A diverse group of young women are gathered on the bucolic grounds of a collegiate quadrangle. They frankly discuss issues concerning gender and sex in a "round-table" format in the open air. An interviewer stands among them, microphone in hand, passing it back and forth as different members of the assembly speak up. The day is bright. A gentle wind blows. It appears to be early spring as there are light green buds growing on the branches of the trees behind them.
Sharon Hayes’ 2013 video, Ricerche: three, was inspired by the late Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1964 film, Comizi d’amore (Love Meetings). In Pasolini’s feature-length documentary, the director surveys an assorted cross-section of fellow Italians about their sexual attitudes and experiences. In Hayes’ updated version, she interviews thirty-five students on the idyllic campus of Mount Holyoke, the small all-women’s college in western Massachusetts.
Hayes occasionally asks a question to steer the conversation a certain way, but the students often speak up on their own, taking the discourse in different directions. Some of the students are shy; others are more than willing to speak up. The general mood of the conversation is that of inclusion and open-mindedness. However, there are moments of friction, as the small group represents a range of cultural backgrounds, gender identifications, sexual orientations, and value systems.
Overall though, the discussion is congenial. There are moments when the whole group erupts in laughter. They all giggle at the mention of the word "penetration" for example. A punk rock-looking student explains how she thought Mount Holyoke would be more 'riot girl' and references the band Bikini Kill. She goes on to explain how she was somewhat let down to learn that her college experience was more, "Let's talk about gender and feminism and how women are oppressed… It's all ‘milk and cookies,’” she laments.
Another student freezes up and makes a funny face when Hayes asks her, “Do you feel like you have the same kind of sex or a different kind of sex than your mother?” Nonplussed, the student awkwardly stutters for a moment. Not exactly sure how to answer, she eventually lets out a dumbfounded “What?” The rest of the group giggles. After composing herself she explains, “I mean like, sort of... Not really... My mom went to a coed school, and I never asked her if she had experiences with women.”
The video is occasionally intercut with shots of the group from before the actual interview, standing around on the quad. The audio from the interview continues over these shots, which helps to create a kind of ambiance, a subtle distancing from the present moment. We see the young women being playful, laughing and talking, and, in one shot, trying on each other's glasses. During one of these cut-away shots, a student stares deep into the camera, as if unaware that it was recording.
Towards the end of the 38-minute video, the audio fades out altogether, but the camera keeps rolling. Again, we see the group in cutaway shots, laughing and talking, but this time in complete silence. The effect is powerful as the words and ideas of the young women continue to ring in the viewer's ears through these final shots. The group slowly disperses and the camera toggles down, revealing the ground upon which they stood, lightly sprinkled with snow.