Story Is … The Juicy Part

There’s a gesture in Jess Shane’s narrative that is reminiscent of pop music where a singer fumes about an exploitation they claim they don’t want to disclose, but then the entire song is about the cheating jerk. It’s full of agency. It uses the song itself as a storytelling scaffold that invites the listener to be complicit in the sharing, the shaming, the blaming and condemnation.

Here in her 2019 experiment, the confessional is the audio artistry. Shane is scrutinizing narrative structure as it spirals around divulged stories of trauma, played out in both the experience and the very act of documenting it for online dissemination and consumption.

The Juicy Part—aptly named—dissects traditional story arcs composed of just the audio from tell-all YouTube videos. Mostly women’s voices are heard—some whispered like they’re deeply ensconced behind a confessional scrim; others offer a blasted honesty intoning how or if the exposure will be doled out. At the narrative juncture of release, Shane’s composition hovers over a chilling silence spilling into cathartic exhalations. These bouts of tears and screams are delivered freely to an anonymous, often entertainment-hungry online community. It is a constructed mirroring of our complicitous sharing, no matter the ‘nowhere’ of our commodified scattering in contemporary culture.

Shane offers a caveat: it’s one thing to invite a loved one or a therapist to the tumult of a trauma experience—a one-to-one relationship, maybe even healing—but very different when widely dispensed. Shane steers these found sounds into a visceral sonic mix, such that the slowly ascendant, screechy wheels on a roller coaster and the descendant screams of its riders collide with other shrieks and gasps, but also whispers and promises to confide. These stories rise in crescendo, hit a climax, suspend there for a moment, then plummet into a catharsis.

I mean, I have many thoughts. I’ve been reflecting a lot about the changing industry, and the relationship between the western notion of story (3 act structure, closure, etc.) as a tool for marketing and soft power, and how that intersects with emerging therapeutic discourse (as it is boiled down on social media feeds), and neoliberalism …

Jess Shane

Deftly layered, the narrative segments entice the ears like a linear story. However, the old adage of story-making, “Show, don’t tell,” is reversed in this process as if you could roll back the verité sounds of sobbing or screaming or even the metallic roller coaster squeals alongside such overt revelation. In creating her own narrative arc out of the shards she’s found online, Shane questions the agency of victimhood, but also its documentation: is story itself the trauma if there’s no acknowledgement of, as she describes, the “systems and power structures that enabled it to occur”?

The Juicy Part, 2019

The sharer might not consider the lingering question of ethics of online platforms to proffer a stage for these confessions. Shane’s work could hold a mirror to other media and our troubled pull towards the scopophilic. From its launch, photography’s infrastructure of the problematic male gaze tumbled around a collusion of our own titillation. We still want to look. And in The Juicy Part, we want to listen, too. We want to commiserate in others’ traumas to alleviate or bolster our own. Ripped from a visual context, the sonic braid empowers the listener to deeply consider these inquiries. The Juicy Part offers a risky dance between what we see and hear and why we need to careen towards it. Story structure and timbre are at its center.

French narrative experimenter and archivist Nathalie Léger bemoans “… the impossibility of capturing this impalpable specter, which vanishes as soon as it’s noticed, without leaving a shadow on the mirror’s crystal nor a tremor in the basin’s water…” (this per Robert Montesquiou, a French aesthete and collector of one of the most photographed women of the late 19th-century, the subject of one volume of Léger’s triptych study of female artists and the archivist’s journey into the self).

Stories, Léger says, are always being interrupted, re-written, overheard or imagined. All narrative is annihilated. The Countess of Castiglione deviated her role as seated subject towards an agent of utter self-promotion. She posed in more than 700 photos in the latter half of the 1800s, which would put her in a league with the greatest of contemporary online posters. Photographer Pierre-Louis Pierson’s famed Scherzo di Follia invites us to see beyond the framed oval of Castiglione’s eye, soft sepia surrounding her piercing stare, simultaneously hidden and revealed.

Watching, or in the case of Jess Shane’s work, listening to these exceedingly personal YouTube videos, has the same veiled and publicized slippery stretch.

—Joan Schuman, Story Is … curator, February 2024

Jess Shane is an artist and documentarian from Toronto. She is co-founder of the independent podcast experiment Constellations, teaches film and media studies in New York at Hunter College, and is the host and creator of the series Shocking, Heartbreaking, Transformative, from Radiotopia Presents.

Joan Schuman is founding curator of Earlid; teaches online courses at The New School for Public Engagement; and mentored radio artists at Wave Farm (2019-24). She creates narratives in sound exploring the animal-human landscape through dream stories and decaying environments. 

In composing The Juicy Part, the artist was inspired by the “Beyond Story” issue #5 of World Records Journal. Another rabbit-hole to stumble down is the journal’s multi-episode Trust Issues series.

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