Academic journal article Afterimage

Dangerous Dakini: Monet Clark's Bunny Girl and Other Precarious Performance Videos

Academic journal article Afterimage

Dangerous Dakini: Monet Clark's Bunny Girl and Other Precarious Performance Videos

Article excerpt

No images are visible during the opening sequence of Bunny Girl (2016), by California performance/video artist Monet Clark. Instead, Clark provides the most basic of sounds; a steady, syncopated clip-clop and the swish of fabric, sandy and hollow, like a lone Appaloosa trotting up a gulch in a Howard Hawks western. Riding over the black screen are credits, simple and white, and Clark leaves us with these for a beat. Then it's a hard cut to a bright, sunny exterior, the shoulder of a highway in the High Sienas, and we can finally see who's been making all the racket: it's Bunny Girl, teetering down a road, tackled-up in white lingerie, fishnet stockings, pink stiletto heels, the classic bunny drill. But something about Bunny Girl's context is off. Distinct alterations affect her traditional bunny attire: her black fishnets have a rip; her stiletto heels, one size too large, wobble precariously on the gravel of the emergency lane; her trademark bunny ears aren't perky and up-right--they're flopped down, clinging close to her face, reminiscent of those lop-eared bunnies at the Benton County Fair. Like Donny Kerabatsos in The Big Lebowski (1998, directed by Joel and Ethan Coen), this manifestation of Bunny Girl is distinctly out of her element; we're more accustomed to watching her serve cocktails and nuts at the Playboy Mansion, flirting with Jack Nicholson and Bill Cosby, vampy but innocent, a brightly colored bauble on Hugh Hefner's arm, the erotically fabulous but nevertheless submissive girl next door. In this subtle stylistic turn, Clark hijacks the traditional, chauvinist Playboy narrative and alters its setting, hobbling unsteadily down Highway 50 ten miles south of Tahoe, the muscles of her back tightly bunched, cheerfully but anxiously looking over her shoulder as the wheels of semi-trucks and sports cars roar by. Bunny Girl's trademark ears and tail may comprise a hackneyed symbolic system with which we have long grown familiarly contemptuous, but all the familiar contempt in the world doesn't debarb her peril, and from the video's outset we can already sense the moral-ethical imperative of Clark's narrative set-up: what happens to little bunnies who stray too far from Farmer McHeffner's Garden and find themselves caught on this high-speed asphalt patch?

In that sense, Bunny Girl has good reason to be anxious, though she never seems truly scared; it's simply in a bunny's nature to be fidgety. But her journey's just begun, and this isn't the only scene wherein Clark places Bunny Girl played by the artist herself) in a Californian landscape that seems alternately hostile and sublime. As the video progresses, Bunny Girl chambers over fallen pine tree trunks in the Sierras, crosses a salt slick in Death Valley, whirls in a "superbloom" of primrose and notchleaf phacelia in the Mojave Desert, vamps beside the decommissioned Rancho Seco nuclear power plant, romps with doomed lambs at a Nevada City slaughter farm, trips out beneath a Richard Diebenkorn pastiche of Emeryville cloverlcafs, and ultimately finds herself on a series of broken roads that empty into the coves of the Marin Headlands, where she dances to the crashing surf and end credits. As she briefly and delicately occupies each of these dystopian/utopian tableaus, the colorful, opaque quality of Clark's video is overlaid with found footage, sequences of environmental catastrophes and cultural strife: whales dying, crop-dusters spraying pesticides, protesters waving signs. But somehow; in the foothills of the headlands, she's a different bunny girl. Some of the character development takes place in the decomposition of her couture; zig-zagging dizzily toward the coast, her ensemble becomes increasingly frayed, her ears droop more than ever, and the tattered fishnets billow beneath her ankles. Yet dancing beside the suri' in her ravaged outfit, there is something heroic about Bunny Girl, and while I can't quite label this video an empowerment piece, there's no doubt that Bunny Girl has reached an affective apex of some sort. …

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