I Don’t Know What to Say (2019)

Samuel and Olivia

Going to an international high school outside of Venezuela and now studying at a college in the United States has led Samuel to contemplate his time away from home. Seeing and hearing about the rapid changes taking place in his country, Samuel discusses his exile and the idea of change, questioning whether one can truly overcome the emotions that come alongside them.
Olivia is an American citizen whose father is from Venezuela. In spite of the connection and familiarity to the language, the gravitas of Samuel’s experiences of living in and away from his home is one that differs from Olivia’s understanding of her father’s home. Yet, bringing the two in ‘conversation’ with one another felt natural for this reason.
Samuel speaks Spanish, Portuguese, English and is learning Italian. Olivia speaks English and Spanish.
This is Samuel’s story told through the two of them.

Ellina, Emma & Danielle

I was first intrigued by Ellina’s interest in literature written in English; how she had fervently studied it back home, in Russia, and how she continues to pursue it here, in Vermont. But what she revealed went beyond the relationship between language and academics. Moving out of her country for the first time, Ellina discusses the influence the internet has had on her identity as well as recounts her own family’s experiences with migration.

Seeing how earnestly they listen and care for others, I approached Emma and Danielle, despite their insistence that they weren’t dancers. Though they did not have an inherent connection to Ellina, I knew they would be open to being lost in a language unfamiliar to them. Utilising Emma and Danielle’s close friendship, I further wondered how two people would interpret the same audio, and how the dynamic may change with a friend present.

Ellina speaks Russian and English. Emma speaks English, and is familiar with French. Danielle speaks English and Spanish.

This is Ellina’s story told by the three of them.

Sagarika & Sizo

Sagarika was one of the first few people I had met on campus. Moving out of the township, Auroville, and country, India, for the first time, I was intrigued by the life and community she left to study in the United States. In speaking to her, Sagarika reveals how moving away may complicate earlier conceptions of one’s identity. This notion of temporality and spatiality is one that influences Sagarika’s work in visual art as well.
I asked Sizo to be a part of this project out of the knowledge that she was comfortable with expressing herself through movement. However, she revealed how this was the first time reacting to dialogue rather than music. Though Sizo and Sagarika close friends, I found that their experiences converged in many ways. One of these having been the international communities they grew up with: Sizo had attended an international high school in Thailand, outside of her home country of Eswatini, whilst Sagarika grew up in Auroville, an international township. They are both also wonderfully strong and empowering women whose energies I felt complemented one another’s.
Sagarika speaks English, French, Hindi and Marathi. Sizo speaks Siswati, English, Zulu, Spanish, and some Thai.
This is Sagarika’s story told through the two of them.

Marta & Mrunal

When I first met Marta, I was immediately struck by the passion she had for her country, Belarus. Teaching herself the history behind Belarus, she began questioning what having a nationality truly meant. In this, she delves into identity and her relationship with it thus far.
I approached Mrunal firstly because of the predominance body language takes in her self-expression. I was interested how someone with such comfortability in movement might have responded to something other than their own voice. The pairing between Mrunal and Marta was almost a coincidental one. Mrunal had asked if she could experience interpreting an Eastern European language, it just so happen that after putting the two of them together that I found out Marta and Mrunal had attended the same high school outside of both their home countries.
Marta speaks Belarusian, Russian, Spanish and English. Mrunal speaks Hindi, Marathi and English.
This is Marta’s story told by the both of them.

Artist Statement

“Keoi mm sek gong” “Sek teng mou?”

 “I bē bêng-pe̍k”

I was surrounded by mouths moving with familiar-unfamiliar tongues, words I had always heard, but never understood. Back then, it was easier to tune their voices out, easier to choose nothingness than to hear it by default. But the language was inescapable. I found myself wanting to reply, wanting to strengthen the connections frayed by an earlier unwillingness to listen. So I began to do just that. I listened to rhythms and inflections and tones and emotions, and soon enough the words came too. 

I don’t know what to say is the manifestation of this process. It is a collection of stories and reflections told in multiple languages and translated through voice and body. It was the phrase every story began with, the response all interpreters gave upon hearing them, and the feeling I felt as a child and as the one behind the camera. 

With our every-increasing proximity to various cultures, peoples and languages, it became clearer to me the role a project like this could have within our society. In moving to Bennington College, I found that this was especially the case. Here, stories of grappling with languages rarely spoken at home, of learning to carve a space for oneself in a new place, and of questioning the very nature of boundaries we were taught to maintain, are found at the very core of the college’s student body. It was not until the filming of this project, however, that these snippets of stories emerged as complex reflections that serve to complicate the narratives I grew up hearing. 

More than anything, I don’t know what to say was a collaboration. I could not be more grateful for the honesty, vulnerability, and heart both the storytellers and interpreters showed, and were willing to share with all of you. This project has brought people closer to one another in ways words can’t explain, in ways only listening and feeling could. It is my hope that in moments of speechlessness, we will realise just what to say, even if we are not saying anything at all. 

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