New York

Lenore Jaffee

Hundred Acres

“Outside Quebec we picked up a couple of fella hitchhikers, and all the girls got excited and said, “Wow, this is really going to be fun!’ ” a young black guy wearing an engineer’s cap tells you casually from a video monitor in an otherwise empty gallery. Hitchhiking stories like this, and stories generally, are what Lenore Jaffee’s delightful ten-minute video loop Mistrips is all about. Four different people tell stories for her—and you. That’s it!

The black guy tells of two disappointing hitchhiking experiences as “hitch-hikee,” meaning he drives. The first with the two men he picked up “for the girls in the car” outside Quebec: “We saw them, we were traveling about 80 miles an hour,” he says. “By the time we’d stopped they had to run to catch us up . . . Very disappointing for the girls because the fellas weren’t into it.” Into what you can only guess before he’s describing his second disappointment: “Then it was the fellas’ time to pick up some girls . . . And we picked up some female hitchhikers, although they were only female in a biological sense, I guess,” he says with a wry smile. “We were disappointed. We couldn’t shake them loose . . . We kept stopping and eating for an hour at a time, but they wouldn’t leave . . . They clung to us as though we were their only hope!”

Snippets like this don’t do justice to the enthusiasm, tone of voice, and the look of Jaffee’s four storytellers. Each is very different. Whereas the black guy is fast talking and street hip, the long-haired American girl after him, imprisoned by British customs for five hours (because of the way she looked, she thought) is Vermont ebullient. Her ebullience is intact even after customs released her with the reprimand “You haven’t finished your tea!” The laconic white guy after her, however, with his 15-second story about someone he knew who tried to hitchhike a hundred yards but “the driver got so pissed off he drove another ten miles before he dropped him off,” looks like an average college student relishing a good schoolboy joke. The fourth storyteller, a charmingly naive and constantly smiling young black woman with a tight-fitting Albers patterned crochet hat, has a Dr. Panglossian “everything-is-for-the-best” view of life. Never having “been out of Newark, New Jersey, never having been in a strange room in my life, much less a room in a hotel, and never having been up to four in the morning,” she tells a Kafkaesque story about going to Albany to take a driving test! She describes New York as a strange galaxy, with stellar constellations like Grand Central Station, and finishes her story with her stoic “climbing the hills of Albany” to take and pass her test—with good marks of “visual acuity.”

Seeing the single video set in the gallery, I confess my heart sank at first, as it tends to do with video generally. I think technology is going to make me suffer. But my phobia was unwarranted, Jaffee’s neither a video technocrat of time lag or feedback, nor a video freak documenting the world’s happenings. People and their lives, not video and its technology, interest her. Anonymous people as surrogate artists create dialogue for her. You don’t see or hear Jaffee, you just see her choice of monologists, although you feel that they’re talking to her. Although I chose these particular four from an hourlong tape, I’m grateful for Jaffee’s acceptance of the loop’s ten-minute time limit. Her interest in the tempo of different people’s enthusiasms for stories comes across, and her almost sculptured interest in their concern for space. For example, the girl jailed by British customs describes all the details of her cell and the objects in it with loving care.

Jaffee’s Mistrips is another nice manifestation of 19th-century Romanticism’s resurgence in 20th-century post-Conceptual guise. Her loop stresses feeling and emotion rather than intellect. Like a lot of Story artists and new Romantics like Roger Cutforth, Jaffee is interested in everyday life—creative interaction on a social level with art as signals between people. What becomes increasingly boring, and what Jaffee completely avoids, is the notion of a special art language.

James Collins

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