to save me so long as I dedicated myself to Him the way Jacob did. Naming the series Bethel seemed like the only name that would be suitable. I’m not religious anymore, but the Bible is full of didactic stories, and I still return to them.

JL: The piece has such dense and saturated visuals, which the sound really reinforces, giving a super-heightened sensory experience for the viewer. Sound is such a unique memory trigger, too. What were some of the strategies you used to create and build the soundscape?

BTL: Ice clinking in a glass, an egg breaking on a glass bowl, and a gun cocking all sound kind of similar, right? However, if you replace noises that you are used to with their sister sounds, it creates a stressful uncanny valley of audio. An uncanny valley is the best way to describe how I feel about the memories that I lost and reacquired. A lot of the memories are not good ones, but they are still mine. Losing the guarantee that my memories are accurate representations of my past made me question why I became who I am, which causes a lot of anxiety when the memories pop into my head. Comfortingly familiar, yet somehow off, a vague but strong sense of something foreboding. That was the feeling I wanted to create with the sound and the visuals. I played with sounds of everyday objects at home before going into the studio and finding sounds that gave me the same physical feelings as the memories in the scenes.

Bobby T Luck is a Columbus, Ohio–based artist and education activist working in film, multimedia collage, and installation. After relocating to Columbus from Philadelphia, he started the Free Skool for Humans initiative and cofounded the now-defunct MINT Collective, teaching collage and film theory workshops across the country as well. Luck has also participated in several Wex education programs, including Pages and Super Sunday.

Bobby T Luck
Bethel, 2018
3:10 mins., video