The Obedient Woman (2004) . by Dan Senn

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see video (9:13)

In the late 1990s I set up a video monitor and camera and asked my Mother and Father to tell their life stories. The idea was for them to talk to themselves in the video monitor, without me present, and in this way keep their image in the camera view. My Dad went first, and after about 2 hours, my Mother took her turn for another 3 hours over 2 days. On the second day, when finished, my Mom got up from her chair and left the camera running.

Years later, in 2004, I was asked to do a sound and video installation in an old western jail in Basin, Montana, and decided to look back through my archive of video for some useful footage. It had been 6 years since I'd made the above recordings and, not only had I not looked at the footage, the tapes had never been rewound. And so as I reversed the second tape, stopping it now and then to find the end of my Mother's segment, I found that Shaaron Wood, a foster sister of mine and caretaker for my parents in old age, had plunked down in front of the live camera and started to talk. As I watched and listened to the video (at first she has the microphone a mile from her mouth accounting for the poor fidelity for half of the piece), I was astonished at what I was witnessing. Here was an uninvited testimonial from a woman who is at times dilusional and yet, and even moreso, powerfully honest and even touching. It all struck an emotion in me.

I am not certain that what Shaaron says in the video is true. I suspect it is but decided in the credits to list her as an actor-improvisor. Perhaps the piece is somewhat exploitative except that Shaaron likes the piece and in my opinion comes off with a degree of nobility. Playing it in a jail at a festival which attracts and is run by strong woman gave it quite an edge.

The schlocky and fragmented sound accompaniment for this video is taken from a fundamentalist Baptist music cassette produced in the late 1980s. Only entrance phrases and sung tones are used.

The video frame here is reduced to a small black and white box, as if Shaaron is talking though an opening in a closed door and during another time. Since the initial jail installation, I have played the piece in numerous concert situations.

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