by Johannes Goransson on Jul.03, 2014
By Laura Ellen Joyce
Sara Tuss Efrik’s Persona Peep Show is a reproduction that draws attention to its status as perverse copy – as defaced art. The poem-film examines what it means to reproduce. There is a heavy emphasis on the female body in the language and visual imagery of the piece. What we are seeing in this film is both a reproduction of Bergman’s Persona, and an interrogation of the ways in which reproduction happens culturally, artistically, and biologically. Efrik reminds us that reproduction is an uncanny act, that to reproduce is always to die. Reproduction exists as a means to protect the dwindling, fragile object which is replaced. In the case of Persona Peep Show, Efrik resituates Bergman’s original film within a contemporary political and artistic context and allows it to be disseminated anew. What she also does is to set up a series of psychoanalytic and feminist concerns around the nature of reproduction.
Reproduction in Persona Peep Show is miasmic, toxic, and yet utterly natural. Nature shown to be violent, messy and chaotic — when the narrator says: ‘you imagine nature is leaking. It doesn’t’ and ‘that’s just fenced nature’, the speaker implies that nature does not leak, does not encroach, but rather is present in every act, in every meaning. This conception of nature is reminiscent of Timothy Morton’s work on nature and ecology – work which is typified by his term ‘hyperobject’ By this term he means objects which are beyond our understanding — objects which will exist well beyond our lifetime. He says that: ‘[a]longside global warming, hyperobjects will be our lasting legacy. Materials from humble styrofoam to terrifying plutonium will far outlast current social and biological forms.’ It is this version of nature – the trashy, the toxic, the undead, which is invoked in Persona Peep Show. Reproduction is presented through the insistence on artificial plurality. When the narrator states that ‘the highest realization of credibility in her world is my ability to reproduce her. i.e. create copies of her from her, duplicate her. She she she she she’ There is an indication that the internal logic of Persona Peep Show is concerned with proliferation above all else – a contagious, miasmic reproduction, with the female image a its bacterial heart.
There are serious dangers in conflating the female image with the lived experiences of those who identify as female. Elfride Jelinek sees the female image as a kind of hyperobject. In an analysis of the Josef Fritzl case she describes the subterranean prison which Fritzl created solely for the abuse of his vulnerable children and says that he:
Constructed an idyll which he has artlessly built in the form of a female body, with its many niches and passages, where you can’t look in at everything from everywhere, it is not art to use something as the female body, even if you don’t have one, there are blow-up sex dolls, hollowed out apples, animals etc., but it is an art to build spaces as a woman might, and decorate them with pretty patterns, a temple, only built for the lust of the father.
What is interesting here is that Jelinek argues that it is ‘not art’ to ‘use’ a hollowed out apple or an animal as you would a female body. ‘[U]se’ here indicates coercive or non-consensual sexual activity and this act is not considered by Jelinek as ‘art’ in any circumstance.
This raises two interesting points. One is that she refutes any consideration of Fritzl as crime-artist, as psychopathic genius – a label that is often applied to men who perform acts of this kind. The other is that she does not see the transformation of an object, or a nonhuman animal, into the image of a woman as an artistic process – for her there has been no work done, no imaginative labour. This has strong implications for the argument that, in fact, the female image can be considered as a kind of hyperobject, a saturated, miasmic phenomenon that does not even need to be thought.
Sara Tuss Efrik returns repeatedly to this point in Persona Peep Show. The narrator at one point saying to the invisible addressee (the viewer?) that ‘You imagine that you resemble the image of a woman and since you do, the image of you as a woman is false. Which means all images of women are false.’ This dream-logic tells us that the female image saturates the world of Persona Peep Show, and yet is also false — a copy, a ghost.
If the reproduction of the female image is false in Persona Peep Show, then so too is biological reproductive work. Efrik’s film can be read psychoanalytically as a case study on the mother. Elissa Marder’s work on outsourced reproduction is a useful here as she focuses on containers outside the female body which represent the womb. In her book The Mother in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction analyses the story of Véronique Courjault, a wealthy, middle-class woman, who strangled two newborn babies and kept them in her domestic freezer, moving the bodies each time she and her husband and children moved house. Marder argues that:
A woman who conceals her pregnancy, gives birth to babies at home, kills the babies in secret, and then preserves them infinitely in the heart of her home seems to be asking some fundamental questions about what it means to be a mother – what it means to “give birth’ and ‘give death’ and whether or not there is a relationship between the two. For the freezer, like the frozen babies contained within it, is an ambiguous and ambivalent figure of both life and death: it is simultaneously a womb, tomb, a stomach, and a crypt.
Efrik’s video-poem acts as a container for the spectral feminine; the womb, tomb, and home of Freud’s uncanny. Spiking the domestic with the sinister logic of fairy tales, the narrator taunts: ‘You want to pee in a red hood you want to lock yourself inside the house. You want to sleep with the wolf. You want to turn on the oven.’ This conflation of traditional fairy tale rhetoric (the girl is responsible for the wolf’s desire; any horrors that the victim is subject to are caused by their naïveté and lack of sense) with the rhetoric of rape culture ‘you want to sleep with the wolf’; ‘you want to lock yourself in the house’, offers a presentation of the female which has altered little over the course of literary history.
But what is different about this specific instantiation is that there is a confusion of sexual symbols. Sex is displaced by peeing and sexual activity outsourced to containers outside the female body. The oven is the culminant sexual location here, and becomes analogous to the cunt; just as the freezer is in the case of Véronique Courjault. In both cases, kitchen appliances are used to represent the domestic, the homely, whilst simultaneously acting as a container for horror –reproduction is outside the body in each case.
Once reproduction has been outsourced, and can take place in any location, the next stage is atomisation — a metonymical approach to the cloning of new bodies piece by piece. When the narrator of Persona Peep Show says: ‘I give you a nose I give you a mouth I give you pearls and velvet I give you synthetic locks, I give you a sex I give you a painted flesh.’ There is a sadistic thrill of complete domination, of power which passes from the narrator to the viewer. The ‘painted flesh’ indicates that the reproduction of the human body is materially indistinct from the creation of velvet or fake hair. There is a deep commitment to art-as-psychosis with precise and severed anatomical images meshed with recognisable objects: ‘velvet’; ‘pearls’. Efrik extends the sadism of the imagery through descriptions of actions: ‘I pin you to the wall. I decorate you. I overdress you. I’m creating a new perversion. I walk you on a leash. I keep the herd leashed’ and she even explicitly states ‘I replace your parts.’ Efrik succeeds in cloning Persona’s separate parts in order to both destroy and recreate the original film in a deliberate act of failed reproduction.
Note: Laura Ellen Joyce lectures in literature at York St John University. Her research interests are in experimental literature, gender and sexuality, psychoanalysis, pornography, and ecocriticsm. She was project co-ordinator of the AHRC Global Queer Cinema network between 2012-2013. Her novel, The Museum of Atheism, was published in November 2012.Her second book, Luminol Reels is just about to be published by Calamari.