Arthur Jafa’s seven-minute short film Love Is the Message, the Message Is Death cuts together footage of Charles Ramsey; Swag Surf, a black variation on the wave at sports games; Fred Hampton’s widow the day after his assassination; Bayard Rustin, organizer of the 1963 March on Washington; Storyboard P, dance legend; the 2015 murder of Walter Scott in South Carolina; kids dancing in a club; Hortense Spillers; Birth of a Nation; former president Obama singing “Amazing Grace”; Earl Sweatshirt; Ferguson, Missouri; Michael Jackson; Floyd Mayweather; the Civil Rights Movement; Beyoncé; Martine Syms; Odell Beckham Jr; Alien; Rob Peters; Bradford Young; Marshawn Lynch; Larry Davis; Thelonious Monk’s hands; Chris Brown; Martin Luther King Jr.; IceJJFish, atonal R&B singer; astronomical images; Drake; Mahalia Jackson; and many others, in order to explore the distance and proximity between motion and movement. The film’s title refers to the Nebula Award–winning 1973 short story by James Tiptree Jr., née Alice Sheldon, Love is the Plan the Plan is Death, about spider-like creatures who devour their mates in the course of their lifecycle.
The following excerpts a conversation between the filmmaker and Tina Campt, Professor of Africana and Women’s Studies and Director of the Barnard Center for Research on Women, at a listening party for Love Is the Message, at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise in Harlem on December 10, 2016.
Tina Campt: We were talking earlier today about the difference between movement and motion. We think of these two things as synonyms but they’re not. Movement means changing the position of an object related to a fixed point in space; the focus is on that space. Motion, on the other hand, is a change in the location or position of an object with respect to time.
One of the things that your montage and sequencing technique does is provoke our relationship to images by exposing us to them at a certain velocity over time. The impact of a work like Love is the Message, the Message is Death keys off of how short the span of time is in which we actually have contact with a single one of these images—each of which is incredibly arresting—before it transitions to the next. This is why I talk about listening to images and why we’ve called this event a listening session. Listening to images is about allowing yourself to be accessible to the affects produced in all these different encounters. Which are the historical black-and-white images? Where are the bodies moving? How do you see the choreography of bodies and violence and music in relationship to each other?
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