Daily Stream: Layla Muchnik-Benali, waving goodbye (or hello) to the sun

Melissa Starker, Creative Content & PR Manager

Jun 29, 2020

The back of Wexner Center Assistant Film/Video Curator Chris Stults as he waves goodbye to the setting sun at the California site of the Cabazon dinosaurs, for Layla Muchnik-Benali's video project "waving goodbye (or hello) to the sun"

Art spaces may be slowly starting to reopen but many summer exhibitions are sticking to online only—among them, waving goodbye (or hello) to the sun, created by Wex Film/Video curatorial assistant and Ohio State grad student Layla Muchnik-Benali. Developed for Hopkins Hall Gallery, the show is on view virtually through this Friday, July 3, and its all-video format (including pieces submitted by others) can easily be absorbed online.

As the artist explains in an interview for OSU’s Urban Arts Space, issues of individual power and accepted hierarchies—in filmmaking and in society—were guiding forces behind her project. “I think that question of power is so central to everything I’ve been thinking about and doing in grad school in general. Something that’s important with this project in terms of the question of power for me is how small the action is, how it’s action you can do on a daily scale… I think that power and hierarchies of oppression are built on a daily scale, as well.”

Through a simple call and response, the request for and submission of short videos involving people raising their hands and waving as the sun sets or rises, Muchnik-Benali shines a light on the shallowness of traditional hierarchies in image making. More broadly, she illustrates how significant change comes about not in a flash (though it may seem that way sometimes), but through a series of relatively small actions over time. Such actions can be tiring—the weight of one’s arm may seem to grow exponentially the longer it's held up—but there’s power in persistence.

This concept is obviously relevant to what’s happening in the US right now as daily protests continue to push for systemic police reform, gaining smaller victories in the process. Muchnik-Benali couldn’t have predicted how timely the exhibition would be in this regard when she proposed it, or when she initially launched the waving to the sun project in 2019. Beyond the political resonance, however, her efforts also provide a welcome resource specific to the time of coronavirus.

As many of us continue to avoid leaving the house—and by extension, to miss all the moments of tangible human connection that come over the course of going about a “normal” day—the videos of individuals and groups of friends gathering to watch the shift from day to night generate unexpected feelings of warmth and intimacy.

Participants from across the country take to patios, rooftops, parking lots, and other locales including a jungle gym and the California site of the Cabazon dinosaurs (made famous in Tim Burton's film Pee Wee's Big Adventure, recorded here by Assistant Film/Video Curator Chris Stults). While performing their sun salutations, they openly share vacation moments, respective fashion senses, some casual conversations, the pets who get in on the act, and other small gestures and distinctions. Some focus their cameras on the horizon line, presenting themselves from the back, while others train cameras on their faces. All are actively engaged in the task at hand but there is no strong positive or negative charge in their behavior.

In each instance, you don’t realize how much you’ve missed something like this—the sight of someone not in your immediate circle out in the world, doing something relatively ordinary, free from pandemic-related fear or the divisive and commodified atmosphere of social media—until their images are on the screen in front of you. 

Another interview with Muchnik-Benali about the show is up on Columbus Underground. And she’s still accepting submissions of videos through the project’s website.

See the exhibition waving goodbye (or hello) to the sun via Hopkins Hall Gallery.


Lead image: Film/Video Assistant Curator Chris Stults waves goodbye to the sun at the site of the Cabazon Dinosaurs in Cabazon, California. Image courtesy of the artist.

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