Still Life with a Suitcase

The interactive multi-media installation, Still Life with a Suitcase, tells the story of forty-five transnational Russian migrants from Moscow to Paris, Berlin, and New York. It also invites visitors to determine the narrative flow of the film. As visitors enter the space of the exhibition, they encounter an open suitcase standing against a video screen and a set of clay objects displayed nearby. A video loop depicting various modes of transport is projected onto the screen behind the suitcase, and ambient sounds can be heard in the background. When a visitor picks up and places an object into the suitcase, they trigger a video vignette projected inside the suitcase. Through non-representational images and asynchronous sound, each vignette tells the story of a real-life object, as told by one of the installation participants. Participants describe their migration journey with the selected object in hand. When the vignette finishes, or the visitor takes the object out of the suitcase, the video resets to background footage.

  • Gregory Gan
    Director
    Turning Back the Waves (2009), The Theory of Happiness (2014)
  • Gregory Gan
    Writer
    Turning Back the Waves (2009), The Theory of Happiness (2014)
  • Gregory Gan
    Producer
    Turning Back the Waves (2009), The Theory of Happiness (2014)
  • Public Scholars Initiative, The University of British Columbia
    Producer
  • SSHRC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada);
    Producer
  • Nune Barsegian
    Key Cast
    "As herself"
  • George Kiesewalter
    Key Cast
    "As himself"
  • Marina Dobuseva
    Key Cast
    "As herself"
  • Aleksandr Genis
    Key Cast
    "As himself"
  • Vadim Fadin
    Key Cast
    "As himself"
  • Phil Schneider
    Key Cast
    "As himself"
  • Dmitry Khmelnitsky
    Key Cast
    "As himself"
  • Ekaterina Etkind
    Key Cast
    "As herself"
  • Anna Perchenok
    Key Cast
    "As herself"
  • Project Type:
    Experimental, Web / New Media
  • Genres:
    ethnographic film, new media, interactive installation
  • Runtime:
    45 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    January 14, 2019
  • Production Budget:
    105,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    Canada
  • Country of Filming:
    Canada, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Poland, Russian Federation, United States
  • Language:
    English, Russian
  • Shooting Format:
    Digital video, Full HD
  • Aspect Ratio:
    Various
  • Film Color:
    Black & White and Color
  • First-time Filmmaker:
    No
  • Student Project:
    Yes
Director Biography - Gregory Gan

Gregory Gan was born in Moscow, in the former Soviet Union, in 1984. When he was ten years old, his family relocated to France and then to Canada, where he grew up. Gregory has trained in anthropology at the University of Toronto (BA, 2006), Memorial University of Newfoundland (MA, 2010), and The University of British Columbia (PhD, 2019). His research interests include autoethnography, intellectual history, transnational migration, and material culture. He has also trained as a filmmaker (Ryerson University, 2007; SoundImageCulture, 2010), having completed two award-nominated feature-length films. His current media projects include a multimedia digital archive on the material culture of transnational Russian migration, and a contemporary reinterpretation of Petrushka, a marionette play and ballet composed by Igor Stravinsky, created using 3D animation. Gregory lives in Berlin.

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Director Statement

The installation, Still Life with a Suitcase, made part of PhD research in visual anthropology, is a proposal for a new type of decentered media. Drawing attention to the constructed geometry of the screen, I use video-mapping to project on multiple screens, both inside and outside the surface of the suitcase. I also deconstruct the mise-en-scène, using split screen techniques that highlight the installation’s narrative construction inside the filmic frame. Through reflexive, sensory, and experimental modes of ethnographic filmmaking, I call attention to the conventions of “documentary” film. By using asynchronous sound and focusing on objects, I move away from the visual language as illustration, and towards a creative interpretation of research participants’ narratives, underlining the relationship between myself as a filmmaker, my research participants, and the installation’s potential audience, invited to engage with participants’ narratives on a haptic, experiential level. There is no unifying voice in my narration, nor do I provide an overarching commentary. My personal interventions interrupt relatively uniform sequences, hinting at the way recollections of the past may be triggered by an image, a feeling, or a sensory impression, as when distant memories of faraway places give way to transnational journeys, and vice-versa. Such a model of subjective media production often counters the convention of ethnographic film as a document, and instead, proposes to treat it as an artifact, necessarily crafted by a human being and continuously open to interpretation. It is also an invitation to see moving images in a new light.