nytheatre.com review by Anthony Johnston
January 8, 2011
A young woman stands in front of a curved white curtain. She is wearing a navy blue dress and black nylons. She is visible only from the neck down, her face blocked by a large rectangular white screen. On this screen, the woman’s face is projected, in extreme closeup, via live video feed. She looks into the camera, creating the illusion that she is looking at me—at us. She blinks. She blinks again.
The woman is Madeline Best, an inter-disciplinary artist and the co-creator of Selective Memory, currently being revived at The Chocolate Factory. Her face is expressionless. Other than a small twitch of her hand, or the tightening and relaxing of her lips from time to time, she barely moves. She blinks. She blinks again.
For nearly twenty minutes, this is all that happens. Not much changes in the last thirty minutes either. Selective Memory could be classified as a “duration piece”—for the entire length of the show is more-or-less just a video projection of a woman’s face. Not much is going on...or is there?
This woman appears to be doing nothing. Yet she is doing so much. She is standing. She is thinking. She is breathing. Her heart is beating, her blood is pumping. Her eyes, of course, are blinking. She is being.
Eventually, Best’s director and co-creator, Brian Rogers, a director, video artist, and artistic director of The Chocolate Factory, begins to introduce an atmospheric soundscape to the piece. The sparse electronic sounds, which he controls from his Mac laptop off to the side of the stage, combined with the image of Best’s projected face, add an eeriness to the experience. Best begins to move about the tiny playing space, very slowly and carefully: a step here, a turn of her leg there. The direction from which her face is being recorded also changes. Multiple cameras capture her from all angles. Her face changes in the light. We notice things we hadn’t seen before: her nose-ring, earrings, details in her skin and bone structure. There is a remote control in her right hand; she operates the changing cameras herself, deciding when she will be filmed and from which angle.
Who is this woman? What is going on inside of her head? Is she afraid of us? Should we be afraid of her? Is something else ever going to happen? When will I die? What am I going to eat for dinner? Is the man next to me sleeping? All of these questions went through my mind as I sat there. With time, my experience continued to morph and change. All at once I felt touched by the show’s beauty and simplicity, and also resentful at being forced to sit in that theatre like a prisoner, with no escape from this woman’s gaze.
But she wasn’t really looking at me—or at us—at all. We could see her, but she never saw us. The image of her face on the screen created a false sense of intimacy. I wonder if I would have been more connected to this other person—this other living, breathing human being—if she were able to actually communicate with us directly, rather than through a camera and onto a screen? There could have been a real dialogue between artist and spectator if she was actually seeing us the way we saw her, taking us in and allowing us to inform her being as much as we were being challenged to allow her to inform and change us. Perhaps that is just what Selective Memory is, or all memories are: a one-sided conversation we have with ourselves.