Currently on view at UH's Blaffer Art Museum are video works by Berlin-based, Texas-raised artist Amy Patton, a filmmaker interested in our perceived notion of imagery. By applying narratives to b-roll, i.e. editing footage into a storyline, Patton asks us to question our reality and (consequently) how our minds work. How much of our memory is fact?
The exhibition consists of three films and a series of photographs. One film, Oil, was commissioned by the Blaffer Art Museum and the result of a year-long collaboration with the Mitchell Center for the Arts and the University of Houston School of Theatre and Dance.
In 2005, Patton created a A Satisfied Mind, by piecing together unrelated 16-mm strips of film which she found in a garbage bag. By reordering the strips of film, Patton creates a story narrated by a sleeping psychosurgery patient and a woman taking secretary classes. In the film, the patient commits suicide by blowing up the bus he's riding. The only person who can find the bus is a woman who suffers from amnesia. Patton loosely bases the patient on a character with a photographic memory from a Jorge Luis Borges novel Funes, the Memorious. Borges, Patton says, famously stated, "My memory is a dustbin." The images are haunting and the story immersing, but what are we really watching? Why does our mind want to believe the illogical (at one point, the bus described by the narrator is actually footage of a plane crashing).
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In Chronicle of a Demise (2006) Patton edits footage to create a story that's purposely never fully realized. She was inspired by the Tennessee Williams short story by the same name. The narrator, a member of "The Center," tells us they have been doing surveillance on "the Poet," but never gives a reason for the espionage. The viewer is presented with beautifully, intuitively captured footage, which is presumably "evidence" against the Poet. As the film unfolds, we're told that the evidence has been tampered with, and the Center will be dissolved. As quickly as we delve into the story, we're illogically pulled out of it. Again, Patton is creating an object meant to question reality.
For Oil, quotes from Upton Sinclair's novel of the same name (which was also the source material for Paul Thomas Anderson's film There Will Be Blood) formulate a storyline: Actors prepare for and perform a theatrical production of Oil!. Scenes from the play are mixed with rehearsal footage, weaving the viewer in and out of "reality." The fact that the work is being created in big-oil Houston is not lost on the artist:
"The film is meant to show a disconnect, mediating material from a now dusty-seeming time in American history and trying to understand what it means today, why it seems dusty, and why we don't really don't think of it anymore. The play within a film shows a slippage between a staged rehearsal situation and the constructed cinematic one. I couldn't have made the piece in Berlin, because it had to be staged and then shown in the place where it would resonate." (Quote from Bitter, Black Thoughts, 2010, Amy Patton, Blaffer Art Museum)
The exhibition is on view at the Blaffer Art Museum through November 13, with a gallery talk in conjunction with the Mitchell Center set for October 27.