Pictured above: Permutations (1976) by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha. Courtesy of UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive
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presented in partnership with McEvoy Foundation for the Arts
Program curated by Gina Basso and Steve Polta
This screening features short films and videos by an intergenerational group of women artists who turn the cameras on themselves and others to access interior worlds. It includes a rare 16mm presentation of Permutations (1976) by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, among other works originally shot on analog film by filmmakers including Stephanie Barber, Julie Dash and Anne Charlotte Robertson. Illustrating the endless possibilities of film and the moving image, the artists in Living In Mirrors envision the screen as fertile ground for examination, construction, and projection of the self.
Set to Nina Simone’s stirring ballad of the same name, Julie Dash’s dance film features Linda Martina Young as strong Aunt Sarah, tragic mulatto Saffronia, sensuous Sweet Thing and militant Peaches. Kinetic camerawork and editing, richly colored lighting, and meticulous costume, makeup and hair design work together with Young’s sensitive performance to turn longstanding Black female stereotypes to oblique, critical angles. (Jacqueline Stewart, cited UCLA Film & Television Archive)
Oh My Homeland! (2019) by Stephanie Barber; 16mm, color, sound, 4 minutes, print from the maker
In 1985, Leontyne Price sang the title role in Verdi’s Aida as her farewell opera. After the O patria mia aria, the audience breaks into a four-minute applause. It’s a film about representation, art and material exchange. A film about endings. A film about identity, love, power, patriotism and the transcendent potential of art through the viewing of a face receiving adoration. A minimal gesture akin to the practice every portrait painter or mother recognizes as ineffably powerful. It explores YouTube as a cultural and social archive. The transformational power of art; the implication of Ms. Price’s race and the context to which she dedicated her life; the staggering political implications of the Verdi aria (a mournful and complicated love letter to Aida’s homeland) in a time in which love of country is hard to muster. (Stephanie Barber)
Coal Confession (1972) by Ilene Segalove; video, b&w, sound, 3 minutes, exhibition file from Video Data Bank
I confess to plagiarizing a 5th grade report, The Story of Coal. (Ilene Segalove)
Gedichte (1966–80) by Valie Export; video, b&w, sound, 8 minutes, exhibition file from sixpack film
This video presents as a text performance twelve poems Valie Export wrote over the course of ten years without planning to publish them. Frontally facing the camera, which zooms in to show only her upper body and face, Export recites her texts in a sober monotone. Among them are the well-known poem 1966, about the liberation of the poetic “I” from familial and social constraints in order to find an identity. Parallels to the artist’s own life become evident. Other poems, such as Metallene Gesten (Metal Gestures), In Zäsur (In Caesura) and Ineinandergeronnene Zeit (Time Congealed Itself), revolve around themes including fear, pain, body language and loneliness. This small complex of poetic works shows what a central role spoken and written language plays in Export’s oeuvre as dialogic extension of body language or pictorial expression. (Kontakt Collection)
Permutations (1976) by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha; 16mm, b&w, silent, 10 minutes, print from Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive
The artist’s sister is the subject of this structuralist work, which was originally created as a film. Cha herself appears in a single frame.
Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s structural film Permutations is a portrait of the artist’s sister, Bernadette Hak Eun Cha, created from a series of three different shots: an image of her sister’s face, framed like a passport photo; the same composition, now with eyes closed; and the composition yet again, but with the subject turned around, the back of her head to the camera. Cha recombines these elements as a long string of patterns, articulated into flickering, Morse-style phrases. At times, the sequences reach the perceptual threshold of low-frame animation, awakening a kind of movement from the images. Cha punctuates the piece with a single, fleeting shot of her own face, evoking the sense, at once comforting and unsettling, that one’s sibling constitutes a dice-tossed variation of one’s self. (Light Industry)
Syntagma (1983) by Valie Export; 16mm screened as digital video; color, sound, 17 minutes, exhibition file from sixpack film
The striking insistence in Syntagma on the fragmented body of the woman, mute for the most part, has a twofold and seemingly contradictory impact. Fragmentation first appears to be the repetition of a trauma until, finally, its frenetic pace turns into deliberate composition. In the traumatic sense, fragmentation reflects the epitome of objectification, an itemization of the goods: arms, legs, shoulders, breasts, faces, the depersonalized review of the chattel’s grade. The point is that while women may be objectified, they do not necessarily become objects. (Roswitha Müller)
Pixillation (1976) by Anne Charlotte Robertson; Super-8mm screened as digital video, b&w, silent, 4 minutes, Blu-Ray disc from Harvard Film Archive
Restored by the Harvard Film Archive in 2017, Pixillation is an astonishing and disarming work of self-portraiture by the late, acclaimed film-diarist Anne Charlotte Robertson.
Living In Mirrors is guest curated for McEvoy Foundation for the Arts by curator and filmmaker Gina Basso and San Francisco Cinematheque’s Steve Polta. A concurrent and related program curated by Basso—seen only, heard only, through someone else’s description—is on view at McEvoy Foundation for the Arts January 14–April 30, 2022, presented in the context of McEvoy Foundation’s Image Gardeners. Admission to Image Gardeners is FREE. Full details on these exhibitions here.
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