He’s Coming to Bring me the Sperm
Deeper Structures brings together artists who use a variety of strategies in order to compress, stretch, and chop narratives, often revealing hidden patterns and rhythms that move beneath the surface of a story. These works bear certain hallmarks of traditional 3-part narrative structure, yet they wander off script, leaving the viewer in the middle of events, with little explanation, left to fill in the gaps.
I’m watching Jibade-Khalil Huffman’s film trailer The Pterodactyls (2015) and trying to figure out the connection between the diver striding confidently towards the end of the diving board, and Tatum O’Neil, proto child star, in a scene from 1978 coming-of-age sequel (already a copy), International Velvet, as one scene dissolves into another. O’Neil is immaculate and smiling, the diver is diving. Is this the connection? A smile on the point of breaking, at the moment when it goes from a reaching smile to a grimace, when the expectation of success suddenly falters (at its apex, the dive is going suddenly, splashily wrong). Losing it. This being now, we watch endless replays of the pain of defeat at 400 fps.
Tatum O’Neal dissolves into an extended montage of film trailer clips — Forrest Gump, Ghostbusters, Beetlejuice, Con Air, The Pelican Brief, and many others. The characters seem to nod knowingly to each other, across genre, and across story. These films form the invisible pop-culture scaffold of a reality we have all agreed upon; they represent a language, a currency, share a pre 9/11 sense of nostalgia. In this film trailer, the narrative (like the smile) breaks down, degrades, becoming illegible, hysterical. These fragments alternate with basic screen saver style graphics (tumbling stars a la 1999), and then there is a clip from an ABC special program in which Patti Labelle is acknowledged but invisible. In which her image is not visible, not represented. The Pterodactyls is a trailer for a film that doesn’t exist.
There is another kind of nostalgia at play in Yvonne Carmichael’s The Ballad of the Rawson Sisters in which performers silently re enact the repeated gestures of shop workers in Bradford, in the North of England, where many shops at the center of town stand empty. Carmichael imagines the ghosts of spanx-clad, manicured female shop workers, abstracting the gestures and repetitive acts of folding, restocking, hanging, in a choreographed folk tale that memorializes the once busy past of these spaces. We never see a face – just feet, legs, hands. Feet which stand all day in heels; hands that elegantly perform; mild fetishization.
Artist collective Earcatcher work within strict narrative parameters, using sound as a generative seed around which mysterious, playful, and disjointed stories are developed; all restricted to a One is made each month; as they accumulate, narrative threads appear. The camera takes us on a trip to the mall, watches a game of rounders, the spinning of a penny; a woman waits outside a convenience store. They are often acted, but sometimes, as with Out (2015), document everyday events. They are infused with place – all are filmed in around Columbus, Ohio, but despite their brevity and simplicity, their framing, composition and coloring in post production results in a filmic treatment of the everyday, with a Midwestern-gothic sensibility. They have the high soft sheen of “the movies”; tiny films in which the everyday is elevated to hollywood status.