There were a lot of students at the Zilka opening last night, so much so that Zilka curator Nina Felshin asked if some classes had been assigned to attend, but that wasn’t the case. Everyone was genuinely enticed by the video art of Julika Rudelius, who couldn’t make it to the reception, but was still the center of attention as guests swarmed around her two video installations.
First, I must add that, personally, I usually find video art pretty pretentious and unimaginative. You know that if you stare at anything long enough, you can start to think about it more in depth, and so turn it into a sort of conceptual art. With this in mind, artists have been compelled to take long videos of just about every mundane thing (think American Beauty) or indulge in weird nonsensical plots (think the Cremaster but without the incredible aesthetics- Matthew Barney’s visuals are clearly the art, but there are many who attempt to replicate his style without his planning and definitely without his budget), so that many art videos come off as sloppy or aimless.
Julika Rudelius is an exception.
I was instantly captivated by her piece Forever, which showed 5 wealthy women, all over 60, strolling around pools in the Hamptons, talking about their lives and their ideas of beauty, and occasionally snapping polaroids of themselves, in individual interviews. Two screens would alternately display the woman being interviewed, while the other screen would show another woman posing by the pool, a different shot of the same woman, or just a black screen.
Curator Nina Felshin calls Rudelius’ work “a commentary on medium and media” for its combination of documentary style with staging. How much of this piece was scripted, staged, and calculated? Are these women really all they appear to be, or were they dressed and planted in front of these enormous Hampton estates? These questions are especially pertinent in the age of the reality show, where so much relies upon stereotype and trust in the camera to relay the lives of a certain group of people, when all footage has been edited, scripted, and prompted, to the point where real life is skewed beyond recognition.
The women were all clearly glamorous, especially for their ages, but there was a sadness about them, parading around in couture gowns and copious amounts of make-up. As each woman spoke, she made it clear that looking good has been a priority her life (”you can get asked to dinner because you look good…you always like to have a pretty crowd at a dinner party”), but as all of their looks have begun to wane, these women have become ghosts (or plasticine replicas) of their former selves.
Occasionally, a laugh would ripple through the viewing crowd, mostly at the hypocritical statements of the five women.
“I love nature” swoons one woman, surveying her obsessively manicured lawn and chlorinated swimming pool.
“Some of these women now look like freaks” sighs another woman, through her puffy collagen lips.
In a way these aging women look pathetic as they try to retain their sex appeal and relate their clichéd pearls of wisdom to the camera, especially to a young viewer, but it is also somewhat empowering to see elegant older women happy with themselves and their looks. “I’m pleased with my figure. I’m pleased with my face,” says a tall and tanned bottle blonde, who wears a shimmering royal blue dress. Its easy to laugh at the attempts of these women to restore their youth, but I was suddenly reminded that, one day, I may wake up with wrinkles criss-crossing my face, and varicose veins all over my legs.
I was laughing at my future, and it made me wonder if I will have the strength to strut around with confidence and to believe in my own sensuality, and if I will be able to afford to do so. Forever makes the viewer wonder how much these women are bolstered by their own self confidence rather than their husband’s paychecks, which allows these women to compensate for lost years with vacations and stilettos, and how “beautiful” the women would actually be without the help of surgeries and make-up.