Deirdre Logue

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Grown Ups Don't Make Video Art

by Emily Vey Duke

How does one mature as an artist in a medium like video which is dedicated to sloppy whimsy? Sloppy whimsy is excusable in the young, but it doesn’t age well. If it has to be messy let it be young. Sloppy video belongs to the young.

A week ago a package arrived from the country I used to live in. It has traveled by Express Post but still takes a week. When I open it there is news from home, a new video by Deirdre Logue called Why Always Instead of Just Sometimes. I’ve agreed to write about it though I haven’t seen a thing. When I put it in my video player, it stares back at me.

I know where Deirdre Logue is coming from. Intimately. Like her, I worry so much that I worry it might kill me. Like her, I feel fragile, feel lonely, feel ashamed. It even occurs to me, as it does to her, that I may never get my driver’s license. And like her, my aberrant behaviors (hers are demonstrated in the episodes of her new tape called Beyond the Usual Limits Parts 1 and 2) are utterly lacking in drama. And in essence, I think that’s what Logue’s new work is about. It’s a 33-minute suite of songs about the banality of transcendence (transcendent suffering, transcendent joy) in the modern world.

In the episode titled Eclipse, Logue appears as a googly-eyed space alien, her skin like the skin of a dolphin, gleaming wetly in the camera’s eye. She’s whispering, crouching down and squinting at us with some urgency. Everything in the scene tells us this moment is pregnant with something. Longing? Revelation? “Did you hear that?” she asks. And then again: “Did you hear that?” She peers into the camera like she’s trying to catch our eye. Then suddenly we do hear it. Her jaw is making an awful, muted pop. It’s nearly nauseating. But what’s perhaps more unnerving than the gross noise is the certainty we feel that it really doesn’t matter. Her lower mandible is still well attached to its mate. There’s no blood. Her cheek, which she’s pushing towards us, is almost impossibly smooth and clear.

What this piece is about—what all the little shards of Why Always Instead of Just Sometimes are about—is the trauma of being ordinary. Experimental film and video are ideally suited to express this particular trauma. How could it be otherwise? They stand in opposition to television and narrative cinema, the repositories of the extraordinary, the spectacular, the sublime. All one has to do is watch a single home movie of a vacation in the tropics to realize just how good the video camera is at rendering the sublime banal.

I think it’s this transformation that Logue has taken as her subject in this work. She draws attention to that process by choosing as her structure the diaristic, performative, episodic mode most associated with artists in their teens and twenties—artists like Sadie Benning, Thirza Cuthand, Alex Bag, Steve Reinke, Sylvie LaLiberté, Lisa Steele, etc. It remains the domain of the young largely because they’re the only ones who can tolerate seeing their images refracted through the mean spirited gaze of the camera. And we can tolerate such sloppy, whimsical narcissism on the part of the young. We even like it because it reminds us of our former, precocious selves.

But what Logue is saying with this work—and it’s a brave thing to say—is that we don’t ever have to decide that we’re ready to stop being precocious. We don’t ever decide that it’s time for us to have lived up to our potential rather than just indicating that we have it. We don’t ever stop realizing that life is hard and we’re not as good at it as we’d hoped.

That nascentness, that sense of potential, is pointed up by Logue’s use of ambiguity. In Per Se, the first segment of the tape, we sense that Logue has something really interesting to confess—something really filthy or tragic or abject–‹but all she’ll say is that she has something to say. There’s the potential for confession, for voyeurism, but she forces the viewer to stay in a state of anticipation.

So what finally gets said, starting with Per Se and continuing throughout the rest of the tape, is that there is nothing. The confession is not juicy, not worthy of our voyeuristic impulse. The confession is that the narrator has nothing compelling to say. Which is a way of telling us, the viewers, that it’s okay that we don’t either. We’re not alone.

What makes the work difficult is its plaintiveness. Logue is unabashedly, even artlessly, asking for our empathy. She doesn’t employ any narrative tricks or special effects to get it (beyond the repetitions and glitches and reversals which are really conventions of experimental media). Nothing in Why Always Instead of Just Sometimes works on us invisibly, beneath the surface of the narrative. There’s no diegesis to rupture—there is only rupture. There’s no Deus Ex Machina because there’s no machine. All she offers us is her raw and ordinary pain. It hasn’t been mediated with strategies like humour or poetics or suspense or visual beauty.

That puts a lot of pressure on the viewer. One has to have a certain faith, either in the medium and its conventions or in the author herself, in order to become emotionally involved with the work. It’s not exactly that one has to suspend disbelief because I don’t think there could be any doubt that Logue’s anxieties are sincerely felt. I think that the tape is asking us to suspend judgment of both the author/subject and of the artwork itself. And I don’t think this piece is unique in asking the viewer for that suspension. In fact, I think it’s endemic to the world of confessional experimental film and video, and I think it’s in large part what keeps that kind of work out of the mainstream (even the mainstream of the marginal art world).

As viewers, we don’t like to feel that we are being asked to be sympathetic about someone else’s traumatic ordinariness. It makes us uncomfortable. It makes us squirm. It makes us think about our own traumatic ordinariness and how nobody cares about it, and then we feel annoyed with the artist for asking us to care about theirs.

It’s a pretty complicated maneuver Logue has pulled off with this piece, sending us from transcendence to ennui via the pain of being no longer precocious and landing us back at empathy. Because I think we can all admit that, like her, we on occasion feel that life is nothing but an endless loop of making messes and mopping them up. Or that all we’ve learned as we’ve aged is how to blame others for our shortcomings. From time to time we all, like Logue, feel anxious, feel lost, feel guilty and feel beautiful.

Emily Vey Duke has worked in collaboration with her partner Cooper Battersby since 1994. They work in printed matter, installation, curation and sound, but their primary practice is the production of single-channel video.