“Within and Without Us”: A Senior Thesis by Collin Kluchman

As an English major on the film track, senior Collin Kluchman created a three-panel video installation featuring dance choreography, microscope photography, and found footage from YouTube for his senior thesis. The project, titled “Within and Without Us,” aimed to look “across different scales and time frames to draw connections between forces that act on the earth and forces that act on the human body, emphasizing a unification of experience between the two entities.”

Photo by Celia Herdic

The ideafor his thesis came to Kluchman in advanced filmmaking, and he began to create concrete content at the beginning of this past fall semester. The flexibility of Kluchman’s major, which combines the studies of English and film, allowed him to do a paper, write a screenplay, or make a film. After selecting the last option, the project “started out … really concerned with a sort of notion of being trapped in one’s body, and kind of a dualistic mind/body split,” he described. “But then I started reading about ways of looking at things that decentered the individual and looked at people as just part of these larger ecosystems. The groups of people can be just as interesting as individuals can.” For Kluchman, “taking a wider view of what it means to be connected to people” was important throughout his creation process.

For those who weren’t able to experience Kluchman’s thesis firsthand, the films were presented in three panels, all in a horizontal line. Each screen featured its own distinct imagery but also interacted with the others, presenting viewers with footage of human hair at 40 times magnification, plants growing, cars, bath water, the human body, examples of systemic injustice (police brutality, specifically), and other themes. “Isolated human limbs transition from undefined, soft, and whole, to concrete and fractured at the work’s center,” Kluchman said. “The right panel emphasizes self-care in a domestic space and the potential futility of restorative processes, while the left panel shows a world simultaneously being built and destroyed.”

Kluchman’s emphasis on the issue of human connection is augmented by the amount of collaboration that he incorporated into his thesis. Including composers for the film’s score, choreographers, performers, microscope technicians, and production assistants, Kluchman listed 14 collaborators, along with two advisors and a number of individuals who provided him with “crucial feedback.” The combination of their influence and Kluchman’s own vision highlights his fascination with the ways in which humans interact with the world around them.  “Within and Without Us” shows an interconnected world that centers around an individual.  Development, deterioration, and restoration occur across multiple scales, and though the main perspective of the work is human, the connections between the panels assert an innate connectivity between geological processes, microscopic reactions, and human movement.”

As for the desired tone of the piece, Kluchman wanted it to be “murky and suggestive … sort of like you’re flowing through this ethereal goop, but with certain highly influencing material sticking out.” He also mentioned the struggle with making such universal claims about the human experience, and how he had to “push back” on the notion of the “white male as neutral human. I did a bunch of work both with changing the color palette to make it a little less aggressive and strictly masculine, and also in terms of the actors and footage I used,” he said.

Overall, Kluchman was pleased with the reception of his thesis. “I think it’s the kind of thing you can watch and just enjoy the way that it looks, and that’s fine,” he said. “I want to make something visually impressive and that’s nice to look at, and even though there are some really off-putting moments, I want it to be a really overall restorative and meditative experience for people watching it.” He was also happy that a number of people enjoyed the “intellectual aspect of it too.”

Kluchman wanted his title to “really reference the things that create us, and highly relate them to the things that are outside of us.” “There isn’t a huge difference between the inside and the outside, for me. It’s not like I don’t believe in a sense of self or anything,. But I think that we do sort of become creations of the outside world to a large degree. Viewing us like that is a really productive way to think … if you don’t distinguish between the body and mind and you see the mind as part of the body, and see your body as part of everything around you, I think you can view things outside the self with much more compassion.”

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