An Installation by Elaine Shemilt and Stephen Partridge
4 projector installation onto Latex - joint work with Elaine Shemilt- originally shown at the SSA (Scottish Society of Artists) Annual Exhibition 1998 at the Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh, October 1998. Winner of the ADOBE SYSTEMS EUROPE Prize.
click image for QT movie (5.1MB)
Within a sexually differentiating society all our experiences are shaped to a greater or lesser extent by socially determined gender positions.The body of a woman is colonised, appropriated, mystified, defined by male fantasy, but for an audience of women the same body can represent fertility, childbearing, or sexuality. This piece explores these representations as a differentiation from sexist usage. By exposing the patriarchal assumptions embedded within what we so often take for granted as normal or obvious, other ways of seeing and feeling are liberated. This work which reflects attitudes through certain acts and imagery also recognises a level of gratuitous nudity . There is the question of where this transgresses an unwritten code of what a reasonable person might take to be decent?
There are elements in this installation which have definite and clear connotations within distinct cultural references. There are particular codes to produce meanings but the aim of this installation is to create new meanings. The traditional, coherent systems of meaning are broken and re-articulated. The use of language is intended as a further deconstruction of the current order of meaning so as to make a space for questions about an adult person's actual social, biological, or psychological experience.
The four channels of video each project two images upon the latex screens. The images are close-ups of part of a female body - not necessarily immediately recognisable as such and moving slowly. They have a ghostly ethereal atmosphere and quality. A multi-track soundtrack whispers a series of dreams quite unlike stories told by a concious mind. Images that seem contradictory crowd in and common-place things assume a fascinating or threatening aspect.
A seven channel installation for four video projections onto suspended latex screens with stereo sound.
Four video projectors capable of 1.5 x 2 metre sized projection either LCD or tube type
Stereo Sound Amplifier and four speakers
Chains and hooks to suspend screens
Latex Screens on poles
"In the video
installation Chimera Partridge and Shemilt offer yet another
deconstruction of male desire as it manifests itself in the representation
of the female. The structure of the installation, in terms of both
its individual elements and their relation to each other, might be
thought of as embodying a linguistic model of the kind considered
earlier. Each of the projected images, for example, extends syntagmatically
through time, and their refusal of narrative resolution parallels
the infinite deferral of meaning in language. Certain of the images
- waves on the pebbly beach, say - could almost seem to suggest the
repetitive, frustrated surge of desire through language and vision.
this economy of discontinuities is a continuous voice-over, a screen
of language through which all the visual projections are filtered.
Whispered and withdrawn, the female voice utters fragments (again,
fragments) from a range of disparate discourses - sociological, poetic,
philosophical, psychoanalytic, medical - but one phrase repeats: "The
body of a woman is colonised, appropriated, mystified, defined by male
Above: Simulated picture of installation at the SSA click image for QT movie (6.1MB)
The installation is easily transportable, consisting of the boxed sheets of latex, 4 videotapes and a diagram for installation - including projection distances and technical specification. Any venue with some experience of video projection should find the installation reasonably straightforward.
CHIMERA interpretation by John Calcutt
Chimera is a richly textured installation comprising video images projected onto four latex screens, each of which is split down the centre. The location of these screens is such that the viewer is partially surrounded by the work and invited to make their own connections between its various components. The scale of the screens, as well as their angled setting, also tend to make the viewer conscious of their own physical presence (their own bodies) in relation to the work. And it is the theme of the human body - especially in relation to female sexuality -which occupies centre stage in Chimera.
What is immediately striking about this work is its fragmentary quality. Not only are the screens spatially separated from each other, but the fact that they have been cut in half vertically repeats the overall theme of fragmentation and disjointedness within the context of each individual element (rather like the screens within a screen of Monitor, 1975). The images which are projected onto these split screens also tend to be fragmentary, often truncated details of the human form, some of which are difficult even to recognise. The effect of this 'cropping' is to hamper our ability to grasp the work as a unified field, a single image. We are forced to enter the work and fill its gaps with our imagination.
As so often in Partridge's work, Chimera's structure tempts us to compare it with language. In Easy Piece (1974) and Monitor (1975) Partridge had looked to structuralism for a model of language, and had given visual form to its insistence that the units of any language (its signs) exist in a structured system of difference. The meaning of a sign arises only through its difference from all other signs, not by virtue of any inherent meaning or value that it might possess. If difference is the crucial factor, then difference itself can only arise through separation and gaps, through distancing and spacing, through ruptures and splits - such as those apparent in the overall structure of Chimera.
Another essential characteristic of language is that its units are organised sequentially. The various parts of a sentence must follow each other in the proper order. Thus time is as much a feature of language as spacing; and time, too, is a recurrent theme in Chimera.
On one level, for example, the work incorporates imagery from Shemilt's earlier work, and its 'recycling' thus introduces an element of historical time. There is also, of course, the running time of the tapes themselves, but within this 'real' time, there is also a 'fictional' time - the time of the actions which are captured on film. Here we are confronted by one of Partridge's typical paradoxes, for the events which are represented seem circular and repetitive (waves breaking on a pebbly shore, for instance). Unlike our usual experience of time, time in these videos seems to lead nowhere. It defies linearity and, consequently, any sense of narrative closure. Any conclusions to this work have to be provided by the viewer.
The spectre of language doesn't only appear by analogy in the visual structure of Chimera, it is also manifestly present in the form of the continuous soundtrack - softly spoken by a female voice - which accompanies the images. Once again, however, this is language which evades normal conventions. Rather than explaining the images, the spoken word is itself a montage of fragments derived from a variety of different sources - sociology, poetry, psychoanalysis, feminist theory, etc. One sentence repeats, however: "The body of a woman is colonised, appropriated, mystified, defined by male fantasy."
The overall effect of Chimera is to block this male fantasy, to escape its control (and, in this sense, it belongs beside another of Partridge and Shemilt's recent collaborations, Intangible Bodies). Images of the female body are recurrent throughout the installation but, because they are dispersed throughout its fragmented structure, because they offer widely differring images of womanhood (naked, pregnant, erotically clothed), and because they fail to cohere as a fixed image within a clear narrative, they remain constantly open to a wide range of interpretations and imaginary reconstructions. "For an audience of women," say Partridge and Shemilt, "the same body can represent fertility, childbearing, or sexuality."
Elaine Shemilt's work ranges across a wide variety of media - from printmaking to installation. The work has often centred on the body. She is a graduate of the Royal College of Art was in the Hayward Annual in 1979. She has exhibited internationally including Switzerland, Denmark Amsterdam and Germany.
© 1998 Elaine Shemilt & Stephen Partridge
© 1999 John Calcutt