Direct Approach: Decoding Violence on Screen and in Reality
Danish conceptual artist Stine Marie Jacobsen stands at a unique juncture in the art world. With one foot firmly rooted in more traditional storytelling practices, she keeps her other foot embedded in a hazy space that fuses together a range of fluid notions — from psychology and gender to violence and death.
And her latest project — Direct Approach — is no exception. In fact, it is the perfect example of how Jacobsen transforms abstractions into tangible practice.
“My art is very collaborative,” Jacobsen recently explained during a #DenmarkInNY visit to her Brooklyn studio where she is currently working. “It’s about co-authorship so I’m more a moderator who knows how to invite other people into a respectful space and to talk about very sensitive topics such as violence.”
By engaging participants as interpreters, or “re-tellers,” of fictional violence in film, Jacobsen’s Direct Approach creates a dialogue about violence, taboos and ethics in real life that she then transposes into short film and podcasts. The result, she notes, is a form of creative therapy that can be applied to anti-violence and peacebuilding initiatives in regions and countries as diverse as Colombia, Germany, Denmark, Thailand, Lebanon, Ireland, Tunisia, Ukraine and now the US. It’s art with a social impact.
Jacobsen’s international profile ultimately adds to the importance of her work and gives it an especially broad range and reach. She lives and works in Copenhagen and Berlin but is currently undergoing a residency at ISCP (International Studio & Curatorial Program) located in Brooklyn, New York, where she brought Direct Approach and is engaging young New Yorkers head on on the topic of the violence in their midst.
“I have an education as a peacebuilder and in conflict resolution, and I have worked in zones with conflict before,” she continued. “I think I’m one of those artists who suffer from wanting to make democratic projects.”
Direct Approach Lands in New York
For the New York iteration of Direct Approach, Jacobsen has adopted a new modus operandi — reaching out to a group of 14 teenagers and prompting their participation. This, she says, ultimately involves them giving a talk, or statement of violence, which will be recorded individually and made into a podcast series. This digital end product for the workshop is a new thing for Jacobsen, where the statements of violence have earlier manifested themselves in short texts and the guidebook Direct Approach — How to create a platform for conversations on violence in film and reality, released in 2014.
The 14 New York teenagers who have been working with Jacobsen and giving their individual statements are part of a process that has been refined over several years and is divided into six parts. First, the participants meet and interview each other with specific questions about their chosen scene of cinematic violence which they retell from memory. Then, they select a role in the scene — victim, perpetrator or bystander — which they play out in their own retelling of the story. At a follow-up meeting, they receive a transcript of the previous interview which they have the opportunity to reconsider and rewrite. The participants then meet with a vocal teacher who prepares them for the recording of the podcast in the fourth part of the program. Finally, the podcast is published and, after a set amount of time, the partipants reunite with Jacobsen to evaluate the success of the project.
“I don’t want to be one of those artists who seeks or finds truths,” says Stine Marie Jacobsen. “I’m trying to just expose an image and create more pluralistic descriptions. I am not the one who is describing because I don’t think I have the solution.”
“It’s a complicated mess so people stay away”
For her part in the project, 15-year-old Brooklyn native Eloise narrowed in on a rape scene from the popular Netflix series 13 Reasons Why in which a teenage girl is raped at a party by a fellow classmate. The TV show, says Eloise, was popular in her circle of acquaintances and the particular scene was widely discussed at school.
As Eloise and Jacobsen detail the impact the rape scene had on her and her friends, the problematic nature of how rape and sexual violence are talked about in society steadily moves into the foreground. Eloise notes that in 13 Reasons Why, the female protagonist “freezes” in response to her abuse, clouding some perceptions of whether what transpired was indeed rape or not. This perceived ambiguity, adds Eloise, makes it even harder to talk about sexual violence among her peers: “It’s a complicated mess so people stay away.”
As a work of conceptual art, Direct Approach is astoundingly complex and firmly rooted into the reality of violence in everyday life. The themes of distance and passivity are transformed into a wider conversation about the role of the observer amid the state of violence in society. But its greatest success goes beyond the conceptual. In New York, the well reflected 15-year-old Eloise didn’t just get a chance to discuss how filmic violence impacted her but also gained an opportunity to explore the uncomfortable closeness between violence on screen and in reality.
This, perhaps, is Direct Approach’s greatest gift.
The podcast series will premiere 9 Nov Open Studios at ISCP, a public exhibition event — everyone is welcome. After this event, the podcast will be available on BRIC’s podcast and Stine Marie Jacobsen’s two websites: www.stinemariejacobsen.com and www.direct-approach.org.
If you are interested in streaming the podcasts or get the book, please write Stine Marie Jacobsen at: firstname.lastname@example.org