Diary Forms: Evidence of Life

I’ve always been drawn to the idea of documenting daily life- feelings, phases, friends, hobbies, places, food, fashion, slang, humor, and the specific culture that exists within it all. I love the idea of keeping a written diary, but I’ve never been all that good at keeping up with it. So, for my conference project, I created a 10-week-long video diary, recording bits of every day on an old, poor-quality digital camera that I have very little control over, and compiling it together as a sort of documentary– evidence of what my life is at this time, evidence of the benign, the bad, and the wonderful. Music is a huge part of my day to day life, and over the years, any time I’ve had a song in my head, I’ve recorded myself playing it on guitar during quiet moments. Even now, I can look back on my voice memos and remember where I was at these different points in my life, and the music I associate with them. So, for each week of footage, I scored it with a voice memo of whatever song was most present in my head for that week, as a way to tie this old habit in, and to bring these more internal, quiet moments into the piece. 

During these ten weeks, I’ve recorded consistently on a Nikon CoolPix 3200 from 2003, and have been editing the clips and the audio together using Adobe Premiere Pro 2023. The voice memos just accumulated naturally, because any time I had a song in my head, I whipped out my guitar and my phone (using the Apple Voice Memos app) any chance I got. I would usually edit once a week or more, doing chunks at a time as I went along collecting media.

I chose to use this camera because the grainy, dated video and audio quality helped to create a very raw, unpolished feel, and added an extra layer of nostalgia. This specific camera was made in the year I was born, 20 years ago now, so I feel a certain connection to it. It’s a thing from a past that I lived, and that is exactly what these moments I’ve captured will become– what they’ve already become. (February already feels like a bygone era for me, as time doesn’t seem to move at a regular pace in college). The second I decided to pull out my camera and record each moment, I was turning it into a memory, a piece in a grander time capsule. I feel like the best way to communicate that notion visually was to record the footage on a piece of technology that was itself a memory.

In keeping with the nostalgia of the piece, I presented the film on an old 2009 iMac computer, which I borrowed from the arts department. For the installation of this project, I wanted to create a physical slice of life with objects from my room. The computer stood on a wooden box, that I had been using to house art supplies, and I dressed the top of it with string lights that I had had hung up above the desk in my dorm. On the floor, I placed various vintage pieces, relics from times I hadn’t lived, creating a cozy corner of a room: a handmade crochet blanket from the 60s, an orange mid-century lamp, also from the 60s, and an iron beetle lamp from the 30s that had been in my home for as long as I could remember. I created seating for viewers with a pile of throw pillows from my dorm, some mine, some my roommates, which she graciously lent me. The title, “Evidence of Life,” was painted onto a paper sign, attached to the top of the computer, stylized to mimic the sign from the Canyon Country Store in Laurel Canyon, CA, which is shown in the video and has been a landmark throughout my life growing up in LA. To bring the video itself to life, I collected objects that are noticeable and/or recurring in the footage to display in “Evidence Bags,” which I made from cut up Ziploc bags and masking tape, and laid out on the blanket in front of the computer.

First draft of installation

I’ve always loved the mixing of camp and macabre, which I think I was able to do with this project in a few ways. The pairing of the evidence bags, invoking the idea of a violent crime, with the colorful and comfortable corner I created, and filling the bags with altogether pleasant or cute objects (small toys, the camera, a colorful scarf…) was a part of this. The way the film was edited, and the moments I chose to capture, also create a very romanticized and pleasant version of the world I live in- not that these things were fake, they just weren’t the full story. Part of the feedback I received on an earlier iteration of this project was that it looked like the footage that would show at the beginning of a horror movie or murder documentary, the “before it all went wrong.” I liked this feedback, because whenever I see something so idealized, I feel slightly unsettled, because it feels to me like there must be something darker to offset it. The songs accompanying the footage all sound similarly sweet, but a majority of them had pretty sad or dark lyrics, which was accidental, they just happened to be the songs of the week. All of these things together were intended to create a sort of unassuming dissonance, that is really only noticed if you choose to investigate it.

Once everything was installed, it was wonderful to see how the audience interacted with the project. People sat down and made themselves comfortable, and would watch for varying intervals of time, some even staying for the entire 23 minutes. I watched as people picked up the evidence bags, and were excited to recognize the objects before them in the video, like someone they knew showed up in the background of a show they were watching. The project was presented at Sarah Lawrence College (largely the setting of the film) to an audience made up mostly of Sarah Lawrence students (largely the stars of the film), so I think it was especially engaging for them to see all of these familiar places and faces on the screen.

During Critique Week, artist and Sarah Lawrence professor Clifford Owens described this piece as exclaiming, “Look here! I’m alive! And I can prove it!” Maybe titling it “Evidence of Life” is a tad on-the-nose, but to me, that’s exactly what this project is. It’s an archive of such a specific little world, that I am excited to be able to look back on for years to come.



Author: Alina Foley