Going Forward Back

“Going Forward Back” composite photograph (a preface to the public projection)

Going Forward Back: a photographic-stop-motion poem, projected as a public work in San Francisco

Michelle Murphy

at Claire Frost (viewable from 426 33rd Ave, San Francisco, CA 94121)

August 22–September 6, 2020

projected on Wednesday–Sunday, 7:30–9:30pm PST

A remote “live” feed, to increase accessibility, will occur on Saturday September 5th at 7:30pm.

For months I’ve wanted to be able to stop. I felt enmeshed with all the plans and dreams that couldn’t keep us from this moment and might have been part of the problem. Michelle (they/them/theirs), however, has been in an almost opposite state, clearly getting shit done by choice and by lack of choice—the difference between introverted single COVID life and extroverted parental COVID life. 

For the past year Michelle has been driving around documenting the empty signs they couldn’t stop seeing, photographing while Rainier napped, squeezing labor into the space of another’s rest. These modern ruins on Pueblos and Jacarilla Apache land (also known as Albuquerque) were made meaningful by Michelle’s Indigenous and Latinx students at UNM who are moving their stories forward despite the current and historical inequities in resources. In these photos there are no humans in the frame, a familiar tool in the history of photography that makes the victims and agents of such trauma illusive, just like history—and its specific benefactors—want it. Similarly we don’t see the roads with speeding cars zipping past towards something better. Just the structures remaining as nostalgic placeholders for a future that was once sped towards. The signs labor on, efforts in forgetting that this land had other meanings and purposes precluded and wasted by their presence. 

Michelle’s white hands reach into the frame to pull these delicate cut outs away from their 4 x 6 inch souvenir sized surroundings. A performative gesture to reverse eras of development, driven by white symbols of modernist capital and racially diverse dreams of success. But time has reduced some of the signs to frames for the sky, and when the structures are moved the sky comes with them, they can no longer be completely separated. The pain of violent removal, failure, and empty parking lots cannot be absolved. 

Words break up the images, embodying the structure of early moving pictures to indicate a narrative and the places we hold within these cycles. Apparently you can see parts of the old Route 66 next to the newer I-40 in Albuquerque, one generation of urgently hopeful westward movement eclipsing the one that came before. Michelle and I laughed when we did the first test projection, suddenly realizing we had turned a window on the western side of San Francisco into a billboard.  

Understanding the debt this work has to the knowledge and experiences of Indigenous people and Latinx people in and around New Mexico, and in a gesture towards reallocating resources to BIPOC communities we are fundraising for three organizations: The Red Nation, Pueblo Action Alliance, and Santa Fe Dreamers Project. Send a receipt or screen capture of donation to any of these organizations for $10 or more, along with your mailing address to mmurphystudio at gmail dot com, and Michelle will send you a signed postcard with an image from this work.