thoughts on Persona Peep Show

by on Jun.13, 2014

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Cindy Sherman

1) Sara Tuss Efrik and Mark Efrik Hammarberg’s Persona Peep Show starts off with a close-up of lips inviting us into the video. The close-up reminds me of the famous shots of Isabella Rossellini’s mouth in Blue Velvet. The invitation includes phrases such as “Come to me,” and “It begins now” and “Are you ready?” The video seems to be asking us to become the “you” who is such a central figure in the piece, a “you” that also seems to be the speaker’s “me,” that which is in me which is deeper than myself, as Zizek might say, or, inversely, a “you” that seems wholly other, alien, like the revenant figure with green hands and red sneakers that wanders through the woods halfway through the video, beating tree-trunks, humping them, placing masks on large broken branches and swirling them around. Or the “you” in the early part of the video that is simultaneously doll, Adam and Eve, and Frankenstein.
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2) Persona Peep Show is an incredibly visceral work, and, as such, I can imagine it making some parts of the American poetry scene uncomfortable. It’s easy to imagine the standard criticisms: it’s too grotesque, too image-based, it’s too pleasurable (in a funhouse sort of way), it doesn’t properly “critique” or distance itself from XYZ. Its use of fairytale is anachronistic, and therefore conservative (God forbid we should ever disturb the laws of Hegelian-inflected historical linearity). And yet this video makes such criticisms seem old-fashioned and academic. As I’ve written about before on Montevidayo, there is a strong contemporary tradition in the art scene of masquerade, theatricality, excess, color. Jack Smith, Cindy Sherman, Matthew Barney, Ryan Trecartin. And a film like Persona Peep Show is very much related to that sensibility.

3) After the mouth, we see a woman getting dressed in white, and a green face speaking about the dresser. The face says such things as “Are you going to a party?” and “You dress up white because we’re playing a game today,” and “You’re full of shit.” The split screen (green mouth, woman dressing in white) emphasizes both the notion that dresser and speaker are one, and the possibility that the speaker is watching the dresser. The words emphasize this sameness/difference: the speaker says, “You’ve always wanted to be a copy. Of yourself. A copy.” It reminds me of those various narrators in Beckett’s The Unnamable who morph into one another, a voice talking about another who eventually becomes the voice too.

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Ryan Trecartin

4) Steven Shaviro: The real is not abolished when interpenetrated with artifice or reduced to its own resemblance so much as it is affirmed in its residual subsistence (the image as trace) and its irreducible surplus (the image as embellishment). The cinema’s icy exaltation of surfaces, its capture of people in a state of “pure objectivity,” and its subjection of all images to the indifference of the “pure look” — all this precludes any radical destruction or negation…In Warholian simulation, images and traces rise repeatedly from below, rather than being imposed once and for all from above…all this implies a multiplication of physical presence, rather than its effacement. The anxiety about image — fear of an empty image, a hollow simulation — is really an anxiety about authenticity, no matter how much it might be dressed up in theory. Persona Peep Show is not a work searching for authenticity, but a video of “This. This. This.”
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5) As in the scene where a figure wears a series of gothic masks, and with the appearance of each mask says “This. This. This.”
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6) “You’re faking it.” “That’s just a copy.’ “That’s just a toy.” “I am nurse Alma.” Then the image turns X-ray green, with the witch-like figure stuffing a small balloon into its mouth.
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7) The film leads us further into the haunted woods, into the funhouse of convex and concave mirrors. There are no words spoken in the last minutes of the video: images shake, morph, dance, sway, a figure with three breasts appears at times, the screen doubles, one side mirroring the other side, until near the end, when the witch-like face appears again. The video is unabashedly influenced by sci-fi films, horror films, B-films. Like Smith and Trecartin, Efrik and Hammarberg purposely play with low-budget effects, effects that 1) give us a democratic, anyone-can-do this feel and 2) are a kind of fuck you to the cult of elegance and good taste (and all the class implications that tend to be the DNA of that rhetoric) and 3) a blurring of art and life since we’re constantly aware, via these low-budget effects, that this isn’t some seamless, airless work of perfection. It’s the guerilla-filmmaking approach to poetry-videos, a pixelated El Greco-ian vision.

1 comment for this entry:
  1. Johannes

    Great post, James. Just the mere move of poetry into the video image is already a challenge to a US poetry which for so long has seen itself as inherently ethical precisely in opposition to the spectacularity of film, video etc.

    There’s an interesting tension between the Beckett-like sparseness, much of it I think is actually taken from Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, and the proliferation of masks etc.

    It’s interesting that Sontag wrote that appreciation of Bergman’s Persona where she argues that its’ better than his other work because it’s not symbolic (am I right?). And it seems that it’s exactly therefore it lends itself to this blown-up fan-fiction treatment.

    Johannes