What is in a name? According to Alan Berliner, everything. The independent filmmaker from New York visited the Walker many times over the course of 2002 as an artist in residence, exploring the social, political, and historical contexts of the family nomenclature. Berliner’s work centered on his documentary The Sweetest Sound and integrated five digital projects that questioned our associations with our names. For much of his life, Berliner was frustrated that he was frequently mistaken for other people with his same name. In The Sweetest Sound, he tracks down and invites twelve other Alan Berliners from around the world to a dinner party and investigates their shared identity. The Walker also screened Nobody’s Business and Intimate Strangers, companion documentaries about Berliner’s father.
His digital projects at the Walker shifted the focus to his audience and questioned the ways that names connect people. These interactive activities included a phone call to another visitor in the gallery to tell a “name story” or signing a digital screen that compiled all the signatures into an abstract video painting. To welcome guests, Berliner created an installation in the Walker lobby that documented the names of the 18,244 people who lived within a three mile radius of the art center. These discussions about genealogy and name calling continued throughout his year of residence through an online forum on Café Utne cohosted with Walker Curator Sheryl Mousley. To partake in some of Berliner’s name experiments, visit his Language of Names page.
Prior to his residency, Berliner’s films were featured in the “Lost Images Regained” programing. This series highlighted filmmakers who utilized found footage throughout their work. In conversation with Hungarian filmmaker Péter Forgács, Berliner discussed his process of transforming old material into something new in his films Everywhere At Once, City Edition, and The Family Album (all screened as part of the series). Berliner’s other work ranges from experimental film essays to personal documentary. He has created various projects since the late 1970s and his latest film, First Cousin Once Removed, debuted at the New York Film Festival in 2012.