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at Gallery 2

October 16 and 17

The first anecdote in Kate Anderson’s monologue, Hoop La!, is about a rebirthing class. Though she’d been skeptical about going, she told the audience at Gallery 2, she found herself weeping, her body in the fetal position, and realized that the entire rebirthing group was also weeping. While she talks she lopes about the stage, head thrust forward, balls of the feet seeming to hit the ground first, which gives her stride the kind of rhythm one learns walking to school behind an indifferent older brother.

So began the time-arts portion of “Territorial Imperative: A Dialogue With Fear,” an exhibit at Gallery 2. Anderson, Dana Briscoe, Holly L. Hey, and Paula M. Froehle presented widely divergent views on the theme of how women apprehend danger and establish their own territories.

Anderson takes an irreverent approach in Hoop La!, which was originally intended to be presented as a ritual in back of the gallery in a vacant lot–until Anderson learned that it would shortly be paved over and turned into a parking lot. In light of the fact that it was to be altered so drastically, she says, she couldn’t easily create what she calls a “lullaby to the earth.” Explaining her predicament to the audience, she turns out something that’s part illustration of her intent, part the prayer she’d composed for the ritual, and part dialogue with the audience.

Serving up a performance of the “come over to my house” school, she wears an oversize black sweater, footless black tights, and dirty white sneakers. Her set is a white block at center stage with a bunch of dried wildflowers set in a tin can. Four pedestals hung with rawhide necklaces with pieces of white fabric tied to them form a half circle behind the center block, and on each is placed a fetish object: a jar full of broken glass, rolled-up fabric, a ring of rusty metal pieces, and a little bundle of sticks, each about a foot long. On the floor a rope encircles the center white block. Anderson walks around this rope at various times, picks it up at others–the rope becomes a sacred object with transformative power, and Anderson treats it with a kind of reverence and tenderness.

She tells another story meant to explain what the piece is really about, showing the audience slides of her journal, with notes for the performance, drawings of costumes, and admonishments to herself–for example, “No preaching!” She then describes how this performance was supposed to have a rope that enclosed her in a sort of hoop. She says that her ritual was supposed to have candles, and that she was going to face east, west, north, and south.

Hoop La! shows a Zenlike preoccupation with simple and humble objects, which become objects of reference just as the objects in a tea ceremony become profound in the context of ceremonial tradition. Anderson also mentions meditation: according to Buddhists, in a state of nirvana the world is revealed as it really is, and danger, fear, even joy come to seem transitory illusions. Perhaps Anderson took their illusionary character too much to heart, for her easygoing, peaceful equanimity seems mere whistling in the dark. This piece, though it’s charmingly entertaining, merely scratches the surface of the show’s stated theme.

Briscoe’s Legacy is an eight-minute video that explores contemporary standards of beauty in general and the ritualistic waxing or other removal of body hair specifically. The tape, with narration that seems intentionally inaudible, is structured around shots of various body parts: a face, an underarm, a groin, the nape of a neck, a thigh, or a hand waxing a leg. The shots repeat themselves, and Legacy has an element of ponderous, predictable early 1970s feminism: according to the program, the video is about the way society forces women to make certain choices about their bodies. Perhaps if the distorted narration were more intelligible, or if the choice of images were more intriguing, this tape might have been successful. As it is, the most interesting and poetic shots are of the nape and of a pair of feet, in part because they’re unexpected.

Hey’s film, Transmission, utilizes still photographs, color and black-and-white film, and anecdotal monologues to explore seemingly autobiographical family issues. The text repeats the words “ignorance” and “innocence,” often interchanging them within sentences. The narrator mentions her revulsion at her father’s racism and her ambivalence about sharing his handwriting style. In this beautifully edited film, the narrator recounts how someone once told her, “The big fish is over the hill”–and in the next shot we see a fish sign for some sort of tourist attraction that’s just the sort of “big fish” over a hill a child might look for. Each anecdote contains adult realizations about childhood even as it frames life from a child’s perspective. Beautifully crafted, carefully chosen text and images make this a touching and evocative portrait of the territory of family, and the fear of being trapped within that territory.

Froehle’s Spitting Image and My Mother, Myself are perhaps the most visually and verbally dense, poetic, and richly textured films I’ve seen in a long time. In these works about a woman’s relationship to her mother, the narrator mentions the similarities between them–the way they both bite their lips, for instance–and how uneasy they make her. In their close but verbally uncommunicative relationship, she says, “words were poison.” Yet the narrator fears the loss of the relationship, too; in one sequence we hear, “I covet these napkins”–as a reminder of the mother, who may have died. The quotidian objects and images in both films are drenched in meaning, weighted with memory, saturated with the character of the mother. These are provocative gems I wanted to see again–I didn’t want these films to be over. Spitting Image and My Mother, Myself offer personal narratives that explore “inherited fear” and the desire to get past it and get on with life.