The Poetics of Abigail Child: Experimental Media at REDCAT

Mirror World

A bevy of naked or semi-clothed female bodies -- voluptuous, shot from a polite distance, still images from a distant past -- populates the opening minutes of Abigail Child's short video "(If I Can Sing a Song About) Ligatures." Words or snippets of text -- fragments of poetry by Nada Gordon -- are juxtaposed with the images, creating unusual text-image combinations. Some name, others divert, some concatenate. All provoke. The easy pleasure of looking gets complicated by the words; the ripples of disruption grow as the images continue, the clarity of gender is undermined, stability is knocked aside, and in just these few minutes, we spin out along the outer edge of a whorl, from a comfortable center to a strange unknown.

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Such is the power of words and images in the hands of avant-garde media artist Abigail Child, whose work will be showcased tonight at REDCAT in a show titled Narrative Bodies: Films and Videos by Abigail Child, featuring both older and more recent work.

Child has produced a remarkable body of films and videos dedicated to a true poetics of cinema -- indeed, in 2005 she published "This Is Called Moving: A Critical Poetics of Film," a collection of essays that links her work as both a filmmaker and poet.

MayhemChild's experiments in film include the seven-part series titled "Is This What You Were Born For?" from the 1980s in which the filmmaker interrogates everything from gender to genre by taking bits of existing footage and scrutinizing not only the visual vernacular of noir or melodrama, but individual gestures and movements, breaking down everyday activities into clearly coded acts of domination and submission. The REDCAT screening includes two films from this series, "Perils" and "Mayhem," both of which are celebrated examples of feminist revision.

Mirror WorldTonight's screening also includes the spectacular "Mirror World" from 2006. The film is a wonderful reimagining of a classic Bollywood feature, "Aan," by Mehboob Khan. The Hindi musical from 1952 features lurid colors, dramatic performances, and lots of singing and dancing in a story about a royal family and the peasants they torment. Child rifles through the film, radically reediting it to find a very different tale, one that features two women. Along the way, she has created dazzling, kaleidoscopic imagery, and she has revised the subtitles such that they act not as transcripts of dialogue but instead as a layer of poetic writing across the images. This gesture transforms the film into a sublime experience of reading and watching, and we are invited to produce an entirely new work as we conjure meaning across the chasm of image and text.

Despite many attempts throughout the history of cinema to derive a "language of cinema" or a "grammar of film," few filmmakers have worked seriously at the intersection of text and image, really exploring the incredible potential here. It's a delight to see Child continue to work at this juncture.

The REDCAT screening includes "Peripeteia I" (1977), "Perils" (1986), "Mayhem" (1987), "The Future Is Behind You" (2004-05), "Mirror World" (2006) and "Ligatures" (2009); it starts at 8:30 p.m., Monday, April 2, 2012

About the Author

Holly Willis teaches in USC's School of Cinematic Arts and writes about new media art. She is the author of "New Digital Cinema: Reinventing the Moving Image" and editor of "The New Ecology of Things" on pervasive computing.
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