Many of my works center around the body as the site of imagistic and dynamic foundations that structure human impulses, feelings and thoughts. There is an emphasis on experience as mitigated by living in a female body. Beyond the body itself, images of natural landscape and architecture recur. The films, as time-based, rhythmic forms, are meant to be understood through the body and senses, as well as the conceptual mind. Editing tactics contrast fluid imagery and lyrical tempos with jagged, metric rhythms. Contradictory meaning can emerge and traditionally understood meaning can collapse in the parallel streams of images, which pulsate together until one of them dominates, and then collapses and reforms. The films utilize a variety of cinematographic techniques which emphasize the light-infused and textural qualities of the photographic material and process.
I am rooted in the history of feminism from Simone de Beauvoir–who stated that one is not born a woman, one becomes one, suggesting both identity and gender are constructed–to artists such as filmmaker Gunvor Nelson whose works reflect women’s innermost psychological and bodily experience.
In the history of the American experimental, or personal film (films made by artists, as unique art works, not as commercial productions) a strain of filmmaking developed that prioritized the act of seeing with the camera eye, as direct equivalent to the eye of the artist. One thinks of Marie Menken and Stan Brakhage as such seminal makers. Their work was a strong influence on me. After initial films such as MATERNAL FILIGREE, which strives in its silent flow of imagery to evoke echoes of sexuality, birth and maternity, I have concentrated on sound films, with audio tracks woven together with the image and in collision with it. One possibility which opened to me in sound was not only the creation of denser poetic relationships, but a key to creating works which emphasize and evoke both a uniquely personal and a collective experience.
IGNORANCE BEFORE MALICE attempted a form which would describe a struggle to heal within the American medical system, and a personal rumination on the journey through a sudden rupture of health into disability, and the loss of innocence of life in a mortally threatened body. Feeling my eye and brain in the act of consiousness in viewing the MRI of my brain, images from art history, personal history and fantasy exploded, as did the elements of the sound track. Original material was created by scanning images in books, or MRI cells, reworking these images digitally, then printing these onto transparent materials which acted as old-fashioned animation cells,which were then stacked together with colored gel materials and photographed frame-by-frame on a traditional film animation stand. Also integrated were other traditional “hands-on” animation techniques, such as stop-action of objects (and hands). I was particularly intrigued with the qualities of image resulting from the marriage of both digital and emulsion-based photographic techniques. My decision to use only digitally recorded sound (usually I use both analog and digital sources) was based on a personal evaluation of the digital audio quality as more “glassy” and hard-edged, as the quality of the imagery itself.
16mm film, traveling at 24 frames per second, sears the eye and brain with meaning that must be synthesized by the viewers consciousness into a whole by the end of the viewing – and it is not uncommon for persons to report that they “saw” a film quite differently in repeated, successive viewings. Throughout my career, installation and wall pieces created using elements, images, and thematics from a film as source, have allowed me to rework certain imagery, re-contextualize it (as in a collage process) and to isolate and develop certain of the multiple strains that one film might evoke. This is the process that resulted in the series All That Remains, At the Margins, and Evidence.
In my film PREPONDERANCE OF EVIDENCE , I explored love, power, sexuality and violence through a non-narrative mixture of images of nature, stained glass windows from European cathedrals, and footage from two films made in the fifties: one produced by a mental health organization, attempting to describe why boys become delinquent, the other a “how-to” film for a high school audience, describing how to get a date for the prom. I layered this with recordings of three women reflecting on their experiences with sexuality, relationships, illegal abortions, adolescence as a Jew in revolutionary Russia and in the Protestant US Midwest. Their anecdotes reveal issues that are at once personal and intimate, yet indicative of societal issues of compassion and power.
The installation piece EVIDENT / EVIDENCE, was an early exploration of many of the themes which I am building upon in That Woman. In the piece, I highlighted the power dynamics in the gaze by creating a kind of peep-show through the construction of a mock Florida shack into which the audience was required to look through a peephole into an interior space (rather than out of one). By ringing a doorbell, the viewer then initiated a film loop which included images of Florida wildlife, the Hollywood film, THE WIZARD OF OZ, and clips of the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas Senate hearings. The film drew parallels between the fragile and threatened natural ecosystem and the media spectacle and dominance of women’s bodies as a way of exploring violence, exploitation, scapegoating (Who is the bad/good witch?) and the intersection of gender and race.
It is possible to see two strains in my film work – one (as IGNORANCE BEFORE MALICE) is a longer, dense work that attempts to synthesize diverse audio, image, and thematic material into a coherent sound/image work. The other (as FOR A YOUNG FILMMAKER and SAISONNIER) is a shorter form, an ode – a kind of little story without a narrative. Ode in the french sense of a reverie for a moment in time, and for me, a passion of place. A short form made in awe, feeling presence through the work and facing time and disappearance of being. Images of “place” are important to me: landscape, earth and soil (often in close up and extreme close up); and of water, and the specifities of those within season. In composing a film, I treat the various lines of sound and image as lines of “voice” in a chorale work, or as in a polyphonic musical work.
THAT WOMAN gave me the opportunity to investigate the video medium itself. Digital video lends itself to examining, mimicking, and subverting the seduction of the spectacle and the ways in which an addiction to scandal has eroded our society’s ability to engage in civil dialogue. At a moment when the proliferation and access to video continues to accelerate, it is ever more urgent to dig into how sexuality and gender shape the way we use and consume those tools–which in turn reinforce narrow gender and sexual norms. As a mature woman and artist, I was interested in unpacking the layers of coding and performativity surrounding the broadcast interview. While Lewinsky was seemingly put forward by another mature woman, Walters, to present her own story and take ownership of her narrative, the structure and gloss of the presentation–through the structure of the questions, the application of seductive makeup, and camera techniques–emphasized her mediated sexual desirability over her words. In THAT WOMAN, the Lewinsky performer in the film is given space to shift outside of the restaged moment in order to testify to her struggle to exert control over the cultural perceptions of herself as an object of male gaze and desire.
With the brief return of Lewinsky to the public spotlight and the prominence of women in the current election cycle, it is a particularly urgent moment to look at this moment 17 years ago and how it can decode many of the ways we still see media shaping representations of women, narrative agency, and sexuality. The partnership with Kuchar as a performer helps to support this critical investigation as his role echoes the themes in his own work, questioning the construction of sexuality and gender. But most importantly, by focusing on Lewinsky’s narrative, and her marginalization within even her own story, I hoped to further reveal the confining or liberatory possibilities of the medium.