A Thousand Words Malerie Marder Talks about at Rest, 2003

By McDevitt, Siobhan | Artforum International, January 2003 | Go to article overview

A Thousand Words Malerie Marder Talks about at Rest, 2003


McDevitt, Siobhan, Artforum International


I started the piece by thinking about how the subconscious can have physical manifestations in the body that you can see if you look closely enough; how desire can be manifested without anything sexual happening, or any discomfort; how rest is a transient state between sleep and wakefulness, and wondering what the difference is between those states. I was going to do the piece only if it made sense, if I could find a voice in it. That was the challenge; but that's always the challenge. It slowly started to come together.

Part of it I shot in Rochester, New York, where I grew up. I went back and stayed in the house across the street from my old house. Some I shot in California, although I didn't want the video to look like it had been shot there; some was shot in France; and the rest in England. I wanted the environment to be kind of old looking, with the compositions evoking a strong sense of place, a classical feel, and I wanted the rooms to echo that. I wanted something more connected to my past. Emotionally but also visually, it's late afternoon, my favorite time of day. In England it feels like that all day long, and the same with Rochester.

I thought about the body as an instrument, like breath as a bellows, and about types of breathing. Diaphragm breathing is more reflexive than chest breathing. That's why I start off with the baby in the beginning. Innocence is regained when you're sleeping like that. There's a lack of self-consciousness.

With a photograph you can create a shot and then take it. With video it's just not the same thing. I couldn't fall asleep in front of the camera and then move it around. I couldn't film myself, since I was using a very small setup, really just me. If there had been a bigger production, with a crew, it would have seemed like people were acting. At one point, the guy who's sleeping with his wife was dead asleep, and didn't recall I was there when he first woke up. A lot of people fell totally asleep. Some were just lying there, but most really fell asleep. The couple with the man asleep on his wife's chest, he's completely out. It's a little sweet seeing people like that.

How impulses can move from restfulness to anxiety was something that interested me throughout. Sometimes, because in parts the footage speeds up to twenty times its normal rate, these states of restfulness don't really convey restfulness. Regular breathing becomes hyperventilation. Ordinary twitching looks more like Tourette's. I didn't want a jarring juxtaposition of anxiety and rest. Even though there's that unsettled aspect to the video, I hoped to draw people into a trancelike, meditative state. I wanted to move in and out slowly, ebb and flow, give the whole piece an arc, even if in an unconventional sense. I knew I wasn't making a documentary, I knew it was constructed, but I really wanted to make everything as believable as possible.

Narrative was one of the things I thought about most, probably. I wanted to make a braid to weave everyone together. The big question was: Should there be a main character? I wrestled with that. There's something very calming about being in water, which is why there are water sections in there. Water provides a buffer, slows everything down. Those sections are more dreamlike. But I didn't want to give it an overt narrative. The video is slightly more narrative than my photos, but at the same time I didn't want it to read as a scripted thing.

When I was thinking about the sound track, I knew I wanted each person's breathing to express a personality, individuality. I sent Jonathan Bepler a rough edit, and he liked it. …

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