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These Here Separated to See How They Standing Alone or The Soundtracks of Six Films by Stephanie Barber

By Bret McCabe | Posted 8/13/2008

Stephanie Barber screens her short films

Aug. 15 at the Creative Alliance at the Patterson at 8 p.m. and Aug. 16 at the Red Room at Normals Books and Records at 8:30 p.m.

The films of local artist Stephanie Barber are insouciant forays into the very nature of existence. That may sound like ostentatious posturing, but that's only because conventional language inadequately addresses the simple joys, heady ideals, and sincere weirdness that permeates her work. Her shorts can feel like highly formal exercises in film language made by a profoundly restless mind, playing image and sound off each other and forcing you to locate implied meanings on your own. Others are both silly and oddly engaging, involving puppets mundanely discussing pressing metaphysical concerns. And others calmly and almost imperceptibly sweep you up in the genuine breadth of their emotional wake. All involve some discursive use of spoken language, most often in the form of voice-over narration.

These Here Separated to See How They Standing Alone is her new book, just issued on local poet/performer Adam Robinson's Publishing Genius press, and it is both the printed text of her shorts' narration and another ripple to Barber's works in and of itself. On the one hand, you can follow along with the film's narration in the book--which comes with a DVD containing the six shorts covered in it--but divorced from their visual counterparts and the often distorted vocalizations, they become their own little catalysts to imagined headspaces. And seeing only the words on the page reminds you just how powerful a spell her often simple and still images cast over viewers.

Take "Dogs," for instance. The short features two (what looks like) papier-mâché dog puppets, Pocket and Spike--given the shorts and text here, there's something about the obvious artificiality of puppets that Barber finds allusive--who speak academic meaning-of-the-universe wordiness. It's disarmingly self-conscious--there's something about the words "it's playing with the idea of bad art. Making the viewer feel that uncomfortable feeling they feel when an artist has made the wrong choice" coming out of a dog head bobbing along in mock speech by an arm clearly visible in the frame that short-circuits a cynical response to the film's attitude. By the time Pocket and Spike start talking about the scariness of love, these pretentious pooches have talked their way under the skin.

Even better is the sly simplicity of "Dwarfs the Sea," a black-and-white short that features a series of photographs of men and a voice-over narration that imagines whom they are. At first it feels like an elementary taxonomy--"This man was a joker and I found him tiresome and without empathy"--but soon these descriptions grow more and more specific, which makes the situations described feel more and more universal. And by the time the relevance of the short's title comes into play, it's become this engrossing thumbnail essay on the awful fact of recognizing your own insignificance in an absolutely expressionless universe.

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