New York

Marnie Weber

Jessica Fredericks Gallery

Walt Disney meets recovered-memory therapy: the imagineering of trauma would seem to be the subject of “Lost in the Woods,” the first East Coast exhibition by Los Angeles–based artist/musician Marnie Weber. The show included twenty-four photocollages and two video/sculpture installations, and was accompanied by a fourteen-song CD, Cry, for Happy (1996). The disk helps fill in a bit more (not a lot more, mind you) of the underlying narrative, which concerns a girl named Happy who wanders through a forest only fitfully able to distinguish her identity from those of the woods’ various animal inhabitants. The at times brutally pounding music (with all instruments except some percussion and acoustic bass played by Weber) is punctuated by moments of dreamy lyricism, although Weber’s vocals, reminiscent of Lydia Lunch but with the sneer turned down to a moan, is a limiting factor.

In Lost in the Woods, 1996, the longer of the two videotapes, we see Happy, a dark-haired woman dressed in light yellow, stumbling blindfolded through a forest. Suddenly we are following a pair of plastic eyes as they float down a shallow stream, only to he picked up by Happy, now without the blindfold, though her own eyes appear false. As she retrieves them, we realize that the eyes are much larger than life-size. Unseeing, she drops them back into the stream. In the second part of the tape, the camera circles around a group of cartoonish yet sinister-looking papier-mâché animals (a pregnant pig; a prison-striped donkey with a ball and chain on his ankle, etc.) gathered in the forest; they turn out to be looking at Happy’s face, dead or unconscious, nearly buried in the forest floor. The same papier-mâché figures—except for an eyeless mole that seems to be popping out of the top of the monitor—installed around a circle of earth and bougainvillea flowers (they look rather like rose petals), form an audience for the tape.

In the second tape, Happy, dressed in a bunny costume, crouches at the foot of a huge tree and chants the title of the video, “I’m Not a Bunny.” Here the monitor’s setting is domestic: it sits on a ’50s-style bench surrounded by framed portraits of women—the kind that adorn ready-made frames in store windows—“corrected” with bunny-style buckteeth and similar accoutrements; a single stuffed, white rabbit with a baby doll’s face faces the monitor.

The additional collages combine calendar-style landscapes and syrupy-faced little girls with (naturally) forest animals and images of women’s bodies taken from porn magazines, mostly soft-core but occasionally of the bondage variety. The ironies of amalgamating the imagery of innocence with that of exploitation might seem too heavy-handed outside the context of the video installations, with their more complicatedly tragicomic short-circuiting of distinctions between human and animal, adult and child; in fact, the installations give the collages even more visual voltage than might be expected out of their surprisingly Joseph Cornell–esque conflations.

In any case, this exhibition, CD included, somehow added up to more than the sum of its parts. With its atmosphere of morbidity, its flirtation with emotional excess, and its saturation with the strangeness of fairy-tale transformations, Lost in the Woods is a work of belated expressionism, and should perhaps be thought of as comprising fragments of a “monodrama,” to use the term applied to Arnold Schoenberg’s Erwartung (“Waiting,” 1909), itself an expressionist one-woman opera dramatizing confusion among nightmarish woods. His aim, Schoenberg later said, was “to represent in slow motion everything that occurs during a single second of maximum spiritual excitement, stretching it out to half an hour.” Given the static quality of time in which Weber’s moments of bewilderment continually loop back on themselves, she might well say something similar—perhaps changing “spiritual excitement” to “spiritual insensibility.”

Barry Schwabsky