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Review | Shana Moulton, Journeys Out of the Body
Folding cane chair – making the visitor aware of their body, and in particular of aging, while simultaneously allowing a close, engaged, fairly comfortable interaction with the films.
The gallery is scattered with the accessories and symbols of commercialized medicine and spirituality, and when grouped together on display, their strangeness is heightened – a manufactured and engineered strangeness aimed at marketing a new solution to those in need of help.
Generations and Contemporary
These are obliquely narrative videos, with minimal or no dialogue and a digital lo-fi aesthetic.
The real temptation, like the philistine observing a Jackson Pollock, is to dismiss it as something less skillful, less talented. Moulton is clearly not an actress, performer, director, writer – or even, in any conventional sense, much of a cinematographer. Her frames are flat and square and undynamic.
Her frames are flat and literal, at first glance merely showing events. But that visual nakedness is in line with the flat affectlessness of the movements Moulton feeds and feeds off of, mostly internet-influenced tags like seapunk, normcore, and vaporwave, whose brand of strangely cheesy electronic music suffuses her videos.
The pieces might have been weightier if Cynthia were played by an actress – but also less personal.
Her manner, in her role as Cynthia, is flat, almost robotic.
Moulton has been compared to Buster Keaton, minus the pratfalls – she mugs flatly, showing a kind of constant mild surprise, mixed with passivity.
Angela Lansbury, cat paintings, neti pots.
Goddess and Activia yogurt, an injured pelvis–feminine health concerns, but also a legacy of women’s ailments being defined for them (the legacy of ‘hysteria’ looms over the show).
The imagery is drawn from a collision of the commercial and the mystical, taking the gauzy promises of food brands and exercise tapes and pushing them into the world of tree-people and hallucination. Pill cases open secret doors, drug-store reading glasses reveal third eyes.
Foot massagers, one of which is central to a newer work in the show, are a symbol of fragility. We live in a world that is at once trying to comfort us and prey on us – we can’t trust the reassurances offered by the commercial world (witness the recent indictment of health guru Kevin Trudeau), and yet we aren’t strong enough to resist them.
There is almost inevitably some condescension to Cynthia, but it is likely to rest squarely on the viewer’s shoulders. The character is constantly swadled in adult-baby loose-fitting clothes, embarrassing grandma nightgowns, and slankets. She lives in an adobe earthship, full of mass-market pottery and mall-kitsch wolf sculptures. She’s too raw, too sensitive, too gullible.
But there’s also definitely something of the artist’s own deep, real insecurity in her, a desire for wholeness and truth that is not entirely self-centered. And this is emphatically not satire – what Moulton is doing is subtler than that.
Mantras, affirmations, subconscious messaging tapes, biofeedback (which the visitor to the show can try out).
Cynthia is also, despite the focus on female health, sexually blank, with the possibl eexception of one early video when she visits a dance club.
The effect of the show as a whole is, perhaps ironically, soothing and cleansing. The accumulation of whispers and ethereal melodies adds up to a good meditation session.
Cynthia, in her floor-length shower gowns and omnipresent plush neck-brace, is sexually blank, too preoccupied or terrified by her own threatening-to-fail body or her imperfected self to reach out in anything ut need. But is that a universal need, a more individual set of issues with which we should empathize – or more of an aggressive campaign by those selling these products and programs?
“I was innocent and wise and full of pain . . . now that I’m a woman, everything is strange
The blankness is resonant.
Shana Moulton, Journeys Out of the Body is on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg through October 9.