Critics’ Picks

Mariah Garnett, Trouble, 2019, HD video, 83 minutes.

Los Angeles

Mariah Garnett

Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery
4800 Hollywood Boulevard
February 14–April 14, 2019

Mariah Garnett’s eighty-three-minute film Trouble, 2019, opens with clips from a 1971 BBC documentary about interfaith relationships in conflict-ridden Northern Ireland that features Garnett’s Protestant father, David (whom she didn’t meet until she was twenty-seven), and his Catholic then-girlfriend, Maura. As we come to discover, the program’s airing in Belfast at the height of the Troubles ultimately led to David’s departure from his country, never to return. Trouble is a heartbreaking account of the minute and massive consequences of human identifications—Catholic and Protestant, self and other, father and daughter.

Garnett’s exhibition consists of nearly ten years of the artist’s work, including her best-known video Encounters I May or May Not Have Had with Peter Berlin, 2012, which exemplifies Garnett’s technique of interspersing documentary footage with fantasies and re-enactments, always including her own desiring body within the frame. In Trouble, Garnett allows her father to speak over the documentary but alludes to the impossibility of historical accuracy by re-creating select clips, casting herself as him. If anything, Garnett makes the historical record queerer, more vulnerably tangled.

At the end of the film, Garnett reads from one of the many letters that her father wrote to her but never sent: “Making plans is very risky, but I’d love to go home. Does that sound strange? I haven’t been home in 25 years. . . . I haven’t spoken to you for 13. . . . One day we’ll talk together, father to daughter, old man to young girl, friend to friend.” Garnett’s film is profound both for its presentation of the stakes of failed communication and for its optimism about our ability to connect. Its final imagery—footage from her father’s recent wedding—is less an Austenian symbol of reproductive futurity than a record of an important attempt at intimacy in the present.