Stanya Kahn’s Stand in the Stream is a fast-paced digital film about life, death, and the inextricability of the personal from the political. Made over six years and shot on multiple camera formats, it captures candid moments in online chat rooms, in the home, in the wild, and in the streets, following the arc of a mother’s deterioration and death amidst shifting political and digital landscapes. From the birth of a child to the onset of dementia, from Tahrir Square to Standing Rock and Trump’s inauguration, Stand in the Stream is a pulsing and urgent contemporary ode and a call to action. MoMA PS1’s exhibition is the New York premiere and first museum presentation of this work.
Made from live-action footage interwoven with live video captured from online streams in real time (but not found footage), Stand in the Stream is edited to mirror the speed and intensity of its soundtrack, echoing the accelerated rhythms of contemporary life. The film documents the deterioration of the filmmaker’s worker/activist mother, her own role as a mother, and the tactics, demands, and modes of visibility linking resistance movements across the globe. Oscillating between the experience of watching life through devices and being in the world “IRL,” the film sets political landscapes in relation to personal narratives.
The film’s title refers both to the stream of digital images and to Bertolt Brecht’s Man Equals Man, a play about the forcible transformation of a citizen into a soldier. Singing her lament, the character Widow Begbick heralds the onset of war with an admonition delivered directly to the audience: “Don’t try to hold onto the wave that’s breaking against your foot. So long as you stand in the stream, fresh waves will always keep breaking against it.” As Kahn connects to random strangers in internet chat rooms while wearing monster masks, or voyeuristically records anonymous riders on the subway, she plays with distinctions between intimacy in private and public life, pointing toward the shared humanity that links them.
The film’s sound design includes original compositions by Kahn and by musician/composer Alexia Riner. All footage is shot live or live stream screen-recorded in real time.
This presentation is organized by Klaus Biesenbach, Director, MoMA PS1, and Chief Curator at Large, The Museum of Modern Art.