Catherine Sullivan. (Reviews)

By Yood, James | Artforum International, September 2002 | Go to article overview

Catherine Sullivan. (Reviews)


Yood, James, Artforum International


RENAISSANCE SOCIETY

Catherine Sullivan studied acting before becoming a visual artist (she has degrees in both areas), and her two-part multimedia installation Five Economies (Big Hunt/Little Hunt), 2002, hovers in the increasingly indistinguishable zone between these disciplines. Initially overwhelming, Big Hunt is a mural of motion: five silent black-and-white films (each a succession of short intercut vignettes) are shown simultaneously as video projections in a twenty-one-minute loop, filling a large wall. The five silent films are both unwieldy and mesmerizing as they interrelate and disperse, come together and fall apart. They were all shot in the same interior space, which appears to be an actor's studio with a small stage, some adaptable rooms, and a kitchen area. Here a troupe of actors repetitively and obsessively works through character studies culled from scenarios that range from the broadly physical slapstick entertainment that was part of Irish wakes a few centuries ago to the life of Birdie Jo Hoaks, a twenty-fiv e-year-old woman who passed as a thirteen-year-old orphan boy to cadge welfare benefits in the mid-'90s. Sullivan's actors further engage in a variety of body/dance exercises and restage scenes from films such as The Miracle Worker, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, Persona, and Marat/Sade. For example, we witness multiple interpretations--filmed in every corner of the studio--of the scene from The Miracle Worker in which Anne Sullivan tries to cajole a resistant Helen Keller into feeding herself. On one level these variations amount to something like an actor's primer, showing the scene played with restraint or abandon, primly or violently, but what seems to count is less the success of these alternate readings than the mutability of the bodies within them: The actors disappear into character, subsuming their own reality into fiction. …

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