Swem Library hosts first ever media artist-in-residence

  • Youth viewVidal edits footage in the Swem Media Center that he recently filmed in Richmond, Va. and Washington, DC.

    photo by Erin Kelly

    Youth view

Ann Marie Stock first met Aram Vidal while she was working on a book on new media in Cuba. The award-winning media artist made an obvious subject.

“His creativity and artistic talent impressed me as did his interest in youth and commitment to social justice,” said Stock, a William & Mary professor of Hispanic studies and film studies who wrote “On Location in Cuba: Street Filmaking during Times of Transtition,” in 2009.

That meeting led to a continued relationship and a new opportunity for William & Mary. This summer, Vidal, a Cuban audio-visual artist and graduate student at the National Autonomous University in Mexico (UNAM), is serving as Swem Library’s first ever media artist-in-residence. Vidal said he owes his decision to come to William & Mary to Stock.

“Part of that book is related to my work in Cuba,” said Vidal.  “I was featured in one of her chapters, and that is also how I found out about this program.”

Aram VidalVidal has been working on a documentary trilogy that he will be gathering information and footage from here in the United States.  The last installment, which focuses on the American youth, should be unveiled sometime in December. Since his arrival, Vidal has been working closely with Stock and Troy Davis, director of Swem Media Center.

In reflecting on the connection between research and teaching, Stock notes,“It's powerful to meet and exchange ideas with someone whose creative output we've analyzed and translated and worked with closely, and meaningful to help him move forward with his artistic objectives.  Troy and I find it rewarding to support the College's mission in areas of promoting global relevance, interdisciplinary inquiry, and undergraduate research.”

Davis feels that through this artist-in-residence experiment at the media center, the College is gaining many different learning tools.

“What the College gets from this experiment is a coherent experience of internationalization, undergraduate research and lovely proximities to diverse cultures and diverse creative processes,” Davis said.

Though he is Swem Library’s first media artist-in-residence, it’s not a first for Vidal.

“I have been in more than one artist-in-residence program,” said Vidal.  “Right now I’m getting my master’s degree in communication science at the UNAM.  I went to Mexico to be an artist-in-residence as well.  What being an artist-in-residence means is I was given a space with the opportunity to create a project that, in my case, has always been related to film making.”

Vidal’s interest in filmmaking began when he was a freshman at the University of Havana in Cuba where he majored in communication.  He started working with one of his professors who was also a Cuban filmmaker.

“I started being an assistant director with my teacher,” said Vidal.  “I started working on small projects and I started learning during that process.  Communication is all about theories and putting the theories into practice but they don’t teach you how to use the equipment.  That is something that you have to learn by practicing.  It was great training because I was in college receiving theory but at the same time I was working on films.  It was the perfect mix.”

Vidal said his current project is meant to document the youth of America and he will travel to the major cities in the U.S. where the most abundant and diverse people can be found.  He will travel to New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, and San Diego.  So far he has already filmed in Washington DC and Richmond. Among his filming assistants and filmed subjects are W&M student and alumni.

As far as the title of the documentary goes, Vidal has not gotten that far yet.  “The film is related to young people so it is going to be something related to an expression that young people use a lot, or perhaps a concept that I can find that unites all of the different stories,” said Vidal.  “I really don’t have a very tight script because more than anything I am here to learn about this culture. My camera is learning with me.  It is learning the answers to the same questions I have about U.S. culture.  How do they live?  How do they view themselves and reality?”

Vidal said that the real goal for this project is to find some little answer about the soul of the youth in the Unites States, just that little answer is all he needs because that is what he achieved with his documentary in Cuba.  Vidal just wants his camera to frame reality.

He added working for William & Mary has been a big advantage.

“W&M is a great college,” said Vidal. “They have a lot of equipment, teachers, and possibilities.  I think it’s great that they try to connect the students with other students at other universities.  That is something that opens the mind for everyone.  There are people who are invited here, like me. It is a great way to exchange ideas and learn with each other. That is the kind of program that every college must have.  It’s an important part of training.”

After finishing his artist-in-residency here on July 19, Vidal will return to Mexico where he will edit his film and then send it back to Davis, Stock and the students here at W&M.  Participants in previous installments of the New Media Workshop (co-taught by Stock and Davis) and the College’s fall Washington DC program will evaluate it and share their opinions with Vidal.

“I want to know what they think is working and what is not.  I also want to try to create a connection between film at Mexico University and film at W&M because both universities are using similar technologies,” he said.

Vidal said that it is the exchange of ideas and views from the students at W&M with him that learning and being from our generation is all about.  “Art is a bridge that can join different nationalities and different cultures and it’s a way to open your mind and exchange knowledge.”