Deirdre Logue

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Why Not Always

by Mike Hoolboom

My twelve year old nephew Jack doesn’t have to work at it, that’s the first thing. He doesn’t have to pretend or get all juiced up in front of the mirror or put on his fancy pants. Nope, he just strolls out in some forgotten piece of denim breathing hard because he’s still got adenoids that won’t quit so he always sounds like he’s just run up a hundred flights of stairs and his hair looks like he’s lost another wrestling match with the raccoon that lives behind the tree that he likes to throw strawberries at but it doesn’t matter. Jack still looks like the sun woke up in his face. Shining and perfect and looking back at me saying, “What?” or more usually, urgently, “Let’s go!” He is always in movement, never looking back, or forward for that matter, there is only the abyss of RIGHT NOW which manages to swallow everything, I can hardly believe he recognizes me from one visit to another. Who are you again? He shares his beauty with most everyone else his age, it is his birthright, his inheritance, and he squanders it like the rich person he is. He doesn’t notice it and no one around him, me included, would have it any other way. It’s not innocence, that’s something else. Or some embodied nostalgia. His blonde hopes are an easy beauty, the accustomed kind that lives out in the light, where everyone can see it. It’s so familiar in fact, that no one really notices at all.

But there is another kind of beauty, neither quite so blonde or so young. It is the beauty mentioned in the early moments of yet another Marguerite Duras autobiography, her most well known book, The Lover. One afternoon she is met by an older gent on the street who approaches with courtesy and caution and then braves a remark on the author’s photo which shows her as a young girl. He tells her, “But I prefer your face the way it looks now, ravaged.” What kind of writer, I wonder again and again, as I look over this passage, would include something like this up at the head of her story? This one here, this bit of rot on the vine, this is me. What kind of merciless overlord is able to walk into the high noon of their life and let strangers stare? Everything round me has stopped me from making this approach, which is why I’m still busy repeating my mistakes, each of which manages, as the years pass by, to wear a slightly different disguise. Each is a variation on a theme of course, and the name I grant to my mistakes is also a common place. I name it love.

Movies have been designed from the very beginning to promote the beauty spots of our lives, the high impact thrill of a face. But there is another kind of beauty which is unafraid to lose the mask of youth. It is the beauty of witness, of a person who has returned from the frontier. What a gift this is, to be able to look into a face which has seen too much. This is our passkey to the labyrinth, to be granted admission to the very brink of what can be seen or imagined. This face, this look, carries it all, if we could learn to read it. If we would dare. These faces are a testament: I was there and I didn’t look away. I looked. I saw what it was. And now I give you the gift of this face which has looked. This is another kind of beauty, this beauty is a rare gift, and goes unnoticed for the very opposite reason no one sees my nephew Jack. Most can’t see the beauty in it at all. Perhaps because the pictures which surround us, which we can’t help reproducing, are busy teaching us to look away, to refuse the act of looking. “I prefer your face the way it is now, ravaged.” There is a cost to seeing for yourself, a cost which must be earned and won and earned again. This cost is very much in evidence in the work of Deirdre Logue. It is her beauty. I prefer the way her face looks now.

Deirdre is not crazy prolific, she doesn’t knock one movie out after another, she’s just rolled out a new one and it is only, depending on how you count up these concerns, her second video, or perhaps that first one (Enlightened Nonsense) was really a collection of ten movies, which would make this number eleven. Or shall we count all these one at a time as well? I don’t know how to account for them. And besides that, they don’t look so different either. Already in these early moments of her making one could speak of a “body” of work. It all looks like it’s come out of the same eye, the same kind of living. She takes herself as its “subject” or at least, as its material. This work has fathers like Vito Acconci and John Baldessari who were there when video first started rolling across the heads of portable machines. If it was small enough to fit into a cab then artists could begin to work. They could find something useless to do with this new medium, they could put their cameras in front of something that might stop the act of looking away for instance. Or try something else equally outrageous.

In 1969 videotape was a single ribbon of black and white tape that lasted half an hour and if you edited it, you had to cut the damn thing with a razor blade which would produce a large glitch smack in the middle of the image. So mostly, nobody cut, you rolled the tape, and when you stopped the camera the tape was finished. It was standard fare in those early days to make tapes that ran the full length of a reel, which meant shots lasting thirty minutes of what they used to call “real time.” Look at John painting his body green, look at Vito talking and talking and singing and talking some more. Thirty minutes of real time in black and white, SONY hadn’t figured out how to turn the world into colour yet, and the microphone was a little pimple that was moulded into the body of the camera, a crappy little thing which was situated for maximum camera noise delivery and forget about adding music or anything later. What you see and hear in these tapes was what happened lo-fi style, what the camera was staring at for half an hour and I don’t believe that attention spans were any longer or shorter than they are now, so it’s hard to vouch for sure how many people saw them, probably not a lot more than are watching Deirdre’s movies. There is a line, a lineage. The way these early video thoughts are transmitted doesn’t require a direct hit, it’s all up in the air now, it’s part of the weather, you breathe it in you breathe it out and sometimes it takes root, sometimes the seeds fall and it all comes up again as bad copies or deja art vu. Doesn’t that look like the wheel of my car? But Deirdre doesn’t have to worry about that, sure her chops are express delivered from these earliest moments of video art but she’s found a way to live it and that means when the work is finally ready it arrives hard and clean and hurting, the way art is supposed to be. She’s not much for thirty minute shots though, she reserves her punishments for herself, so instead of dishing the long take she slices it all up into pieces and then joins the data files in the computer until these so many moments are one movie and then she calls it Enlightened Nonsense (22 minutes, 2000) and now, five years later, Why Always Instead of Just Sometimes (33 minutes, 2005).

Let me run through it one section at a time, like the rooms in a house. Let me describe the decor as I get to it, as it gets to me, crawling up inside, rooting there. I can feel these roots, they come from a long time of living, of seeing and being seen, of waiting until the object looks back and sees you.

Per Se
It should begin in close-up with a face, her face, what else? Up close and personal but not too personal. When she gets as close as she can get without turning into a blurry haze she confides, “What I really want to say is private.” I believe everything she tells me though perhaps it’s not a question of believing. Clearly she’s performing for the camera, but this is the kind of performance where the more obvious the contrivance, the more abundant the signs of reproduction, the more raw and life-like, even “documentary” the subject appears. That’s her alright. Putting on the make-up, striking a pose. Not that there’s any make-up here, but the camera is already an accessory, a prosthetic. It absorbs these words but also applies pressure, it squeezes them out of her, doesn’t it? Or is that me doing the squeezing, the one she will meet later without knowing it? The one she is preparing these words for, part of the unmet Others. Her audience.

Her voice is slow and muffled, though there’s nothing else competing for attention so it comes through alright. Every word is there, right there, it’s late so no need to turn down the traffic or the pop song accompaniments. There are no accompaniments, not at this hour, and that’s the point isn’t it? “We” are all alone here.

There are picture frames missing, the image jumps across gaps and discontinuities, it’s a small thing, the frame never changes, and it always shows her head, her larger than life head fills that frame, so every time these missing time capsules disappear her face twitches across this missing moment like something nervous, like something that can’t quite keep the sweep of the clock’s hands from jerking across the dial. It seems so easy for everyone else but “real time?” Forget about it. She appears in a stuttering continuity because time is no longer running smooth here, it might have once but who can remember?

She appears in broken time with her face looming in the lens, it’s a bit too close, a bit too large, the soft focus doing little to hide the worry lines running over her face. She might have been ready for her close-up once upon a time, glossy and presentable, but that’s not why she’s turned her camera on. She’s not interested in that kind of beauty. She’s a performer and her theatre is the camera. Just let me do this alone, and then you can see what it is later. I’ll show you later. The audience. The face that appears in front of us looks tired, let’s admit it right here, we’ve hardly started and she looks worn out or worn down, or worn away. “I must have been that tired once,” that’s what I think when I watch her face looming into my TV screen. “She looks as tired as Jean,” I think, who is my personal gold standard for fatigue. Jean runs a documentary film festival in Switzerland and he runs after fatigue the way others chase stock tips or cruel men. It’s not simply that he stops sleeping for two or three days. Or the international travel. Or living out of his lap top. Or seeing more than 3,000 movies each year. Jean is always leaving, always late, always needed somewhere else at the same time, always busy doing two and three things at once. Perhaps he’s greedy enough to want to live two or three lives, or perhaps he’s running from the one he has. But when I see her staring into the camera I can see something of Jean’s face in this face. (This movie, I realize all of a sudden, is also about portraiture: how to produce a picture of a face.) This fatigue is necessary for Jean to defeat the habits of sentimentality and cliche which the monoculture tries to impose. As a result, while Jean may be distracted, his mouth is not a Hallmark Greeting Card. From the haze of, “It’s too much, I can’t take another step,” he invents himself, his moment, his encounters, again and again. He leaves nostalgia and the laziness of the word “God” (or Allah or George Bush) behind in order to live in something like the present. In other words: he uses his fatigue in order to make an approach, in order to produce a picture. He invents the present by producing a picture. He defeats habit through fatigue. When he is sleepless, Jean is as large as a city: he opens his heart, at last he can see again, every nerve burning, slowed down in the every day catastrophe of too much. This is also how Deirdre arrives at the beginning of her movie, peeking out from the rubble of her experience. Talking. She is talking to us. What is she saying?

“And so what I really want to know is how I can say it even though it’s still private and you can know it without me telling you per se. That’s what I want to try to do. Then I will have something that you can take away that will give you a sense of me without actually knowing who I am per se.”

Per Se is the opening movement, the welcome mat, the establishing shot. Here we are, inside her face, her words, this monologue of negotiation. Something has already happened, the offscreen space is full of events which underlie this one, only the reaction shot is public, the rest, she insists, she can’t say. Or won’t say. Per Se makes a linguistic bridge between the “inner” life and its persona, what can be rescued, admitted, in this refusal of a confessional, this meta confessional, there are no lurid secrets here after all, only the lurid revelation that something has happened which we will never know, which she may never know, and its trace lies here, in this speaking. This listening.

“The scene is interminable, like language itself, it is language itself, taken in its infinity, that ‘perpetual adoration’ which brings matters about in such a way that since man has existed, he has not stopped talking.” (Roland Barthes, A Lover’s Discourse, Vintage: London, 2002, p. 207)

The object is speaking. The object of this face. The trail of her fatigue (the trail which has led her, surely and surely, to this very place) is written plainly on this face. (The face which demonstrates fatigue, which stages fatigue, which looks through fatigue in order to find us (the real secret, the audience, the strangers, the one she can’t know). The object is speaking its sub text, defining its limits, the refusal which is also an admittance. I love you by refusing you. I am push-pulling you. When you are far enough away you will be close enough to touch me. Her face might be a bruised fruit core on the sidewalk, a mark burned into photographic paper. If these objects could speak they might say Per Se. They are all tokens of a mystery which cannot, will not be spoken.

Is this what she is trying to tell us?

Beyond the Usual Limits: Part One
Where do we look for our secrets? Under the bed. After Per Sethe second episode of Why Always Instead of Just Sometimes starts up. It’s done all in one shot, in real time, the camera perched low to the ground looking up at a big double bed. Deirdre enters screen left and lifts the mattress away from her boxspring and crawls into it, slowly making her way across this sandwich of a bed while a metronomic electro rhythm chirps lightly away. The room is a paradise of kitsch, the sheets are gaudy bouquets of orange and red flowers, a black velvet clown painting hangs on the far wall. Yes, a clown painting. And to complete the domestic scene, a cat sits on top of the mattress, jostled by the artist’s movements below, shaken not stirred. When I saw it the first time the room rose up and kissed the screen, affirmative, this is what we want. Never mind that film students are still being told: no cemeteries and no pets, this is a crowd pleaser, this cat has maximum cute appeal, there is no stern performance artist at work here. It’s a short trip, perhaps it lasts a minute or two, but nothing like the pilgrimages that once awaited those seeking miracle cures for their afflictions. This is a quest parody re-rendered as domestic trial, a Martha Stewart footnote (“And for you performance artists that like to work at home…”). Anti-heroic. Ironic. And clumsy. It’s important, somehow, for Deirdre to maintain this clumsiness, even this quick crawl doesn’t have a moment of grace in it, or dignity or elevation. Instead Deirdre has to get down on her hands and knees and genuflect her way through this bed with her limbs sticking out in awkward places while this sugar mountain of a resting place heaves and jitters and shakes. Parody of a sex act? Acting out underneath the covers? She is going where we cannot go. She sees what we can’t see and she’s not bringing it all back to us. We watch her take the trip and that’s as far as we can go. The only people who see what she sees are the ones who take the same trip. This kind of looking is not for tourists. At one moment, her legs still sticking out of the mattress, she pauses, has she found something, is she looking for some thing after all? But then she pushes on and the bed closes.

Why did the performance artist cross the road?

The third episode is entitled Repair. It shows a pair of hands taking apart a pomegranate and putting it back together again. Presented as a simultaneous view with alternating titles which read, “Make Mess,” “Clean Up Mess,” in a stenciled font. The two actions are interdependent, if the fruit wasn’t taken apart it couldn’t be put back together again. The fruit is made whole again utilizing the simple technique of playing the same footage backwards. A final title (issued as a challenge? A plea?) reads: Repeat. This compulsive reflection of compulsion hopes, above all, to repeat itself. To repeat itself.

There are things I can’t help repeating. Like the way I look at you, the way I can hold you with a look and then let you go. Call it a learned response, call it personality. I don’t need to banish you to the furthest corner of my kingdom, I can just stop looking, that’s all, that’s all it takes. One moment you’re here, you’re front and centre, you’re filling my eyes, my attention, and the next moment who are you again? It can happen that fast. I don’t think it’s a bad habit. It’s the distance between us, that’s all. It comes and goes. And then it comes again. What are friends for?

In Repair only her hands are visible. The movie shows a life of hands, it is hand-held, hand-made. The footage, I can’t help noticing, has been hand-processed, the strips of film unspooled and soaked in baths chemists call solutions. There are marks and scratches, solarized flashes, satisfying analogue surface noises that serve as reminders of film’s dual (two-handed) status. In the hands of its maker it is an object, a material fact, but for the audience it is only light and shadow. The film audience is always sandwiched between pictures “going on behind their back” and the pictures in front of them, projected phantasms of light. Logue’s rough handling of the material asks us to look over our shoulder, back to the place where pictures come from, where they are turned into light.

This miniature, like so much of her other work, is a synthesis of traditions. Minimalism, body art, underground film.

Logue uses her body the way a painter uses pigment, to provide the first principles of composition, but also: as an analogy of living, as the wound of living, its evidence and grieving mark. Whether falling in Fall, or licking a road in Road Trip, or peeling tape from her face in Tape, the body demonstrates the punishing trials of its repetition. This is Logue’s first tragic principle: the body is condemned to repetition. A motif underscored by her looped installations in gallery settings, where they repeat all day, in all the visible hours of the gallery’s life. As long as they can be seen, they can be seen again.

But the body’s repetition is not exact, it does not adhere to digital codes where the copy is the original. Instead it performs its repetitions as theme and variations, if one looks closely enough, inside each repetition there are small differences (the way we wash the dishes, brush our teeth, shave and shower, sleep) which may bring pleasure or pain.

Condemned. Is that too harsh a word to use? When I see this work I am reminded, again and again, that I am condemned to living in a body.

Sometimes two hands are not enough to show the work of two hands. In Repair we see only two, but they are multiplied. Logue superimposes the same two hands, performing the same action, on themselves. There are six hands altogether, pulling apart the pulpy interior of a pomegranate, then putting it back together again, or trying to. It looks disturbingly like cranial matter, shapeless in these hands, there are no corners or edges left, nothing one could lay a foundation with, nothing to be stacked or graded or separated. The undifferentiated mess she claws at has no centre around which the original shape can be re-formed, which underlines the futility, or at least, the endless nature of her repeating. A compulsion which feeds on itself. Which admits only that part of the world necessary for its repeating. The empires of prohibition which make prolonged depression possible. Errors in judgment which change a life, just like that, the small shifts which turn pessimism into hopelessness. There are moments of experience which function as black holes of time, they need to be returned to again and again (please father, not there, never there), they don’t stop happening, even after they’ve finished. These are the memories our bodies are busy becoming.

In Repair only her hands are visible in the arena of the frame, the site of public disclosure where this body enters to show itself, to show us, the cost of living in a body. Over these hands, like a reminder from the super ego, an after thought, alternating titles which appear stamped over the image: MAKE MESS. CLEAN UP MESS. Like the hands which fill the screen, the titles come in pairs. They also repeat, ensuring in their on/off nature, that whatever one hand will accomplish, the other will take away. (On the other hand every movie has its last word, inRepair the last word is: REPEAT) They appear to work at cross purposes, canceling one another out, but only apparently. What they ensure is that the work of these hands can continue, and without end. The hand which cleans up the mess relies on the one that produces the mess. The two hands are parts of one another, an alternating current, relying on their opposite, so these two hands in Logue’s picture world become an image of perverse symmetry, of wholeness.

In Crash a pair of tots wearing raincoats ride their tricycles into each other and fall over. Superimposed on the background, a circular (repeating) pan of evergreen trees float by. A series of titles are superimposed which read, “I am 38 years old/It occurs to me now/that I may never get/a driver’s license.

What are we presented with here? A moment from childhood, looped and replayed (like a compulsion, a wound which continues to open, eternally). But this wound is played for laughs (this fragment might be named “Just Kidding”). Perhaps it is the same image that collides into itself (the collision is an act of reproduction, the fall is real enough, or momentarily real, but the over and over is an act of memory, of memory being applied to a moment, unable to let it go. Or is it the other way round? Is the event itself unable to let go?) This moment, this movie, has been reconstructed as a collision as if in answer to this riddle: there is a large field, a small girl and a tricycle. How does she manage to bump into herself? Yes, perhaps it’s the same image which collides into itself, this is one little girl who is her own worst enemy. She keeps getting in her own way. She falls, and while the descent is not far, it occurs often. She keeps getting in her own way, but try as she might, she can’t stop. She’d like to stop but the footage is finite, the personality is finite, and the time is so very long. As long as the rest of your life. The shot, the personality, needs to be stretched over this very long time, and that causes repetition. It’s remembered, and what is memory if not repetition, if not over and over? (Though this pretend trauma, this over and over wound, is not an image of the trauma, but only a place marker, the place the trauma belongs if it could be shown. But it can’t be shown. In place of the unrepeatable, the terror, the thing which should never ever be made into a picture: this slapstuck repeating, this audiovisual stutter. Will it be enough to open the door?

An image that is hardly there, grainy and dark, finally resolves into another close-up of the artist’s face. Not: oh, it’s her again. But instead: this is the material out of which I am making my art. In place of pigment and canvas, the artist’s face. She is sucking on her fingers which plunge into the open wound of this face again and again. A theme with variations (if I did the math, timed the intervals and assertions, would I recover the momentum of the Goldberg Variations?) It’s not purposeful, there is no destination in this traveling, no destination home. She has a ring (or is it a tattoo?) on her middle finger. Probably it’s a tattoo. She fills her mouth with it, her mouth swallows the fingers, the two sides go back and forth again and again. After all this time: a return to mother.

“Only the Mother can regret: to be depressed, it is said, is to resemble the Mother as I imagine her regretting me eternally: a dead motionless image out of the nekuia; but the others are not the Mother: for them, mourning, for me, depression.”(Roland Barthes, A Lover’s Discourse, Vintage: London, 2001, p. 195)

Suckling shows an image of putting the body back inside itself. Of folding up the body, tucking and sucking, and incorporating. Nothing will stick out. There is nothing extra or left over. It is also an image of retraction: I take that back! That hand, this elbow, this thigh. I am disappearing into myself.

I am sustaining myself with myself. I am all I need. Aren’t these the words he used, repeated (like a compulsion) day after day? Take eat, this is my body. And she does.

That Beauty
That Beauty is another performance short about the beauty which can exist only over there, belonging to someone else, or in the past, or to come, that once and future beauty, but not now. That Beauty takes as its subject the listening body, driven by ears not eyes. The subject, the dancer and artist and performer is wearing headphones which cut her off from the world (from the viewer), which remakes the world as her world, though she is already part of a received wisdom, the song loop for instance which issues on the soundtrack, which I (we?) imagine are similarly rising into the headphones. They are not her songs, though they are directed at her. She is a headphone solitary, the phones driving her inside the body, pushing the music inside, turning the body into music and rhythm. The song occurs in a loop, turned back on itself, asking us to play it again Sam. The chords swell and then a male voice speaks/sings: “That beauty right there.” The music stops under the force of his pronouncement, the singer picks her out, singles her out from the crowd (the crowd is also the music, the crowd parts, the music stops). His voice is also a kind of look, a finger pointing RIGHT THERE. Meanwhile, in pixilated abandon, the performer dances on, apparently “all body” reduced (lifted?) to a symptom of sound, an effect of the locked groove, hips swaying, throwing her hands up in the air, smoking while she’s shaking, she’s feeling as good as it gets. And if it’s filled with fear and anxiety and pain, well, that’s all part of as good as it gets too.

She films herself as a high-contrast silhouette so we can’t make out face or expression, underlining the fact that she is a body. A body held in thrall to a beat and a voice. That beauty. That voice, an idea of beauty. Or in Logue’s re-draft: that abject beauty. The words onscreen appear as superimposed intertitles, answering the man’s call, as if from the dancer’s mind, the mindless mind, the carried away, overcome, overcooked mind of the headphoned solitary. The dancer who is also a writer as it turns out, filling in his sentence, projecting, saying what he (the imaginary one, the suitor, the one who is out there right now waiting for her) cannot say. That beauty right there (he says) “FEELS FRAGILE” says the title. “FEELS ANXIOUS” answers the title. The emotions run from fragility through shame, invisibility (is invisibility an emotion? The first emotion?) and then finally forgotten (I’m nothing, never was, no place for hope to cling to). The body responds to its suitor the only way it knows how, by re-staging its past, over and over, with everyone who encounters it, until it can be absorbed, and let go, condemned to repeat until the record stops.

The body is mostly made of water, and here, in this one minute body brief, it’s all about the body, it’s about water, inside and out. The movie begins and ends with water, the dancer appears inside this wash of surf and crest and foam. Rising and falling and easy, it goes down so easy. She never leaves her kitchen.

Touch me if you must. If you dare. But know that some have entered this house and never left. You may meet them on your way towards a door which no longer exists. I hope you like it here, doesn’t matter either way, just makes it easier.

Wheelie features another home movie loop. A young boy, five or six, pops a wheelie on his bike (he rides on the rear tire, while “popping” the front tire up in the air) and then falls off of it. He lands on the ground though his bike continues to move forward, borne along by its momentum. Here is another country setting, the footage turned a strange colour owing to the age of the film, the colour dyes have shifted in the heat and cold of the years between producing the look, the glance that made this memory possible, and the stare that returns it as a fixed item in a personal image repertoire. The superimposed titles read: “I am 38 years old/Although I still make mistakes/I have found/more people/to blame.” Wheelie is a slapstick of rising and falling, of modest ascent and abandon, met almost immediately with a coming to ground, a grounding, a fall to earth. Just kidding of course, but even kidding leaves behind a reminding bruise.

Beyond the Usual Limits: Part Two
A title announces the end of part one and the beginning of part two. All in the dark. Part two opens with a close-up shot of Deirdre wrapping her fingers and hands in bandages. The image is sped up, though still synchronous, imparting to proceedings a restless, nervous intensity. There are no visible cuts that need to be salved, the entire hand is a wound, this body is a wound, there will never be enough band-aids, she needs all the protection she can get, though it’s still not enough.

And of course this sequence is about repeating, like all the rest. About the compulsions of the body, the compulsion that is memory (We are going back, again. In other words, returning to the body.) She doesn’t put the same band-aid on the same hand, but it’s the same kind of band-aid on the same hand. Over and over.

The band-aids are a covering, a second skin. Now you see it, now you don’t. The hand exerts a “grasp,” it “gets a grip.” The hand is the moment of the body related to metaphors of control. What does it mean to cover up this control, to bind it? Is this not another way of saying, I don’t have a handle on it, I’m losing my grip? “Get a handle on it.” That’s how the saying goes. But what if there is no handle? What if the riddle doesn’t arrive with handles? What if the body you really want has no orifices, no place to admit the outside, what then? And worse, what if that body is your own?

A helped hand, not a helping one. A pointer to show how tender, how vulnerable this hand is. How raw the “first” skin is. This covered over hand (but not hidden or put away, it is right there in front of me, in close-up. The wound is examined, pulled at, fascinated.) How much longer? That’s what I wonder when I watch this. Will it go on and on? Will she stop at her hand? Wait, she’s covering her wrist, perhaps she’ll do her entire arm and the body attached to that arm. While she applies her elasticized scars, disposing of their plastic containers by dropping them out of frame in a steady heap, I wait for her to cover the tip of that middle finger, and a moment of exposed palm. The longer the shot goes on, the more I am seeing her hand the way she sees it. Don’t stop now, you might miss a spot. This is what I would like to whisper into her ear, in order to urge her on. Not that she needs urging. Don’t stop now or ever. And then it ends.

If there is no possibility of contact, of pleasure, or the pain which pleasure makes necessary, which deepens pleasure and allows it to ripen, at least I can make a sign. At least I can show the other one, the one who is trying to touch this body without orifices, that I am still here inside the fortress. If I can’t touch you it’s because I don’t have hands anymore. Look. The artist is making an image with nothing more than a box of band-aids and two hands. Christo is busy covering the Reichstag, and that is another history of division, Deirdre begins at home, covering her own hands.

“Upon it we sleep, we are awake, we fight, we win and we are defeated, we seek our place, we experience our incomparable happiness and our astounding falls and collapses, we penetrate and we are penetrated, we love.” (Gilles Deleuze)

Worry is another home movie brief, showing (parts of) four very young girls dancing. The girl in the foreground has her back to the camera and turns to face us, as soon as the turn is complete the shot ends. This takes about four seconds. Superimposed titles appear three times, bearing the same message: “I am 38 years old/and sometimes/I worry so much/I worry/it will kill me.”

The loop is so short there is no time for a social relationship to develop between the four figures onscreen. Instead they become part of a rhythmic churning, which is centered on the act of the girl in the foreground who reveals her face. She is overexposed and grainy, the original made with cheap home movie equipment, so there is little detail in her face. We sense a face, she gives an impression of a face, but no matter how many times she comes around, her turning leaves only an impression of an impression. There is no gain, no addition, in this accumulation of a moment, which echoes the “worry” intertitles which are caught in a tautology of worrying (she worries about worrying).

The use of old home movies asks: was the worry already there? There, right there, in this moment which can be played and frozen and slowed under an adult’s supervision. Is this the origin, the primal moment of worry? Even if it is, the artist suggests, we wouldn’t know. Look at the face—it doesn’t tell you a thing. It’s blank, project if you will, if you must. If there was a face that could appear in this turning it would be here, perched right on top of these shoulders, but her face hasn’t occurred to her yet, she is not turning to reveal herself after all, only to show her secret, to show the place her picture would be, if she had one to share.

In Eclipse the artist appears in night vision mode, black and white and blue. Once more Deirdre is looming into a wide angle lens which bends her face around the glass. She moves her cheeks around trying to get them to make a sound, to crack her jaw. “Can you hear that? It’s like a crack. Did you hear that? Oh here comes somebody.” Somebody, I wonder? Deirdre is sitting in what looks like a domestic setting. She appears (again) as if the party’s over and everyone’s gone home and her lover’s in bed and in this exhausted state she’s begun (again) to speak with her camera. To perform herself. “Somebody,” she says, though surely she has to know who this somebody is. Her lover, her best friend, one of her parents maybe up wandering sleepless after a night of too many thought balloons. But for now she preserves this secret, this secret place, for now it’s just us. The artist and her strangers, the ones who will come later in order to bear witness, to complete her with a look, with our attention, though we will arrive too late, when the moment the image could have arrived has already past. She invites us but only too late, we can find her only after she’s gone, and we are left not with a picture of what she’s done but of what she can show us after the action has taken place. It is as if we are watching the civil war in the Gaza Strip but we need to read it all, and without commentary, from a single face sitting at the window. And it is not happening live, it has already happened. They have already killed the rest of the family, bulldozed the neighbour’s house, destroyed the school. The next day there is a face at the window. This face bears the mark of all that has happened, and though we can’t read the specifics of what has occurred, the artist hopes that something else can be conveyed, some manner of facing the unfaceable, of standing at the brink of what cannot be shown, between the two worlds of the visible and the invisible. It is a dangerous place, no wonder she looks tired, and stretched out of shape, no wonder she is cracking up, falling apart, celebrating her fissures, her openings.

“Oh here comes somebody,” she says, and before “somebody” comes in, the camera pans down to the ground so it’s not pointing back at her face. So it doesn’t look like she’s doing THAT again. Then there is a cut and she is starting again. “Ow. Can you hear the cracks? Did you hear that? Did you hear that? Can you hear?” While she is speaking a dark, shuddering shape appears on her cheek, not quite circular, it changes shape as she moves, a dark hole added via the magic of video special effects. Once again the image the artist offers us of herself is unflattering, not quite grotesque or gargoyle-like, nonetheless she frowns persistently, her face is bent and misshapen, she appears to be in distress. And then there is the action itself which is repeated, like every action in each of these vignettes is repeated. Now she is pursuing the cracking of her jaw. It is the sound of a body under duress, the skeleton protests, rubbing against itself. The body is an instrument for producing sound, not only the familiar sounds of language but the protest noise of age and failure. “There is a crack in everything,” Canadian poet Leonard Cohen sings on his disc The Future, “that’s where the light comes in.”

Alone, at night, she sounds her cracks and fissures. Is this an image of the artist at work, running her fingers over the fault lines, worrying them, unable to let go, letting the furrow run deep and deeper so that some uncomfortable and unbearable truth might emerge? She will go where we cannot, and she won’t bring back the story of that place, because there aren’t stories left to tell. The myths are dry, the mouths are empty. But she can show us the cost of the travel, she can show us what it means to go this far, to look from this face.

In Blue a split screen shows the artist blowing up a paper bag and letting it deflate, in close-up of course, on small opposing screens. The bag almost fills the frame when it is fully extended, a measurement of breath (for the Greeks: spirit, in modern parlance: Esprit, the globalized chain fashion store). The breaths are counting moments, making a slow addition. How much and how far? Each breath fills the frame with its exhaustion, the repeatings of its hope, which is the same hope, to go on and on, to remember, to give and receive. But the bag (which provides evidence of her journey, which produces “the image”) also stops the outside from entering her. The outside world doesn’t enter the artist, the artist applies her attention to the world. The artist enters the world with a frame and admits only those moments which fit inside it. It is a small frame and a small world. All too soon the artist is breathing their own breath, locked into their self-created system of knowing. What can come in, and what can come out? What can be shown of the outside? And what about self expression? Only the reality of the container is possible, the way experience is staged, only the stage itself can be shown. The main show has already happened, or has been buried in a necessary forgetting that the audience is already a part of, which the audience, the very fact of witness, of coming later, of surviving the too much of it, the audience makes this forgetting necessary. Blue? Well I guess so. Unable to get beyond your own bag (of tricks? In the hipster parlance of the beat generation a bag was your concern, your attention: What’s your bag?). Unable to get beyond your own bag either to achieve self expression or to admit the world, here again is a body without orifices, a sealed off body, closed except for this demonstration of its frame or stage. Is it enough?

Beyond the Usual Limits: Part Three
She’s close again, when the camera is on it seems she’s always there, right there, filling the frame. Her face is the material this suite of fragments is built up out of. Now she appears in the daytime, on her porch perhaps, or out on the driveway. The look on her face shows her concentrating, no messing around here, it’s important to get this just right. She uses the video monitor as a mirror, to show her what she’s unable to see, extending her look through a vision prosthetic machine in an echo of the Vito Acconci tape where he shaves the back of his head, following the image in the monitor. He performs an action on himself relying on the camera to reveal moments of his body that are otherwise hidden to him. He follows the machine. She follows too.

She begins to apply black paint to her ear, one small stroke at a time. In Eclipse, a dark video glitch inhabited her face, now this abyss has become a consciously applied mark of separation. The ear is highlighted, marked off and zoned, the place of hearing has become an image. (Or has it been disappeared? Blacked out?) When the ear is completely black the image cuts and reverses Deirdre’s features. Now she wields the brush from the other side and patiently undoes the painting. This scene reruns the first half backwards. “I take it all back!” It shows a world without consequences, where marks can be made and then withdrawn, as if they never happened at all. Here is my longest running fantasy brought to life—to return to my kindergarten self knowing everything I do now, to live a second chance. To be able to return to each moment in my life having already run through it the first time as a dress rehearsal. How satisfying (or so the fantasy goes) to be able to combine that unformed body with a mind and emotions that are still trying to stay above the water line in the present. But of course when I go back, or so the fantasy goes, the waterline would be far away, every dialogue delivered with more panache, the jokes a little sweeter, the timing tighter. Above all the abiding fear which has become such a reliable companion could be swapped for this double take, this eternal return (bearing in mind Marx’s dictum: that everything in history appears twice. The first time as tragedy, the second as farce.)

I run my life back and forth across the tape heads, undoing remarks, softening the lighting until I can come up with a version I can stand to look at. This doesn’t take long, I’m not worried about a precise memory, only a bearable one. Imagine cutting all your vegetables while never looking down, my memory is similarly a rough cut, an approximate assembly. Sometimes I pour attention into a moment, like my ear for instance, and then it falls off and I have to begin all over again.

Making an Approach
If I knew what I wanted, I wouldn’t be in the movie theatre tonight, looking for more pictures. I need these pictures to say what I can’t say, to show what I can’t even begin to think about showing. These are small moments of taking heart and it’s working, I’m encouraged, I want to go on repeating as well. Knowing it only again and again. Knowing that by coming here, by standing in front of these pictures, I am taking my place inside one of Dante’s circles. Every oppressor requires their victim, and I have come here, happily, my arms raised in surrender, my eyes open. I am ready to begin again, or middle again, reduced to a pair of eyes, not wanting to take responsibility for what I see and yet. Not wanting to account for what I saw and yet. “No one said it would be easy,” my mother would tell me, and I couldn’t wait to meet this new person, this “no one,” but I never did. Not tonight, not all those other nights and going back wouldn’t change a thing. Sometimes when I get up in the morning there is an arm missing, or a foot, an eye. It never lasts for long but the journey is not an easy one, from one part of the night to another. I will turn my tables back into forests. Stop trying to think more than one thought at the same time. Make an approach. It is time, past time now, to try and make an approach to the image. I will fail of course, the artist has shown me what it means to fail. She succeeds through failure. Failure is the portal, the entrance, the beginning of her work. Her videotapes, still so very young, are a cornucopia of failure. Let me count the ways. I will fail too. Falling down eight times, getting up nine. No need to worry about that any more, the marks it leaves behind are conversation pieces. Openings for strangers. For you.

Mike Hoolboom is (still) working on a novel.