UB artist-in-residence to present immersive industrial documentary at Silo City

An image from Valery Lyman's Breaking Ground documentary installation.

Release Date: July 18, 2018 This content is archived.

“I want to collapse past and present into one visceral image, an archetypal landscape wandered by subjects and viewers alike. I want to poke holes in time and inhabit this landscape together.”
Valery Lyman, filmmaker and fellow at the Film Study Center

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Valery Lyman, a filmmaker and fellow at the Film Study Center at Harvard University whose viewer-participant approach physically engages an audience with the subjects and landscape of her work, will present her documentary installation “Breaking Ground” as part of her residency in the University at Buffalo Creative Arts Initiative Aug. 1 to Oct. 10.

“Breaking Ground” is a meditative, site-specific exploration of the rising and receding oil industry that took hold in North Dakota’s Bakken region, a place which serves as a microcosm for the cycle of expansion, migration and abandonment that has characterized much of America’s industrial and labor history.

Lyman expects to present “Breaking Ground” on four consecutive evenings beginning on Oct. 3.

The installation is comprised of 15 areas of projection, running in loops that will be displayed throughout the interior of the Perot Malting Elevator in Silo City.

“Breaking Ground” evokes the memory of those who worked at the Silo City site and invites the public to consider its own history in relationship to other places.

“Merging the work and the space transforms both in thrilling ways – sensorial and conceptual – as images are stretched and altered texturally across different surfaces,” says Lyman. “People and their shadows become part of the landscape.”

Lyman spent five years photographing and recording audio in the Bakken region of North Dakota, documenting the oil industry’s rise and the massive migration stimulated by the hope of employment.

Some of the installations photos are available online.

“Breaking Ground” is not a film in the traditional sense, but an experience that uses audio and photographs so that viewers enter within the work itself rather than merely looking at it.

It’s not interactive, but experiential.

“Your physical movement affects what you see and hear,” she says. “I’ve spatialized the photographs and the audio so that as you move around you’ll hear a different mix of sound that plays with density and echo, creating an intimacy at one point, cacophony at another.”

With no dominant, single rhythm or strict linear progression, “Breaking Ground” allows visitors to curate their own experience simply by wandering.

“The piece is actually contingent upon wandering, which is very important to me,” says Lyman. “Wandering was part of the process of making this work and I’ve tried to transfer that experience to the audience so they can become physically engaged.

“Breaking Ground is kind of like a film if you smashed it with a big hammer and its various parts fled to all corners of the room and hovered there for visitors to enter and walk around those elements,” says Lyman. 

“Breaking Ground” plays like an American medley that allows visitors to have direct encounters with the subjects through revealing photographs and interviews. The prairie wind, drilling rigs, camps and conversations create a nuanced and immersive chorus.

Lyman says “Breaking Ground” is not political or polemical. The installation is about the lived experience of the people; the force of the place; the force of the landscape; the force of the industrial history that we have wending through the landscape of the entire country.

“I want to collapse past and present into one visceral image, an archetypal landscape wandered by subjects and viewers alike.  I want to poke holes in time and inhabit this landscape together,” she says.

During her residency, Lyman will also explore Buffalo’s industrial past, photographing factories, mills and grain elevators and other remnants of a working culture defined largely by steel and grain.

The images will become part of her collection chronicling the American industrial boom and bust cycle.

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