Notes from Stanya Kahn

Stanya Kahn

Jan 27, 2020

Two teenage boys in hats and coats sit in the California wilderness eating snack food in a scene from Stanya Kahn's 2020 short film No Go Backs

Below, Stanya Kahn shares thoughts on No Go Backs, her new work supported by the Film/Video studio and making its world premiere at the Wex. The artist will join us Friday, January 31, for the Winter Exhibitions Preview.



Two teenage boys using flashlights in a brush-filled outdoor area at sunset walk toward the camera in a scene from Stanya Kahn's 2020 short film No Go Backs
"Dad says water now costs several times as much as gasoline. But, except for arsonists and the rich, most people have given up buying gasoline…It’s a lot harder to give up water."

I wanted to make a story that could linger between the real and the unreal, with openings for not-knowing and the offer of an immersive mood viewers could share collectively to perceive a world with high stakes, loss, difficulty, and optimism. I wanted to make a film that would simultaneously use affect and distance to invoke feelings without dictating how, when, or why. I wanted to make a kinetic state from sound and images without dialogue to inhabit—psychological and intuitive, dreamlike, and where threads of meaning could lace and unlace interdependently. Signals and references could rearrange themselves.

"To think in film is to deal with a lack of security, of centers, of stable systems of thought. Filmic images call for supplements provided by imaginative minds, by a certain rage against injustice. They call for a conception of history as stories of transient and vulnerable beings, of unsheltered lives, minding the non-famous people and regarding oneself as mortal."

I shot most of the scenes from a distance with a long lens to allow space and autonomy. Teenagers inhabit a unique field of being that can’t be fully interpreted from outside. And also the camera’s proximity reflects a praxis toward mutual respect in the broader world: to see and acknowledge difference without invading, assuming to know, or attempting to co-opt. The camera often pauses to try to capture the magnitude of the earth. These scenes are meant to be generous, a slow-down in which a person could consider, float, become self-aware as a witness, while releasing the land from our grasp. These shots are also, of course, odes to the planet and a record of the endangered.

"But for my children, I would / have them keep their distance / from the thickening center; corruption / Never has been compulsory, / where the cities lie at the monster’s / feet there are left the mountains."

I wanted to make a film that was quietly polemic. Exhausted by word streams each day in the scroll of news and comments, all of us wrestling with position and rhetoric amidst what is the never-ending real violence of life in late capitalism, I wanted us to have a break. Full of rage and mind-racing perplexity, I made a slow film of vulnerability, love, and fortitude. While this new generation carries a special weight—the earth’s own ticking clock and a sweeping global rise in fascism not seen before—history hands down tools. Backpacks half full, savvy, and “born under a bad sky,” the kids will reconfigure the house we’ve left them.


Images: No Go Backs © 2020 Stanya Kahn. Super 16mm transferred to 2k video, 33 minutes. Courtesy of the artist and Vielmetter Los Angeles. Made with support from the Film/Video Studio at the Wexner Center for the Arts.