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The Feminine Comique

Short videos by women artists at Carnegie Art Center

The best of the bunch of feminist videos now on view at the Carnegie Art Center in North Tonawanda are distinguished by a generalist comic quality. That is, if the comedy is feminist, it is mainly in the sense that it is the product of the lively comic imagination of a feminine artist, Shannon Plumb.

Plumb acts in virtually all the parts in her videos, as characters free-ranging from Western gunslinger types reminiscent of the silent movie era, to a comic seductive type with fruit and noises off that ultimately are discovered to emanate from an infant needing nursing, to a variety of self-absorbed and in other ways distracted participants in a mock runway fashion show.

In the best piece, she plays her grandparents going about ordinary daily activities in a gamut from morning personal hygiene tasks to an anniversary celebration with a cake and the trick sort of candles that when you blow them out magically relight. The marital relationship seems to have evolved over the decades to a reasonably mutually satisfactory condition of symbiosis.

The grandparents’ daily activities are so routine that they themselves would never see them as comic, as anything other than what you do. But by dint of the sharp observation—tempered surely with filial affection—of the granddaughter, and her astute dual impersonation of the old couple, they are funny to the point of hilarious.

All the videos are funny in their way, but lack the fuller narrative structure—enough to evoke full-blown characters—and sure-fire acting skill that makes Shannon Plumb’s comedy work so well.

The other videographers are Heather Keung, Kate Gilmore, Eileen Maxson, and Miranda July. The program, called Scan Lines, was curated by local video artist Stella Marrs.

In Miranda July’s piece, a walk down a hall from the walls of which posters protrude bearing various instructions or observations about the experience—but significantly the posters also keep you from seeing where you are going—is a metaphor of a person’s life.

A typical poster reads: “It seems as though you think less now than you used to. But why should you think? There’s just moving forward.” Another reads: “As you walk, you realize you’ll be walking down this hall for the rest of your life.”

At a critical moment, a poster that seems to be suspended in mid-hallway tells you you can go one way or another around it. You have to choose. You choose, and the next poster reads: “Did you make the right choice? You’ll never really know.”

From Kate Gilmore there are two short works. One is of an elegantly attired woman cheerily undergoing being pelted with what look like overripe tomatoes. Is this about what happens, or how you’re supposed to handle it? Or maybe how you’re not supposed to handle it. The other is of a woman literally kicking her way out of a box sturdily constructed out of sheet rock. In high heels, no less. A difficult job, but not a difficult metaphor.

From Eileen Maxson there are two short essentially talking heads pieces, one enunciating cryptic things about such matters as “the urgency of now,” the other describing an online dating experience from hell. Though it wasn’t real clear that it ever got to the point of actually meeting the guy. In person, that is.

Heather Keung’s video shows a woman (presumably Keung) half-naked in a handstand for as long as she can manage it, which is about four minutes. That’s it. More an ascetic than aesthetic event, perhaps. The point seems to be about the way these categories blend, as endurance physical experience induces perceptional changes.

The videos were initially screened at Hallwalls. At that screening, Marrs gave a brief introduction to the videos and précis of some of the murky theoretical underpinnings of the work.

jack foran

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