Incense Sweaters & Ice
Incense Sweaters & Ice follows the movements of Girl, Mrs. Queen Esther Bernetta White, and WB (“whiteboy”) through different phases of watching, being watched and remaining unseen. Using Hollywood film tropes and the visual languages of social media video platforms like Vine and Instagram, the film follows in the long cinematic history of using camera motion to create the illusion of subjectivity. Intertwining technique and narrative, the film drives at the tension between surveillance and self promotion that pervades our many avenues of self documentation and broadcast. Shot in cities that reflect the route of the Great Migration (Los Angeles, Chicago, and Clarksdale, Mississippi), the video employs distinct camera techniques that foreground the camera itself as a central character.
Each scene marks a shift of viewpoint in relationship to the action, illustrating the impossibility of the neutrality of the camera’s gaze. We follow Girl closely, watching as she gets ready, waits, kills time, reads, and flirts. In each scene, the camera performs different roles: the boyfriend, the audience, the surveillance camera, the documentary maker, the director. In one scene, the camera is recast again as Girl relaxes reading in the apartment. In another, a wide, fixed frame transports us to a family dinner and surveils her hotel room as she gets ready. A woman dressed all in purple, Mrs. Queen Esther Bernetta White, reads cue cards about how to present oneself to the world while standing and playing the piano on a purple sound stage. Text messages periodically disrupt the onscreen action to reveal her digital interactions with another screen, her smartphone.