On “Projections, Portraits, and Picaresques”

Posted by | George William Price | Posted on | April 22, 2015

Projections, Portraits, and Picaresques: Works by Mary Helena Clark, Mariah Garnett, and Latham Zearfoss screens the at Gene Siskel Film Center tomorrow, Thursday, April 23rd at 6pm. Mary Helena Clark, Mariah Garnett, and Latham Zearfoss in person! 

Ouroboros—an ancient symbol depicting a serpent eating its own tail. Rather than requiring or demanding a space, this reworking of a culture opens up its own space in the form of a temporal or social rupture. This serpent is all knowing—a never-ending circuit from mouth to anus. It is the constant consumption and regurgitation of the detritus of society. And although there may be no originality in the form, it is through the process of digestion that one may reshape it into an alternate form. Rather than viewing identity construction as something forged through denial and loss, this feedback loop short-circuits the concept of transmission. This temporal feedback is critical to make sense of contemporary identity formation and culture through reinvention, renegotiation and reimagining—a problem discussed by Cindy Patton and Benigno Sánchez-Eppler in their opening text of Queer Diasporas, the stated focus of which is “on how to make sense of the always poignant and sometimes hilarious labors of reinvention and renegotiation in new places, or in reimagined old ones.”[1]

Mariah Garnett, Still from Encounters I May or May Not Have Had With Peter Berlin , 2012. Courtesy of the artist.

Mariah Garnett, Still from Encounters I May or May Not Have Had With Peter Berlin , 2012. Courtesy of the artist.

Projections, Portraits, and Picaresques plays with the concepts portrait and autobiography in our cultural moment of hyper self-reflexivity. In Mariah Garnett’s Encounters I May Or May Not Have Had With Peter Berlin (2012) the filmmaker deals with monumentality and narcissism through the interrogation of her own body. In the opening frames of the film Garnett dons Peter Berlin drag—a white leather motorcycle jacket and sock-stuffed jockstrap—in order to both reveal and simultaneously obscure her relationship to the 1970s porn star. As Sven Lüttiken writes in his essay A Movie and Other Pictures, “The process of mediation has now come to be seen as an integral element of performative practices. Oral and written accounts, film, and video are no longer seen as derivatives of the ‘real’ artwork, but as providing access to it even while (re)shaping it.”[2] Mary Helena Clark through her bringing together of appropriated and staged footage also touches on moments of reflexive clarity and understanding. In The Dragon is the Frame (2014) Clark meditates on a world shaped by missing persons by linking landmarks from Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) with the persistent online presence of Mark Aguhar. This detective story reinvents, renegotiates, and reimagines—attempting to negotiate an identity through the process of exploration and loss.

Tempus edax rerum or time, gluttonous of things. Time—be that social, suspended, or life—is the devourer of all things in Latham Zearfoss’ Home Movie (2012) where the artist questions our society’s innate need to capture, mediate and disseminate every waking moment of our lives through social media platforms. The arrival of this slippery networked image marks the end of object truth and a canonized collective memory. Visual culture, in particular the moving image, has returned to the medieval notion of metaphorical truths.[3]

Mary Helena Clark, still from The Dragon is the Frame, 2014. Courtesy of the artist

Mary Helena Clark, still from The Dragon is the Frame, 2014. Courtesy of the artist

[1] Sánchez-Eppler, B. & Patton, C. “Introduction: With a Passport Out of Eden” in Queer Diasporas, ed. Cindy Patton and Benigno Sánchez-Eppler, 1-14. Durham: Duke University Press, 2000

[2] Lütticken, S. A Movie and Other Pictures, Louise Lawler: A Movie Will Be Shown Without The Picture (Amsterdam: If I Can’t Dance) 15

[3] Wyatt, R. The Emergence of a Digital Cinema, Computers and the Humanities Vol. 33, 1999, p.377

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