The Delirium of Society

In Suburban Queen, video artist Mindy Faber fantasizes that her mentally ill mother, Patricia, using "everyday grease and grime" as war paint, casts off the oppressive role of housewife and mother. "I am a woman. I can bleed for days and not die," Patricia Faber proclaims in the role her daughter creates for her.

Suburban Queen is like a surreal home video. Mindy Faber directs her mother to menacingly curse the doctors, psychiatrists and pills to which she feels bound for her daily survival. Faber filmed the piece using a hand-held Sony video camera, and her mother plays herself, clad in a muumuu and wearing beads and a towel as a turban. Though the plot may be fantastic, Patricia Faber's presence is unexpectedly real. In the end Patricia is not the queen her daughter envisions, but a depressed, overweight housewife reduced to worrying that the family is out of dog food.

The four-minute Suburban Queen opens "The Visual Diary," a multi-artist video program presented Friday by the Museum of Fine Arts in conjunction with the Houston Center for Photography's Women in Photography Conference. Each of the ten- to 23-minute clips explores the artists' relationships with their pasts, families and society in a manner that resonates with common experiences. Judy Gelles' Life is Like a Play uses recordings of family gatherings to create a portrait of herself as mother, daughter, wife and artist; Sadie Benning's Jollies explores her early sexual encounters and her emerging lesbianism; and Delirium, Mindy Faber's follow-up to Suburban Queen, is a powerful study of the relationship between society and madness in women, again using her mother as the focus.

Faber, who will speak and answer questions after the program, explains her reasons for returning to her mother's sickness in Delirium eight years after Suburban Queen: "As the years went on I realized that I was still disturbed by something... the way in which my mother tended to blame her condition on herself, and that she always thought of herself as a mentally sick person, and as a bad person. I was interested in talking about the ways it is not an individualized problem, it is a societal problem.... There are certain kinds of social conditions that make mental illness more likely to exist, and we don't acknowledge that as a society."

Delirium is a multi-layered film that features Patricia Faber in comic skits and candid interviews; documentary footage of women and madness; real and imagined television sitcoms; a music video of a grotesque life-size puppet -- all accompanied by a narrative voiceover by Mindy Faber. The funny and shocking 23-minute work is a combination of feminist theory, Freudian psychology and I Love Lucy.

Like several of the other filmmakers in "The Visual Diary," Faber places her personal experiences in a context that allows her to explore the problems she sees in society. In Faber's case, the culprit is a world, historically dominated by men, that "enslaved" her mother in the "enclave of the family": "My mother is not crazy," she narrates in Delirium, "but like a puppet, she too performed on the only stage possible. Better to be seen as a hysteric than not to be seen at all."

When asked if she had a specific agenda in creating Delirium, especially in light of its strong feminist undertones, Faber responds: "I can be more articulate, more expressive, and get closer to what I'm really trying to say through constructing a tape than through talking or writing. It's a form of expressiveness, so I made the tape for myself on that level, but I wanted to make something that symbolically released my mom from this self-inflicted guilt and blame and self-hatred. I wanted to have something that existed in the world that released her from that."

Delirium provides clear evidence that, as an emerging art form, independent video has the potential to give a voice to a section of society previously denied representation. The medium is relatively affordable and accessible to just about anyone, and as Faber explains, video is so new that it has few historical conventions assigned to it; there are no styles or codes to which the artist is compelled to conform. Adds Faber, "It's important that people have access to a kind of vision or interpretation of the world that doesn't come out of the mass media, because they're only telling part of the story, and they're not telling everybody's story. So it's up to people to tell their own stories."

Audiences have voiced concern about the possible effect of Faber's videos on the relationship between the mother and daughter. Faber has even been accused by members of her family of exploiting her mother. And while she admits that her videos link her mother's experience to a larger social agenda, she says her mother's acting in the videos has been a source of pride and purpose. The woman who states matter-of-factly in Delirium that she is "just incommensurable with the world" in reality feels that she has made some kind of impact through her work with her daughter. From her hospital bed after triple-bypass surgery, Patricia told her daughter: "I feel like these tapes are really important, like I'm going to leave a part of me that's not just having kids."

"The Visual Diary" will show at 8 p.m. Friday, March 25 at the Museum of Fine Arts, 1001 Bissonnet, 639-7515. Director Mindy Faber will speak after the program.


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