Columbus Makes Art Presents: Layla Muchnik-Benali’s Latest Project Has Her Waving Good-Bye
Layla Muchnik-Benali is a graduate student at The Ohio State University, currently finishing up a master’s in art education, with a focus on museum education and film studies, while also working as a curatorial assistant in the Wexner Center for the Arts’ film/video department. Her latest project, waving goodbye (or hello) to the sun, is an ongoing public video project that’s submission-based. We caught up with her to talk about her work.
Genevieve: Would you start us off by telling us more about yourself and your project.
Layla: The project consists of video submissions of people waving goodbye to the sun at sunset or hello to the sun at sunrise. I just ask that submitted videos be at least three minutes long and filmed horizontally. Then, I post them to www.wavingtothesun.com.
Genevieve: Can you talk to us about how, because of COVID-enforced restrictions, you had to move the project to an online viewing format?
Layla: That’s such an interesting observation, because the project has bounced from being virtual to physical back to virtual; it’s taken many different forms. What’s really special about having it featured through the Hopkins Hall Gallery website now is being able to broaden the project’s reach. The project existed only on Vimeo first, but I ran into so many restrictions and limitations that I wasn’t equipped to navigate, so a really good friend of mine, who works as a software developer, helped me build a website for all the videos to live on. Then I became interested in seeing what would change about the project if it were to be adapted to a physical gallery space. I was thinking about video projection and the trajectory of the sun and how I could work that into a gallery setup when I originally applied for a Summer Series at HHG.
Genevieve: What have you learned about creating work that invites the viewer to also be the creator?
Layla: Inviting audience participation has presented an interesting learning curve for me. It’s been an exercise in editing, in knowing what parts of the project to let go of and what parts of the project to emphasize. There’s an aspect of surrender since I’m asking people to follow certain guidelines and to take time and energy out of their days to submit videos, but the participants ultimately determine what their submissions look and feel like. There’s a delicate balance in this way of collaborating, because I’m also trying to stay grounded in what the project is. I’ve learned a lot, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how willing people are to give it a try and create submissions.
Genevieve: waving goodbye (or hello) to the sun has a lot to do with power as it breaks down hierarchies of the medium of film, making it very accessible because you can record a video submission on your phone. Can you further elaborate on how the project is used to break down barriers?
Layla: I think that question of power is central to everything that I’ve been thinking about both inside and outside of graduate school. I’m interested in how small the action is, how it’s an action you can do on a daily scale, within a relatively small period of time. I think that power and oppression are built on a daily scale. These systemic issues are much larger than any individual, but we can only confront them one day at a time. There’s a reason the recent protests in support of Black lives must happen every day for weeks. How can we be asking ourselves every day – what am I doing today that rebels against this violent, unjust system, even if it’s small? I can pursue an action that might be defiant or vulnerable or healing.
Genevieve: Can you say a bit more about greeting or saying goodbye to the sun, what drew you to focus on this action, specifically?
Layla: It’s one of those elements of the project that started off intuitively. I started trying different actions alone, and did not envision this as a collaborative project at first; it was something I was doing explicitly outside of school. Going outside around sunset became a regular habit for me. It was like an alarm clock; like hey, the sun is setting and it’s time to leave my house, close the computer, and get outside. I started to create small video experiments and seeing what kind of images would emerge. One day I waved to the sun on a whim, and it was almost funny to me in the beginning. It made me laugh, but also more aware of my relationship to the sun and to the day in general. That felt good, I kept doing it, and then I started talking to friends about it and asked them if they wanted to record themselves doing the same thing.
Columbus Makes Art Presents is a bi-weekly column brought to you by the Greater Columbus Arts Council – supporting and advancing the arts and cultural fabric of Columbus. The column is a project of the Art Makes Columbus campaign, telling the inspiring stories of the people and organizations who create Columbus art. During the COVID-19 crisis, the Arts Council is maintaining a list of virtual arts experiences at ColumbusMakesArt.com/Virtual. The public is also invited to contribute to the Arts Council’s fund: Emergency Relief for Artists fund.