Spanning an eighteen story building in the center of Jacksonville, Florida, By Virtue Of is a collaborative, site-specific video installation by Chop ’em Down Films and Faith XLVII, produced by ArtRepublic. The large-scale projection, adorns the city wall for a week, giving a monumental space to some of America’s most marginalized people; the homeless.
The black and white video is a culmination of detailed footage of hands filmed during interviews the artists conducted with those living on Jacksonville’s streets. Like books, the hands tell stories of what they have been through. Slow movements, delicate gestures and subconscious motions make up the scenes to the film – a match is lit, stones are organised, tattoos are shown, sand is filtered. Clenched hands narrate stories of power, or anger, while open hands intimate an offering, or a search for an altruistic embrace.
Every day people walk past the homeless in public spaces with a blind spot in their vision, failing to engage on a humanistic level. By bringing this imagery to tower over the city, the humanity of those who have fallen off of the system is impressed onto a space where they are often made to feel unwelcome.
Hands are incredibly expressive parts of the human body, and although they are able to display intimate and personal stories, they create a commonality between us in their pseudo-anonymity. In this project hands are used as a symbol of humanity.
The work is a critic on the capitalistic dream, which lacks institutional empathy for those not actively participating. Studies have shown that the majority of Americans live from paycheck to paycheck, and are only one financial emergency or unexpected expense away from being destitute. The homeless comprise of the elderly, those with physical and mental health conditions, addicts, veterans and people who have simply had some bad turns and landed up not being able to afford their bills, with no larger familial or structural support system to help them out of the situation.