Sunday, September 18, 2016

Close Encounter

Local Honey, Still from I'll Be Your Mirror             
Local Honey
I'll Be Your Mirror
Good Children, New Orleans

After a two-month hiatus I was back out looking at art, the day after the Saint Claude openings. I would have liked if this outing were like a tall, cold drink of water after a long walk in the heat but it was more like the first morning run after two months of being a couch potato. I kept catching my face in a kind of pained and skeptical squint. I kept catching my thoughts drifting into the weeds: wait, what am I even doing here? In short, I was hardly an easy audience that day.

I hit the back room of Good Children, more inclined to ricochet back to the exit than stay to watch an almost eight minute video but I was drawn in by the only piece in the room, a dual-channel video screened modestly-sized and high on the wall. The left frame showed a bright window from a dark interior and the right a silo against a blue sky, the view angling up to match my own raised gaze. I am a sucker for an un-peopled view. The next minute both frames were peopled, a single figure in each frame. On the right a figure climbed into a rubber raft floating on a pond or lake, on the left a figure stood in front of a microphone inside the silo. Both figures were strange in appearance

These individuals (as well as the succession of solitary figures that in appeared throughout the duration of the video) seemed to be different versions of a single character. This was my impression in spite of dramatic costume, wig, and make-up changes. All incarnations of the character appeared to be a man in drag, making no effort to hide chest hair and other tells. The make-up was more Ziggy Stardust than Iggy Azalia, more alien-like than lady-like, though admittedly I know little of drag conventions. Actually, my own unfamiliarity with traditions of drag made me feel excluded at first, sort of targeted by this character whose gestures feel at times both taunting and solicitous. Is this exaggerated stripper dance sincere? funny? Who is the audience? I felt a little self-conscious about feeling self-conscious. I felt, in a word, alienated.

But the camera work, sound, editing, was so appealing I remained the captive audience. Gradually, partly through my familiarity with and appreciation of the natural settings, it seemed that the strange character was the ET here, not me. This person didn't seem to belong in these day-lit natural settings: by a river, lake, in a meadow or in the woods. This character seemed better suited to a dimly lit stage in a club or on an urban street. There were indoor scenes but they were constructed with props and acted almost more like metaphors than places. There was a sort of playpen made out of box fans over which a wig moved ghost-like. Throughout the video the natural world and the synthetic world come in contact but don't quite enmesh. The sound of birds chirping is replaced by an electrified voice, in a Radioheadesque not-quite singing. A disco ball reflects synthetic light in some shots and a magic-hour sunset in the most arresting sequence in the video. 

This sequence begins with the camera approaching a figure, twirling before a sunset (left channel) and (right channel) a single distant light, mirroring the placement of the sun. In a moment both channels show the twirling figure we now see is the same character, dressed this time in cowboy (or cowgirl) wear: a cow patterned cowboy hat, a sequined and fringed cape and matching skirt, a cowboy shirt with silver cuffs, and cowboy boots. The face is made up with silver or white black-framed lips and two braids frame the face. A disco ball lays nearby in one scene, in the other the figure holds it above. The body of water in the background, wide and slow, might be the Mississippi River. This is an American vision, it occurs to me. Cowboy, disco, the troubled river. Oh and this sequence began with a sound like Jimi Hendrix's electric guitar rendition of The National Anthem. Not that all this Americanness meant anything in particular but it hit a particular chord of restlessness, innovation, and done-up alienation. In the course of this sequence though the character becomes less solicitous, less concerned with the audience. The twirling becomes almost childlike in its lack of sexuality and precision.

Watching I’ll Be Your Mirror it suddenly occurred to me that my initial feeling of alienation was reflected on the character or vise versa. The character was alienated. The character was trying, setting after setting, costume after costume, to express something, to achieve something, to be a part of something, to connect with me, the viewer. While the character persisted in isolation, the video absolutely made contact.  

Local Honey                               Still from  I'll Be Your Mirror, Courtesy of the Artist                                     Good Children, New Orleans

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