Deirdre Logue

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Some Thoughts and Attempts to Articulate Reactions to "Why Always Instead of Just Sometimes", a 33 minute videotape in 12 parts by Deirdre Logue

by Barbara Sternberg

This is an IN YOUR FACE video—literally Deirdre’s face is eyeball to eyeball with the camera/viewer—but its hard edge is softened by a dry, deadpan humour (Much in the same way that I have experienced Deirdre in real life; for example, at Phil Hoffman’s Film Farm she threateningly summoned participants to her—to receive a gift she had bought them for their hard work!). In Per Se, the first performed segment of the tape, the close-up image of Deirdre’s face speaking to the camera/viewer—or is it a mirror she’s looking into here and in later similar set ups?—blurs and staggers forward with a delay or drag, a heaviness in speech and heart, that is offset by a momentary direct eye gaze that challenges or menaces.

Why Always Instead of Just Sometimes (a cri de coeur?) has three main parts Beyond the Usual Limits Parts 1,2,3 and several subsections Repair, Crash, Worry etc., all of which are introduced and set up by the prologue Per Se. In this section the conundrums of art and the artist are articulated: knowing something that cannot be put into words; the need to tell but the desire to keep private; the artist as actor in her own life. Contradictions are indicated: showing versus telling; private versus public; knowing without saying; revealing and concealing. Does irony preclude sincerity?

The tape is unsettling throughout in its small ‘misses’—things not quite right, not quite there, not caught fully. Like the step-printed slo-mo effect of picture and sound in Per Se, so that the mouth moving and the words emanating from it don’t quite match up. Deirdre wants us to “know without my saying it per se, to give you a sense of me without actually knowing who I am per se.”

The tape is organized in sections somewhat like a song with verses and choruses. The choruses, as I’m thinking of them, are segments that use old home movie footage (or footage made to look like that) and Œlyrics’ (text on screen) which start “I am 38 years old” and end in ironic mode recounting some personal failing: “I worry so much, I worry it will kill me.” These choruses serve as comic interludes—if there is such a thing as rueful comedy, hurting humour—perhaps akin to slipping on a banana peel—one laughs despite its not being funny! Or perhaps this is kvetching with ironic detachment.

I can imagine that in a room full of people at the tape’s premiere at the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto, there was laughter. But in my viewing situation on a monitor with headphones, the effect was the opposite: I didn’t laugh at what could be thought of as funny: two yellow slicker clad riders, the mirror image of each other, run their tricycles in a head—on collision and fall over sideways; a boy doing a “wheelie” falls over and over off the back of the bike (“if at first you don’t succeed, try try again”); a little girl (I assume, Deirdre) shakes her head back and forth in a motion created by looping a bit of home—movie footage of girls dancing at a (birthday?) party. She looks determined or angry—there’s that challenging look in the eyes again.

In all these scenarios the footage is looped. The effect of the repetition—which is a main feature of this work-needs to be considered. There is a lot of push and pull in this tape, a lot of mixed messages—come here/get away; see me/you can’t really know me; this is serious, painful stuff/heh, heh, just kidding; I am laying myself bare… but not really. In a previous film in which Deirdre wound cellophane tape around and around her mouth in a repetitive action which was frightening in its implication of suffocation and self-inflicted violence, there came a moment when one realized that the film was rewinding, reversing itself, undoing the tape. The horror of suffocation and, metaphorically, of shutting oneself up was still there, but simultaneously, there was the knowledge and relief that this is a film (a medium which intrinsically involves repetition), this is not irreversible. At the same time, however, further complicating the situation is the feeling imposed by the loop per se, that of being caught in a trap, this film that keeps repeating itself forward, then backwards—and then forward again. Conflicting responses arise.

Part of the conflict in response or the push—pull feeling as I’ve called it comes from contradictory messages arising from the image and from the voice or text. In That Beauty, light glittering on water lends a disco ball effect superimposed over the figure of Deirdre dancing in what appears to be a home studio space. The disco music sample plays and replays the phrase “that beauty right there.” I like the beat. The text on the screen, however, sings a different tune: “feels fragile, feels lonely, feels ashamed…” Inner doubts and fears are externalised. I notice that Deirdre is wearing headphones as she dances alone in the dark, cut off from others, and the scene ends with the image only of light on water. She has been obliterated? Or, in a Buddhist frame of mind, I might read this as: when one goes into oneself, one merges with the oceanic All.

I trace four antecedent streams which feed this work: performance art, early video art, experimental film and popular culture—music sampling. Each segment makes effective use of a different, visually enticing technique or style.

The image quality in Eclipse makes Deirdre’s face and fingers look almost translucent—like the photos of an in utero fetus, while the dark purple of Suckling makes one strain to detect the act of sucking fingers—hidden, shameful, yet erotic. The title Suckling gives that segment an added unsettling twist. I would have expected ‘sucking.’ But Œsuckling’ has the painful attribution of a baby (animal?) that is unweaned. Unseen past events give rise to unconscious present actions. The mirror motif running through the tape is most explicit in Blue where the same blue-tinted image of Deirdre breathing into a paper bag (as one does during a panic attack to restore normal breathing) is seen in twin boxes facing each other. (Both the ‘direct gaze’and the ‘mirror’ are important aspects in feminist film theory of the seventies.)

Each segment is individually engaging, carefully and selectively constructed with a minimum of elements, yet remains cryptic with more than one possible interpretation, and allows for an ambivalent response. Beyond the Usual Limits Part 1 is followed by a static camera, single—take shot of Deirdre squeezing herself head first under her mattress; that is, between the mattress and the box springs. Her body disappears as she wiggles under, awkwardly, and floral sheets covering the mattress and floral—patterned spread and pillows jiggle atop her, as a kitschy cat picture looks on from the opposite wall. The segment ends when she is fully hidden and a live cat casually perches itself on the bed top. Funny, odd and somehow ominous. If not deadly, this doesn’t seem a very comfortable or comforting thing to do. Does this refer to the hiding under the bed a child or animal does when afraid? Or is this “hiding one’s head under the covers” (or “in the sand”) gone to extremes and beyond the usual limit?

Beyond the Usual Limits Part 2 is followed by a scene, sped up, staccato, in which Deirdre covers one of her hands, bandage by bandage. The action is performed perfectly identically, over and over until the covering is complete—the bandaged hand looks like a hockey glove—it has become an object for protection but made from bandages which imply a wound already happened. Contradictory. (I think, too, of Brian Jungen’sNative—like masks from Nike shoes—the everyday item of popular culture transformed.)

The repetition in this work, loops and segments involving repeated actions acted out in real or altered time, serve different functions but are a consistent strategy of the work overall. InRepair and again in the last segment following the title Part 3, the act, the damage, is done and then undone. In Repair, in overlapping superimpositions, hands are continuously crumbling apart and then reassembling what looks like a heart. Here we have visualized the “broken heart” of country music—and its mending. Mended, only to be broken again another day—or in another song.

Why Always Instead of Just Sometimes is filled with images of pain. Is the popular saying, ‘artists must suffer for their art,’ true? Is suffering necessary in order to make art? Or is it the case that out of one’s suffering, the artist can and often does create art? If one is happy, is there a need to make art? In my case I can’t work when I’m really depressed, and only when I’m engaged in my work do I feel good, though making work certainly is not a bed of roses—all those thorny questions and self-doubt—another conundrum to add to the list.

In the final action of the tape, Deirdre, as in the first segment, is facing the camera, this time certainly checking her image in a mirror we don’t see, as she carefully, painstakingly, paints her earlobe black. Again there is a sense of danger and self harm as she paints the inner portion of the lobe—won’t this damage her hearing? I can’t help thinking of Van Gogh slicing off his ear—the agony of the artist—and also of silence, absence. And then I detect that the brush strokes are a bit strange in their motion and see that in fact we are in reverse, the paint is disappearing. Is the blackening a blacking out of noise, not to listen to dark, negative voices? Or a making visible of those black thoughts? I don’t know what is good/desirable and what is to be feared. Perhaps all one can say is the fact, the truth, that negative and positive, positive and negative, both will always be with us. The end. (Though Deirdre does plan more segments still to come—so maybe not the end.)

Barbara Sternberg lives in Toronto and has been making experimental films (and some video, performance art, and installations) since the mid-seventies.