Selfish Chair is a writer, untrained and disorganized, deeply concerned with people, their lives, their relationships, though utterly incapable of engaging with them himself. She is a chair, after all, living quietly in a small room where she works, sleeps, eats. A seven by seven by eight foot space in Hollywood. She can see everything from here and this room applies a great pressure to her thinking. She cannot escape the heavy-handed influence of the popular culture she was raised on: television, going to the movies, music, plastic objects. She has many facebook friends. She hates parties but wishes to be invited to them. She is funny.
follow this project…
Audience I (8:21), Audience II (8:21), 2013, dual projection
Performance by Julie Lovich, Photography/Editing by Kristy Lovich
(Note: It is recommended that you play videos simultaneously.)
You know what I realized, when I was watching all these movies?
He was never really in any of them. I mean you never really see his face. He says things sometimes…look this way, stand in front of this thing, say something to the camera. So, you hear him and you see everything he sees but he’s never really there, in the picture.
He used to take us to the wax museum all the time and every time it was just about the same. When he got the camera, he’d bring it along to the museum, filming all the statues. Life-size and still, all of the movie stars would be posed in a freeze frame of their most famous films. Dorothy and the Tin Man near the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow, positioned like they were skipping down the Yellow Brick Road, away from the Emerald City. Arms linked, Toto too, at their feet. A big scenic painting behind them, lit with green lights, more spotlights aimed at their waxy, shiny faces. Somewhere over the Rainbow played on a loop. In the next room all the best comedy guys were standing there frozen in slapstick, Laurel and Hardy, WC Fields, and Chaplin. They were all propped up inside a replica of a set that generally looked close to the kinds of sets they used in their films: wooden, plain, rickety. All captured in mid folly: a pending eye poke, under a falling bucket of water, climbing up a precarious ladder. Around the corner was the House of Horrors. A sign hung just next to the red curtain you had to walk through, warning that anyone faint of heart shouldn’t enter. In each tableau, down the dark hallway, wax bodies were posed in various scenes of horror film torture and gore.
The best part of all of it was how serious it took itself; that the statues tried really hard to make you feel like you were in the film, peering into the scene, secretly, like you caught them in the act of acting. And you know someone tried really hard to make all the statues look real, painting their faces carefully, stitching together the costumes but always, if you looked closely, you’d see that a limb was just about ready to fall off or some of the paint on their chin was peeling. Maybe the pupil of an eye was pointed just slightly toward the ground while the other stared off into the distance. When we went to the wax museum, he’d get all of this on tape and he was a terrible cameraman.
He would see something like a butterfly and think that was the most amazing thing to video and he would follow it around for like twenty minutes. Up and down, trying to keep up with this butterfly. Nearly gave you vertigo, watching the thing. And at the museum, he’d always think it was really important to film the front of the building; the displays, the kiosk, making sure he documented the ticket prices, the posters in the windows, so you could see Clint Eastwood’s serious cowboy face, staring out onto the boulevard, or Mike Tyson all muscley, posed with his hands on his hips, all wrapped up in tape, a towel around his neck like he just got finished pummeling some poor guy. We would be in the shot too, but sort of just wandering in and out of the frame like the butterfly. But he didn’t really rest the camera on us too much. No, he’d spend all kinds of time making sure we’d be able to look at that video a hundred years later and know exactly where we were.
We were at the wax museum.
He loved it there and he loved the movies. Maybe that’s why we went there all the time. He really knew how to talk about movies. He’d always point out who was who, which movie stars were most important, telling us what their best films were and why. In the video, he makes sure that the lens catches all the stars on the sidewalk, each one, so you see the name, at least for a second while we all walked from the car. When we get up to the front of the building, there he goes, scanning the façade. Back then, the front of the museum looked really different. They had these big glass windows, with those posters I told you about. On the left side, when you are facing it, there was a little ticket window. The clerk would speak into a microphone, ask you what you wanted: Four tickets please, two adults, two children (infants are free). And they’d pass the paper tickets to you through a little opening under the glass and hand you a brochure with lists of all the statues.
In the video you can see my reflection in the window, jumping around. I was excited. I loved the wax museum too. And then for a few seconds, the camera passes the whole surface of the glass, tracing the images of others folks milling around in front of the museum, my sisters, passing cars and it lands there for a moment on his reflection and in that time, you believe that he was there too.
While my broad curiosities finger the connective tissue that forms a persons perception of their relationship to the world, how they simultaneously shape it and are shaped by it, I consider heavily those experiences we each have moved through that contain the potential to shift our consciousness, fundamentally, to redefine our concepts of power and identity. And I zero in on those moments we act upon and are acted upon by an immersive constellation of happenings. The moments when (even if briefly) the veil is lifted between the Self and The Other, the disintegration of that protective layer designed to obscure the inner workings of the mechanisms between you as a self contained being and the exterior world you are a part of. That moment that you see.
And I speculate that Deleuze described something like this when he talked about singularities, that is “turning points and points of inflection; bottlenecks, knots, foyers, and centers; points of fusion and condensation, and boiling; points of tears and joy, sickness and health, hope and anxiety, ‘sensitive’ points.” (Logic of Sense, Deleuze, p. 63) And of course, we can bear witness to these kinds of moments clearly when we see them in films: the inciting incident, the moment when the protagonist is confronted with a decision that will change the course of the story, the instant that the conflict seems as though it will boil over and we are held there, suspended in our empathy, changing with the hero. This center of intersubjectivity, with the projected character on the screen allows us to be submerged in that decisive instant, both as an objective witness and as the subjective agent. Through this arrangement of image, sound, and time, we can become present, embodied in the blurring of the distance between inside and outside.
What if I began to watch my life like a movie?
When I was little, I wrote a lot of stories. And like any good writer, I was always deeply concerned with making better stories. My mother, also a writer, would read my drafts and I would ask her for advice. And she always said: write about what you know. As a kid, this was very helpful, practical wisdom. When searching for subjects to write bout, I could use this cue to mine my own life for anecdotes: school, friends, my backyard, my dog. And I would weave these kinds of subjects in with fantasy, stolen from the pages of my favorite novels. Many years later, as an adult, a fully-fledged grown writer (and artist) I still return to this advice. When I began this project, charging myself with the task of integrating writing with sculpture and film, taking a speculative reach toward the ways that power and agency function in our personal and political lives, I struggled momentarily with where to begin. And thankfully, the simple phrase grounded me in a starting place: Write about what you know.
I first needed to begin with why. Why this subject? Why this concern with the ways that power and agency function? Why right now? I am always watching, in a nearly obsessive way, listening for patterns, looking for the ruptures in sequence that collectively, ironically become a pattern too when they accumulate. And what has become increasingly clear over the last several years are the effects of living in a post 9/11 world, our lives fully immersed in information delivery systems and the rupturing of a perceived cultural stability. That prior to our ability to know what’s going on, anywhere in the world, at any given moment, many of us were able to exist in a relatively copasetic state, kept safe from an awareness of social conflict and inequity (unless of course you were victim of such). And I began to think that perhaps this naiveté was fertile ground to cultivate the misguided belief that we had some time ago arrived to a post racial, post sexist, postcolonial world in which our collective consciousness not only realized but mended the catastrophic wounds of systemic oppression. What we have seen most recently, through our relationships with social media and open source information platforms is that many of the social ills previously believed to be resolved still maintain an incredible hold over our lives together. And further, that when this information is shared, it has had the power to incite serious renegotiations of power and space, personhood and identity. The result of this has birthed a number of domestic and international instances of social unrest, constructing moments of solidarity between groups of people who at one time did not perceive of themselves as allies, and driving apart even further those whom historically have always been divided. The simulacra we gaze upon and interact with, that digital theater we build, writes in real time the representation of our world via seemingly innocuous facebook or blog post, through the look upon the television, phone, computer, movie screen. This context sets the parameters for new inquiries into the nature of intersubjectivity, the scope of social narrative, and invites exciting questions about how social structures can change from the inside out. This moment pushes on the need to understand how consciousness shifts, right now.
I positioned that loving piece of advice from my mother on writing within this frame and thought that to better understand how change happens, how people realize themselves to be active agents in their world, I would need to begin with myself and write about what I know. So, I began to watch my life like a movie. I recounted the moments that for me, as the protagonist of my film, presented themselves as those singularities, those distinct experiences that redirected my sense of agency, that revealed the behavior of power, ultimately restructuring my subjective identity, changing my relationship with the world.
What emerged after a thorough reconstruction, a remembering of my most formative experiences were four distinct scenarios: (1) surviving rape, (2) a suicide attempt and subsequent institutionalization, (3) dropping out of high school, and (4) my participation in a peaceful political demonstration that was attacked by the Los Angeles Police Department. And like any good film, there were sub plots set in place to shape and form the story and places that provided context for the logic of this filmic universe. Some of these places existed in real space like the Hollywood Wax Museum and my studio and some in the frames of other films like The Wizard of Oz and Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times, and some presented themselves as these obscure sites, barely discernable except through mediated memory and aging VHS home video recordings.
As I watched this film, I felt like these experiences rendered me acutely aware of the ways that violence, both physical and psychological, impacted ones belief in their own empowered existence. That the proximity I maintained to the memories of these experiences was food for a deep sensitivity to the suffering of others. This sensitivity translated into a comprehension of how trauma changes our relationships, to ourselves, to each other, to the world that we live in. And then, when this logic is magnified, applied to the political, it was very easy to draw the lineages between systemic, generational trauma and the current condition of our social lives. The constellatory mindscape that began to form revealed a complex of experience, complete with a fractal logic that can served to provide openings into how and why I have come to understand myself as a participant in the world, as a cultural worker, and perhaps in a humble way, speculates on how the personal and political become informants to one another.
“And now she was able to shower. She had tried once before, the first night, to wash off the hours she spent being ferried from office to office, building to building, answering questions from strangers that carved away at her most precious secrets. Her elbow cradled by the hand of a nurse while they walked, the deceiving kindness of his touch always prepared to revert to force, should she make a run for it. The shower she used had no curtain or door. Just a smooth white tub, surrounded by white tile walls, framed by the concrete floor. A white plastic chair, the guard tower in the corner, where the nurse kept watch. The girl undressed, her movements slow like a sick cat. Her eyes silent. The resonance of the water hitting the porcelain floor of the tub filled the room, temporarily drowning her. The song of the water louder than the noise of being stared at. After seventy-two hours, her body again, belonged a little to herself, the fingertips of gazing eyes suspended, at least while she was naked, either without clothes or dreaming.”
(Excerpt from the text, Enough, part two of a collection of short fiction by Kristy Lovich titled So You’re the Leader, to be published in the Fall of 2013, alongside the exhibition of the same title.)