Review of the Language Formed in Light Screening
From Uptown Magazine June 2, 2011
Electro/retro self-help video
A survey of Shana Moulton’s videos kicks off the Language Formed in Light video series
Is it wrong that I am obsessed with knowing if that smooth, auburn helmet is Shana Moulton’s real hair?
Following in the idiosyncratic footsteps of Miranda July, Moulton sports a dowdy hair-don’t and grandmotherly fashions in her pseudo New Age, hallucinogenic video series Whispering Pines, of which PLATFORM screened numbers 1, 2, 4, 6, 7 and 9 at the Black Lodge on Tuesday.
Each instalment of Whispering Pines features a mise en scene stunningly crammed with goofy spiritual trinkets and ’80s designer coloured furnishings. I imagine that Moulton spends most of her time combing thrift stores for the perfect complement of costumes, set items and self-help video tapes to build her artwork. And I wonder (almost as much as I wonder about her hair) if, in the end, she lives among these items — the ironic fiction bleeding into her everyday life.
Moulton’s videos pay visual homage to the quaint special effects and spacey atmosphere of self-help videos — a uniquely ’80s cultural product. The hippy dippy rituals of healing and self-improvement — meditation, crystal vibrations, ceremonial objects, massage — are melded with a twin mode of superficial self-betterment and escapism — makeup, blackhead remover strips, work-out routines, Antiques Roadshow — to create a curiously penetrating criticism of both.
You don’t have to be a believer in New Age spiritualism to have your expectations masterfully confounded by Moulton; this both points out how tired and irritating the expected path is and reveals something a little creepy and possibly more real. In Whispering Pines #4 (comically introduced with a Doogie Howser MD-style diary entry on a computer screen), Cynthia visits a healer advertising “magic hands.” Our anticipation of massage therapy becomes the foundation for an elaborate visual joke when Cynthia enters a room filled with various hand-shaped tchotchkes — the real healing hands. Massage also takes an startling turn in The Galactic Pot Healer: when the healer is unable to magically reassemble Cynthia’s shattered pottery, she is offered a healing massage instead. A replacement pot is then poked and pinched from the skin of her back.
The gross is certainly not off-limits in Moulton’s work. This is an important rupture in the corporate and sanitized veneer of self-help and spiritualism. Moulton seems to be presenting excretions as an important part of learning about one’s self — the pot healer’s contact information appears in snot when she blows her nose, and glittering fluid erupting from her eyes and nose in Whispering Pines #6 leads her to her missing puzzle piece.
The Whispering Pines Series and the other three videos in this screening flirt with irony, but Moulton’s pitch-perfect simulations are fractured by the unexpected, delivering neither an affirmation of consumption as medicine nor facile mockery of genuine yearning for a connection to the metaphysical.
Prepare to be gobsmacked by the singular visions of other young artists to be presented PLATFORM’s Language Formed in Light video series, guest-curated by Clint Enns: Ben Russell on June 21,Michael Robinson on July 12 and Barry Doupe on Aug. 16. In addition, there will be a screening of Aleesa Cohene’s work on June 29.
– Sandee Moore