SWIMMING IN NEBRASKA (Jon Jost, 2010)

Jon Jost describes Swimming in Nebraska, which he shot in digital video in Lincoln mostly in 2006, as “a kind of essay/meditation on the mid-west, creative work, artistry, life, the cosmos and, I’ll be damned, I don’t really know.” It is punctuated by overhead shots of Man alone in an indoor pool, swimming laps, while a whispering voice is heard counting these, suggesting the mortal breaths of the individual, here in his mid-60s, amidst, ironically, a display of athletic endurance.
     Early on, we see a woman conducting the Eastridge Presbyterian Church Choral Choir, which for a stretch turns invisible, making the haunting singing a disembodied harmony of heavenly voices as abstract imagery fills the screen. Suddenly, the triplicate image of a pair of hands at a piano keyboard—later, we also see a violinist—fills a horizontal strip at screen-bottom: a profoundly moving materialization of spirit.
     There’s a good deal of scientific lecturing about such things as depth perception, molecular activity and energy transformation, and culminating in a whispered reading of the Table of Elements. Yet some of this is mysterious: “What if . . . the far galaxies Man observes make up . . . some enormous creature or cosmic snowflake whose exterior we will never see?” Kaleidoscopic imagery, sometimes embedding crosses or a matrix of net-like squares, suggests the designs of Persian rugs before it resolves into a grand vision of starry cosmos—the conversion into poetry of such an utterance as this: “In Nebraska the landscape seems to go on forever. . . . The chemistry of the plants, soil, water and sky forms an integrated whole that connects Nebraska with every other part of the biosphere.”
     Mirror-imaging gives us trees and sky both above and (upside-down) below land that the camera zips across: life passing by.

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