Will Rawls Won’t Let His Green Screens Disappear

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Will Rawls Won’t Let His Green Screens Disappear

Usually, green screens are temporary placeholders. On set, they stand in for backgrounds or elements that will eventually get replaced with CGI or other footage. But in Will Rawls’s latest project, [siccer]2023, chroma green predominates.

The project has two parts—a video installation, currently on view at both the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and the Momentary in Arkansas, plus a live performance, premiering at the latter venue on April 21. The green screen’s presence in the performance is especially unusual, as no after-effects can be added live. In the hour-long video, performers move behind green scrims or are cast in green light. It’s easy to imagine them disappearing, but they remain decidedly present.

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Below, Rawls talks about the meaning of the green screen. —Emily Watlington

Will Rawls: sicker (still), 2023.

With [siccer], I wanted to make a stop motion film of a dance, which is almost never done! It highlights the impossibility of truly capturing a dance. The technique allows you to pause and restart, to tailor exactly what gets captured. It also means the camera operator is kind of dancing with the performer.

Stop motion draws attention to what is missing from an image, and what happens between the frames. The project is very much a product of the pandemic, of constantly asking, how do you keep something alive?

I’m often trying to collapse the labor of stagecraft into dancing. I wanted to draw attention to the labor of production, which often involves as much of a choreography as the dances themselves. Usually, green screens are made to disappear, along with the labor of the people involved in the production.

People say the color green is supposed to look bad on skin, but that’s predominately true for white performers: so much of stagecraft has been calibrated to look good for white skin, but brown skin can look really beautiful in green. Still, green is thought of as sickly, alien, witchy.

The video includes a Ray Charles cover of Kermit’s anthem “It’s Not Easy Being Green.” Ray Charles appeared on Sesame Street with Kermit, so even Sesame Street was thinking through Blackness and the Blues in relation to the color green. I’m a child of the 1980s, so my imagination was really formed by these kinds of playful meetings of the animated with the real life. Sesame Street Segments often involve significant teaching moments.

The title refers to [sic], which is what you use when you’re quoting something that is not standard English, or is misspelled, or is in a dialect. The gesture proves your credibility as a good writer by pointing out that you know your source is incorrect. I’m always interested in the relationship between language and performance, and I was thinking about how, when you repeat a phrase or a gesture over and over, it often starts to fall apart. Also, citations followed by [sic] are usually pulled out of context, and that sort of decontextualization is analogous to what mass media does to the gestures and creativity of Black people.

[Siccer] is a title that applies to two works of art: I’m trying to undo what a single title points to, in terms of the object referents. The title is a nerdy grammatical reference, but it also alludes to the question of who gets sicker in the pandemic. The stop motion technique alludes to who gets lost in this attempt for continuity, this demand to keep going.

At the MCA, I installed speakers along the spiral staircase, so the sound sweeps up and down. The film is kind of a portrait of the making of the film. It has five individual portraits, one of each performer, and then a group portrait. Each character has a special effects moment, but it always snaps back to reality. In Katrina Reid’s, her body becomes pixelated and then comes back together. I’m really excited about pixelation as an aesthetic because it’s the moment when the image starts to lose its integrity.

The film also has “behind-the-scenes” footage where you see the film being produced; these scenes are their own aesthetic experience. I re-organize the footage for each installation, which is my way of trying to keep it alive.

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