New York

Anne Walsh

Casey Kaplan

How does she say she’s sorry? Let me count the ways. There’s a compassionate, thoughtful “I’m sorry,” bottom lip tense, gaze slightly sidelong, and afterward a conciliatory near smile. There’s a firm “I’m sorry,” resolute, direct, with a finalizing nod, but the whole, perhaps, as if trapped and forced to ’fess up. There’s a hesitant, lip-chewing “I’m sorry,” backed up by a sympathetic head move; a resentful “I’m sorry,” postponed by looking down, then up, then down again, then up again; and then there’s “God I’m sorry.” And “I’m sorry.” There’s a frowning, guilty-looking “I’m sorry,” and an “I’m sorry” sequence staged at several different degrees of anguish. And last on the tape there’s an “I’m sorry” repeated under the breath, both the recurrence and the whisper symbolizing sincerity.

A catalogue of apologies, Anne Walsh’s video Woman Saying Sorry (all works 1996) makes performance out of contrition. Facing us, head and shoulders silhouetted against a white background, the artist sends her regrets, pacing them evenly (five to ten seconds each) and separating them by a cut, which she stresses by showing us the remote that she uses to stop the camera. The vocabulary is fixed (that “God I’m sorry,” adding a single word to the game, seems huge), but each phrase is differently handled and meant. Is the speaker sympathizing or atoning? Is she, as she says, sorry, or is she defensive? Like Georgina Starr’s Crying video of 1993, which also dealt in a woman’s sorriness, Woman Saying Sorry displays emotion that it simultaneously makes unreadable. It might be modeled on the counting of the rosary, the Catholic penance through repetition, but the piece is secular and contemporary, framed by gender theory and ’90s abject art.

Abjection appears declaratively in two photographs shown along with the video: Walsh, in jeans and sweater, stands drenched in water, looking pathetic. Seen in combination with Woman Saying Sorry, her misery here seems connected to femaleness (apology, or the provision of a shoulder to cry on, being a common prescription for women). Meanwhile another video piece, Two Men Making Gun Sounds, features, well, two men making gun sounds, like boys imitating movie shoot-’em-ups. (I’m told these are Walsh’s brothers, and that they made these noises together all the time when they were growing up.) So it’s as if we have a male and a female principle: the male caught up in ridiculous phallic dreams, the female literally a sorry case.

The idea might seem reductive, and Walsh’s methods—repetition, fixity, variations on strictly limited devices—tend, often, more to essences, or the suggestion of them, than to complexities. But the interplay of the show’s different works (including one photograph that seems to show the artist from behind, but turns out to show one of her brothers) made for ironies and a dry wit. And Woman Saying Sorry is complemented by Woman Saying Hey, which does for “Hey” what the first tape does for “I’m sorry,” but more absurdly, “hey” being a slight syllable to carry the meanings it does. Finally, at the beginning of Woman Saying Sorry there’s a moment when Walsh looks directly at you: before her face softens visibly into the apology mode, her gaze is cool and evaluative.

David Frankel