“Chapter 31” is a performance-based video in which I re-enact sections from speeches found in the final chapter of the 2002 edition of A Documentary History of the United States. Entitled “America at the Millennium”, Chapter 31 contains the texts of three significant speeches given after the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks: George W. Bush’s remarks at the Washington National Cathedral on September 14, 2001; his address to the Joint Session of Congress on September 20, 2001 and Rudolph Giuliani’s official farewell address to New Yorkers delivered in December 2001.
To borrow terms from popular music, the piece is part remix, part mash-up. Just as a mash-up artist pulls apart a song looking for samples to re-use, I broke down these speeches sentence by sentence selecting and setting aside my favorite excerpts. In its purest sense a mash up contains music from one song, lyrics from another; incongruous overlapping creates a third song. Not strictly adhering to this approach, I arranged the speech fragments side by side, making the final piece more akin to an antecedent of the mash up – the literary cutup. Coined by William Burroughs to describe a group of experimental works, the cutup involved slicing apart different texts and rearranging chosen sentences to create a new work. Using these collage techniques as guides, I condensed the three post 9/11 speeches, fused the remaining fragments, and made a fourth speech.
I shot the video almost entirely in my apartment in Brooklyn, becoming not only writer/assembler but actor, director, cameraman, set decorator (the paintings that appear in the video are my own), and editor. The DIY approach made sense since one motivation for doing “Chapter 31” was to make these public words mine, to embed them so securely in my memory they would be as easily retrievable as the Pledge of Allegiance or the first verse of the “Star-Spangled Banner.” Drilled into my head as a child during years of morning classroom indoctrination, the pledge and the banner permanently reside there. Why not have the words that helped propel the country to where it is today join them?