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Reverse Angle

Anne McGuire Creates New Stories, Feelings, and Ideas by Mining Her Life and Inverting Narrative

LAST TRACTION HERO: (above) a still from Mcguire's "When I Was A Monster"; (top) a still from "I Like Men."

By Martin L. Johnson | Posted 6/25/2008

Video artists are a breed apart. They produce work that envelops performance and process art and, in their best moments, crash through the sedate and risk-adverse media landscape. Anne McGuire, a San Francisco-based video artist who brings her work to the Red Room this weekend, has produced work since the early 1990s that touches on many aspects of video art, from performance pieces such as "I Am Crazy and You're Not Wrong," a send-up of 1950s television specials, to eye-winking tributes such as "After Wegman," which cast two young men re-enacting two of William Wegman's early Weimaraner shorts.

But her best-known piece is 1993's Strain Andromeda The, which is a shot-by-shot reversal of director Robert Wise's 1971 science-fiction movie. The reversal produces a new narrative that is, in many ways, as compelling and terrifying as the original. Unlike Douglas Gordon's 24 Hour Psycho, which slows down the frame speed, normally set at 24 frames per second, of the Alfred Hitchcock classic to last for a full day, Andromeda does not alter the running time of the movie, so the audio and images of individual shots are left unaffected. In essence, the work claims that cinema is not, as Jean-Luc Godard claimed, the "truth 24 times a second," but instead a sequence of discrete moments, each of which has a direct relationship with the moment before.

Much of her work is inspired by personal experiences. "The obvious thing that unites all my work is that I made it," McGuire says over the phone. "It is all very emotional. Even Strain Andromeda The is taking a film where suspense is involved. I think that [suspense] is a reflection of a search of who they are and what they're going to do. When I made those works I was in my 20s and I was very unsettled. What was going to happen to me was a mystery.

"I just never thought of my career as building literally," she continues, thinking back to her early work. "Now that I look back, I can see more or less that was happening. Part of the unifying feature is that the works are performative and come out of performance art."

Although McGuire came up with the idea of a movie's shot-by-shot reversal--where every shot is intended to be linked in a cause-effect chain to the next shot--as a student at the Kansas City Art Institute, where she studied screenwriting it also was inspired by her background as a performer. "I played the flute growing up," she says. "One of the exercises is to start with the last measure and play it, and add the second to last measure and play it, and by the time you're at the beginning you know the piece. I thought, It's like a nonstop flashback."

As an undergraduate she was watching television when she saw a rerun of The Andromeda Strain, which she had seen as a child. She was captivated by the movie and thought it would be an ideal object for her story. The movie's reliance on a time-based narrative and its almost exclusive use of cuts between shots--there is only one dissolve in the entire movie--made it easier to reverse than one that uses fades and wipes as transitions.

And when she started the laborious task of reversing the movie, she found new things in it. "For one thing, I had a completely different idea of what the movie was from my early childhood," she says. "I was fascinated by it. I liked that someone was growing or changing. I liked the arcs of the story in the Andromeda story. But when you get to the end, they're going through all these processes of magnification. They take the satellite and keep looking at it closer. I thought it would be great to get further and further away instead."

For Saturday night's screening, McGuire shows a selection of shorts from over her entire career, including recent work made in South Korea, where she taught video art at KyungSung University. In 1991's "Joe DiMaggio 1, 2, 3," McGuire sings spur-of-the-moment love songs to Joe DiMaggio, whom she happened to see walking by the San Francisco waterfront while she was working on a school project.

"We had an assignment to make work inspired by Crash by J.G. Ballard, and I decided to sing and spy on people," she says. "Joe DiMaggio walked into my scene."

Although McGuire's work is often conceptual, it retains a degree of unpredictability that allows unexpected images and ideas to emerge out of everyday life. In "The Waltons" she shoots the tragic sawmill accident episode with a handheld video camera and slows down the footage as if to emphasize the terrors that commonly appear on television: The piece moves quickly from an ironic nostalgia to sublime horror. In "When I Was a Monster," McGuire uses a recent injury to highlight her sense of feeling monstrous in a piece that begins as slightly odd, but funny, but becomes, over its six-minute running time, as uncomfortable to watch as her character feels in the piece.

Many of these early pieces were made spontaneously. "All that work from the '90s, I was really exploring something," she says. "I kept my camera more handy and I was willing to pick it up and try things. Now when I make a video, it's a little more deliberate. It's less on the fly. That's already clear by 1996, when I make `I Am Crazy and You're Not Wrong' and `When I Was a Monster.' I thought of things, and when I had the time or when the pieces came together, I would shoot it and make it as quickly as possible."

One such example is 2003's "After Wegman," made after McGuire was reminded of Wegman's video work after seeing two young men at a club. "I mine my own life for material," she says. "And then I just get inspired by other things like Wegman. I was at a club and I met these two young men, who were brothers, and I thought of Man Ray and Fay Ray."

On Friday night, McGuire screens Adventure Poseidon The (The Unsinking of My Ship), a shot-by-shot reversal of the 1972 disaster picture The Poseidon Adventure. Although it uses the same reversal strategy as Andromeda, the piece takes advantage of a higher-quality image and wide screen to make a piece that is as ambitious as its source material was in the 1970s.

And once again, the movie is inspired by personal experience. "A long time ago I was literally shipwrecked and floated for two weeks on a raft," she says of a 1986 incident on the Pacific Ocean. "I never made much art about that real-life experience early on, but I'm starting to make more work that touches on it. When you reverse that narrative, you're just kind of floating in it. There's this weird effect it has, a little like being lost in sea." H

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