a review

The Poiesis of Personal Experience  by Bruce Stater
This Thursday at MoMA as part of its “Big as Life” series, the Time Warner
screening room offered threads, nets, webs, skin, clouds, piles of a wonderful
variety of buttons, a leaf transported by the bubbling and rippling current of
a stream, walls receding out of focus into cloudy obscurity, a surgical steel
needle penetrating a male nipple, the shadowy flicker of a face illuminated by
a flashlight, the erotic movement of a handheld camera exploring the contours
of the filmmaker’s body, the elegant plumage adorning the slightly comic form
of an ostrich’s head and neck, spiders hatching within a camera lens, a young
girl discovering and creating her own playground within a rubbish heap, and
the appearance of filmmakers Melanie Berry and Julie Murray.
Julie Murray’s _Mantilla_ (1991, S8, color, sound, 17 min) is a powerful and
complex assemblage.  Although the title suggests a disposition of mourning and
melancholia, the work’s psychological character is fundamentally
schizophrenic, particularly in the terms which Deleuze and Guattari utilize to
define this state– heterogeneous, transformative, segmented, masochistic,
proliferating, and mimetic.
_Mantilla_ begins in silence, but a series of carefully selected ominous
orchestral pieces quickly fill in this auditory void.  The initial graphic
title at the outset, “A picture of a hole,” cannot help but evoke the later
poetry of Antonin Artaud, and perhaps even inspires the recitation of his
questions “Lesquels, et de quoi ces trous?”  Mouth?  Ear?  Anus?  Vagina?  Or
some new hole carved into the body– perhaps by an insect, by a surgical tool,
or by some ill-fated accident?  Or perhaps this is a metaphorical hole– the
hole left in one’s life after the loss of a loved one– the sort of hole a
mantilla is meant to frame rather than to cover.
_Mantilla_ is constructed of a series of carefully paired selections from
found and footage and footage shot by Murray.  So, for example, heroic shots
of aircrafts in flight are paired with images of mosquitos at rest.  The found
materials are generally epic in scope and include scenes of disasters,
selections from campy horror movies and westerns and other genre-identifiable
selections from stylistically dated black and white films. The shot sections,
in contrast, meticulously attend to the minute details of objects, creatures
and actions.  We participate with a degree of discomfort mixed with
masochistic delight watching a surgical needle penetrate and bore its hole
through a nipple.  The movements of a spider and the hatching of its eggs hold
us spellbound.
Although the piece is heterogeneous and complex, one can in fact discover ways
in which its disparate images are woven and linked to one another– both
paradigmatically and syntagmatically.  The spider’s metaphorical relationship
to weaving and sewing links it to the needle which is utilized to pierce the
nipple.  The mosquito’s relation to the theme is perhaps more readily
Asked after the screening about the symbolic significance of the recurrent
image of the spiders, Julie responded that she found a nest in her camera lens
and, as she began filming its process of maturation, she began to imagine the
tiny baby spiders which would hatch from the egg sack emerging from the nipple
she had filmed.  This is a schizoid poiesis– but it is a poetic fantasy
Murray subjects language to fragmentation as well– providing a narrative text
composed of a number of sequential titles whose word breaks make the act of
reading and comprehending the story more and more difficult as it proceeds and
draws toward its conclusion.  Narrative, here, is not conceptualized as
completion– but as fragmentation– or one might say that the coherence
necessary to produce narrative is consciously and deliberately fenestrated
with gaps and holes.
The film ends with a series of questions concerned with the subject’s relation
to the potentially fragmented body.  “If I amputate my arm…can I say my arm
and I?”  Other body parts are inventoried and a new question concludes the
piece: “If I amputate my head…”  …but this question I should leave the
film to ask for itself.
If Julie Murray’s work _Mantilla_ engages the schizoid axis of creativity,
Diana Barrie’s film _Night Movie No. 1 (Self-Portrait)_  (1974, b/w, silent, 3
min) engages its narcissistic axis.  I should note for the record, if it isn’t
already clear, that I see neither Murray’s engagement of the schizoid, nor
Barrie’s engagement of the narcissistic in Freudian terms– that is as
symptomatic of perversion, hypochondria, hysteria, neurosis or psychosis.  I
see them rather as critical interventions in a discourse that has forced
femininity to fit the model provided by a Symbolic and hierarchically
masculine regime– that is, as redemptive rewritings and rethinkings.
Bruce Stater     1998