Haunted Lives: Three Video Essays

Friday, January 15, 2016

The three essays that make up TriQuarterly’s winter/spring video essay suite are concerned with the liminal space between public and private, and, perhaps most interestingly, each employ the form to evoke lives—and homes—that are in some way haunted.

In “Not My Home,” José Orduña explores negation. He invites us inside intimate images of a single home—shoes by the door, a stuffed animal on an unmade bed, pencil lines up the wall marking children’s growth. These images are repeated even as the narrator tells us over and over again that the home is not his, that the memories do not belong to him and neither does this story. Yet we as viewers get the feeling he knows this house better than anyone has ever known a home before, and that perhaps that knowledge is exactly why he needs to go about negating it—it is, in a sense, a haunting. Just the slight unease of a subtle breeze, or a motion in the corner of your field of vision, is the sense of a ghost. Orduña’s very short video clips create gorgeous moving snapshots of a disembodied life: Grass twitches. Light shimmers on a teapot. His slow, melancholic images make us ache for the space as much as his narrator seems to.

“Dimensions,” on the other hand, wants to keep a home from being haunted, pulling a man and his art from the shadows. Filmmakers Max Freeman and Margaret Singer take us inside the life of artist Gray Foy, the less well-known partner of legendary Condé Nast publisher Leo Lerman. Our narrator, the actor and art collector Steve Martin, guides us through his fascination with Foy and his art while we move between close-up and sweeping shots of a decadent New York City apartment. Watching Martin try to work out a memoir of Foy in this space—stuffed with Victorian bric-a-brac, Tiffany lamps, and pressed table lines—is strangely compelling. Martin has a larger-than-life biography we cannot escape, while Foy has a biography that Martin seems sometimes to hold by the corners like one of Foy’s old sketches on the verge of falling apart. “Like discovering some kind of old master,” Martin says as he looks over the pages. Interestingly, Freeman and Singer keep much of Foy’s art outside the audience’s view. We’re primarily confronted with Martin’s reactions as he tries to keep this man and work from becoming a ghost to us all.

“A Moment’s Pause,” unlike the other two essays, is not about the aftermath of a life, but instead the way lives can haunt us before they even begin. Sarah Viren begins her powerful essay with a very personal narration set at a fertility clinic, juxtaposed over images that are anything but personal: A black-and-white photo of a lab technician. The glowing neon of an Outback Steakhouse sign. An old tintype of conjoined twins. Then, as we learn that the narrator’s partner has been inseminated, the images abruptly change: they are clearly snapshots from a personal camera, and all of the same baby. We’re shown this baby long before it’s born in the accompanying narration, as if the essay is willing the insemination process to take hold. But, after a stirring clip of the baby just after birth, we return to stock images, to our narrator wondering what it would have been like to linger in the moments just before insemination, to stay in the sort of weightless place right before any life-changing event—and, perhaps, to make a home in the exact point of greatest anticipation and possibility. 

Friday, January 15, 2016