Monday, October 24, 2005

Sobbing at Gladstone's (or Audience as Subject)

There is a scene in Shirin Neshat's new film where the title character, Zarin, a heartbreakingly thin Persian prostitute, enters a cavernous courtyard where a good dozen or more women are gathered to mourn. Sitting huddled together, rocking back and forth, a few standing behind them stirring large steaming vats of something, all ensconced in black burkas so that all the viewer sees is a field of squinting eyes and orthodontically challenged open mouths wailing as if one giant organism of grief. It's the most amazing point of prognostication I've ever witnessed, and confirms something I've suspected since watching Neshat watch the crowd watching her film at the opening of the last Documenta. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

...actually, that's not it...I'm struggling with how much to give away here. This is not meant to be a review (and certainly not a spoiler), but rather an example of something, so bear with me.... Actually, if you haven't seen this film yet, I'll recommend you turn to something else.

Below is a still from a later scene in Zarin. It's the scene where Neshat "does it" ---where she turns the table and transforms the viewing audience into her subject:

If you've seen the film you'll recognize that at this point Zarin is scrubbing herself raw in the hamam, oblivious to the fact that her towel has fallen and a young boy is staring at her. In a moment the mother of that boy will carry him away and shield him from this spectacle. Now I know just enough about Muslim culture (but not enough about Persian subtlties) to be rather wobbly informed about this, but it's my understanding that total adult nudity is highly inappropriate in the public baths. It certainly is for men, and so this scene was particularly confusing and thereby even more powerful for me.

What the other 15 or so folks watching at the same time I was thought it symbolized, I'll never know, but I do know I was not the only one sobbing at this point in the film. (Sniffles carry.)

When I entered Gladstone's last weekend, Neshat was there speaking with a group of folks in the back gallery. When I left, after seeing the film up front, she was no longer there. Whether she had left the premises altogether or was upstairs in the office, I don't know. But I suspect she had entered the cavernous projection space and was watching from the back, where the crowd, huddled on the benches or squatting on the floor or stirring in the back, appeared as one very dark mass of unsuspecting sobbing subjects, transformed via the artist's magic into another of her symbols.

This remains a work in progress...

UPDATE: Be sure and catch Todd Gibson's hilarious post about the rash of weepy art blogging recently. Personally, I think it's related to the unbearable anticipation wrt when Fitzgerald is going to announce his findings (we're in desperate need of some valve to turn and release the emotions...we art world types simply seek out the catalyst where we normally venture...I'm sure our fellow He-Men bloggers [don't laugh], who don't have easy access to art [those who blog on politics or NASCAR or what have you] have cleaned out the local video stores of all their copies of "Field of Dreams" for the same reason).


Anonymous Mountain Man said...

I have to go back and give it the time it deserves. Thanks. What a beautifully conveyed observation about her work.

10/25/2005 12:17:00 PM  
Anonymous bambino said...

Great :)

10/25/2005 04:48:00 PM  
Blogger libby said...

intriguing. thanks for this description. i hope i get to see this eventually.

11/13/2005 03:35:00 PM  

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