MUBI is partnering with the New York Film Festival to present highlights from Projections, a festival program of film and video work that expands upon our notions of what the moving image can do and be. Jesse McLean's Wherever You Go, There We Are (2017) is playing October 18 - November 17, 2017 in most countries around the world.
A primary focus of all my work is the power-and the failure-of the mediated experience to bring people together. I am motivated by a deep curiosity regarding human behavior and relationships, and the ways emotions are lived in an age of mediated experience. My recent projects, including Wherever You Go, There We Are, are more connected to the fraught relationships people have with computers, technology we both rely on and resent.
In this experimental travelogue, efforts to sound human and look natural go awry. The scenery is provided through photo-chromed vintage postcards, displaying scenic North American landscapes and the rise of infrastructure. The road trip is bolstered by an electronic score by Thad Kellstadt and narrated by an automated correspondent (all dialogue is taken from spam emails, voice-over is performed by Carl Bogner).
What drew me to connect the language of spam emails with vintage postcards was the shared aspects of artificiality and vulnerability. The images are photographic, but not quite photographs. Aspiring to look more realistic by adding color to a black and white image, the postcards are instead artificial, becoming documents of the fantastic. The spam email dialogue functions similarly, by attempting to be cordial seemingly human, the language is instead obtuse, banal, and sometimes strangely poetic. This is most obvious in the section of the film that contains the “worms monologue,” here the dialogue becomes increasingly beguiling and foreboding.
Postcards are an interesting form of communication and a vulnerable method of correspondence caught between private and public. There is not much space to write, so the text is rather brief and a response is not usually expected. Half their purpose is to carry an image, to document a place visited. They are visible, able to be read by letter-carriers and anyone else who encounters them on their journey. Junk or spam emails are not visible to the public, but through their duplicitous intent, make the recipient vulnerable. There is a considered effort to hide them away in folders, but they may escape and be opened accidentally, when the human recipient falls vulnerable to their convincing entreaties.
This piece considers the complex relationships between humans and nonhumans, especially digital forms that present as human. Part of my interest in this piece was to visualize the spam dialogue in a number of ways; banal, insistent, foreboding, and erotic. The narrator is relentless and untrustworthy, but perhaps due to all the data-mining from a vast array of online experiences, the narrator really does know us, and know what we, as humans, want. The possibility is as unsettling as a computer virus.