a video exhibition curated by John Mannion
November 3 – December 16, 2001
This video exhibition, on continuos play, is featured in conjunction with We Are Named, a visual arts exhibition curated by Susan Evans and is accompanied by a special issue of the Canter’s magazine, PHOTOGRAPHY Quarterly, with articles by Evans, Mannion, and Gary Hesse (Jamesville, NY).
The videos in PASSENGER look to the identification of family and gender as markers of who we are and how we view our own personal identity. The inner perception of self is a result of our personal states and thoughts during our lifetime, Plainly said, when we define ourselves we must decide who we are and where we belong. In many ways, we are defined by our histories; the content of our past haunts the decisions we make now.
The ghosts of ourselves make us wonder what might have occurred had history taken a different course. What if the answers weren’t the same? The understanding of who we are forces us to define the relationships we have made to our immediate environment. What’s more is that we are carried along by our own inertia; how the self has already been defined. We are who we say we are. This sets up an interesting binary, we are defining our self while our self is defined by where we are and have been. We become passengers of our own self-identification.
The first tape in the series is Los Animales made by Argentinean artist Ivan Marino and Arturo Marinho. The tape looks at a place called Chino, located in Buenos Aires. It is an area famous for tango and nightlife. My interest in the piece is the way that the main characters, two men sitting in the street, are partially defining this part of town as it defines them. These men are who they are by choice and tell us of their life through the drinks they have on the street.
They speak of women that both define them and drive them to live. “I was born from a woman, I live for a woman, and I will die for a woman.” An inevitable tragedy it seems. A man who appears to run a local establishment sings about a woman who loves him but whom he does not love himself. “I am sorry that I do not love you anymore.” This prophecy of endless conflict between man and woman is a large part of their dialogue. It is part of the sexual tension that is so much a part of the tango, so much a part of this space.
The next tape in the series is entitled Le Memoria de los Caracoles (The Memory of the Snails) made by Chilean artist Edgar Endress. This autobiographical video diptych looks at two seemingly innocent events that come to have a larger distinction upon the narrator in the tape. The work remarks on the subtle and sometimes unnoticed way that an oppressive government, in this case that of General Pinnochet, can touch your life without you even knowing.
In both of these stories Endress is unintentionally participating in the wrong doings of this totalitarian dictator. In the first tape Endress gives us a simple story, essentially that he participated in waving to and venerating Pinnochet’s motorcade traveling with full military parade. While his father was the only one present to protest. In the second tape another simple text places Edgar on the wrong side of good unwittingly. He gives guards the oranges that will be used to beat and torture people who are wrongfully imprisoned. Even though he did not have an idea of what the symbolism of his acts where at the time, there is regret found within the tone of the tape.
The ghost of these events charges the tape with frenetic energy. Le Memoria de los Caracoles points us back to the circumstance, but the mood that Endress relays tells us of his opinion. Even though these were out of Endress’ control they turn into ghosts. They seem to motivate the tape. In both of these tapes the father is present and is, to some extent, a hero. In this tape the father figure is indeed choosing the right decision and makes an ideal self that the child in the tape, a young Edgar can look to. This makes the absence of father seem so much more important in the next two tapes.
John Orenticher’s tape 3 X Named evolves out of a personal investigation of Orentlicher’s biological parents. The tape is quite amazing to me in that I clearly see how as a viewer I am implicitly participating in who this person is. The test in this piece begins to define his parents. As it happens i see and feel my understanding of John’s identity though his own investigation, one that builds for me nearly as it must of for himself, or as I imagine it would. A pair of images appear in the piece together. In one, there is a figure that is cut out, maybe his father. This heightens the awareness of his absence. Little is mentioned of Orentlicher’s father only that he was a Jewish intelligent from a large family. John’s investigation of himself seems to assign his identity as outsider even though he does not intend this from the investigation. He asks simply who his parents are. But all it really creates are more questions.
This last tape is by Margaret Stratton entitled Kiss the Boys. This tape takes a normative view of homosexuality and entwines it with the memory of her lost parent. Her father becomes a ghost of herself – someone who judged and watched Margaret. As in Endress’ and Orentlicher’s tape the acts of the parents significantly affect their children. THe absence certainly becomes part of her self-identity. She, even when recognizing her own desires, must appease the structure that her father exists in, haunted by that which defines herself.
As with life and our definition of anything we define ourselves by what we know. Where have we been? What are we told? Wondering what might have been raises most of the content in these works. These are questions that we ask ourselves all the time.
The way that society dictates, or parents dictate, is our first lesson in defining who we are. These tapes, when brought together, begin to show the way we can be affected by larger forces, be they social, political, or something other.
– John W. Mannion, 2001
John W. Mannion is an artist and educator who currently teaches at Light Work in Syracuse, NY. He has taught photography, digital imaging, art history, and media studies at Syracuse University and served as co-director of Sparks Gallery, also in Syracuse.