When I was 16 (1993)

Art Video




This video is significant because it changed my life, and I owe this change to my professor and mentor Peter Goin, MFA. I would not be the person I am today if it were not for Peter and this assignment. 
It’s not complicated to turn on a video camera and talk to it–the difficulty depends upon the subject you choose to talk about. This video was made at a time before the web and reality television made “telling the truth” commonplace. 
For years I had been telling stories about my life to anyone who would listen. It was not my idea to make a confessional video–even though the basic methodology fit what I had been writing in my journals and speaking into my tape recorder all along.  
One day in video class we were on a ten-minute break. I started telling a personal story to my friend Susanne and I got pretty animated, forgetting the time. After a while I began to notice that several other people had stopped what they were doing and had gathered around me to listen. When Professor Goin came back into the classroom and saw what was going on he pulled up a chair. I thought it was kind of weird that he didn’t stop me, but I was clearly on a roll. He let me go on for quite a while when by all rights he could have restarted the class. Next thing I know he cuts me off mid-sentence, points at me and says, “You don’t trust anyone!” 
“I tell everybody everything.” I argued. 
But he wouldn’t buy it. He said I had to make a five-minute video, and it was an assignment only for me and nobody else. He said because I didn’t trust anyone I had to turn on the camera and tell a secret. When I said it wasn’t fair, he said no one else would see it–just him. Due on Tuesday. 
I was angry and embarrassed. All weekend I fumed: “You want a secret, I’ll show you!” 
By the time I finished the video and put it in his campus mailbox I was feeling a little differently. Worried that I’d gone too far, I showed up on Tuesday half an hour early. I found him in his office. I wanted to know if he’d seen it yet. “Not yet,” he said, “I thought we would watch it in class today.”
I didn’t see this coming at all. “You don’t know what’s on this tape,” I said, “I can’t show this.” We went around and around until he took me by the shoulders and looked me straight in the eye. “Trust me,” he said, “you are strong enough to do this.” 
Watching my secret unfold in the darkened classroom was a sweaty-palmed, tunnel vision, out-of-body experience. I thought for sure I was going to pass out. I was watching myself–no–I look like my cousin. I kept thinking, “it’s not me, it’s not me…” 
A normally gregarious bunch, when the lights came on nobody said a word. I held my breath. Peter had to call on people for comments. Then everyone started to gush and I could breathe again. They loved it.  
I used to tell this story in person all the time to anyone who would listen, so I can’t really explain WHY making it into a video made me feel vulnerable. 
It’s still hard for me to watch the video even after all this time. I see a young woman who is hurt by a set of circumstances, no matter how nonchalant she would like to think she is about the situation. I watch my face and there is no hiding how I feel. I am so young and uneducated. Not just politically incorrect, but completely unaware of my own biases. I have come so far since this video. 
After the class saw the video it was chosen for the annual student art show and on display in the main campus gallery for several weeks. A lot of people saw it and made a point of tracking me down me to shake my hand. I was advised to study Feminism, and congratulated for my courage. The former was inspired while the latter seemed odd to me. It never bothered me for people to know about, in fact, for years I was looking for someone–anyone–to care about what had happened to me. It wasn’t until I recorded it on video that suddenly it was art and courageous and people wanted to listen. 
As someone interested in communicating with other human beings, I have puzzled over this for a long time. Why were people generally turned off if I told the story in person, but drawn to me if they saw me tell the story on video? Is there some kind of implication that requires one to respond in person, but a video provides enough distance to safely allow deeper identification? Does calling it art make it more universal and less personal? 
I never would have made this video if it had not been for the assignment. I understand now that Peter showed me the path to purpose in my work, and confidence in the knowledge that my personal story is worth sharing. He was right that I didn’t trust anyone–least of all myself. The encouragement I received after making this video changed all that. It didn’t happen overnight, but it was a major transformation in my self-esteem.



E X H I B I T I O N   R E C O R D


1993 Sheppard Contemporary Gallery Annual Student Art Show
University of Nevada, Reno. Juror: Bailey Doogan. –Cash Award $100





g e n r e / c a t e g o r y :  Art Video

s t a r r i n g :  Kelly Wittenberg

o r i g i n a l l y   s h o t   o n :  VHS

v i d e o g r a p h y :  Susanne Adams

t o t a l   r u n n i n g   t i m e :  6:41 minutes


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