New York

Enid Baxter Blader

Location One

When a projected image work has multiple screens, or combines images with objects, or is scattered throughout a space, it becomes obvious why it is a film or video installation and not, so to speak, a movie being shown in an art gallery. When it’s a simple single-channel projection in a darkened room, its status as art rather than cinema can be more ambiguous—sometimes provocatively so, as in the case of Letter from the Girl, Mailed at the Gas Station, 2002, by the young Los Angeles–based artist Enid Baxter Blader. This fifteen-minute loop is based on Robert Aldrich’s remarkable 1955 film noir, Kiss Me Deadly. It functions not as a “deconstruction” but as a homage to and extreme intensification or condensation of the film’s highly self-conscious questioning of its own narrative structures and their foundation in sexual desire. In other words, in contradistinction to artists like Stan Douglas or Douglas Gordon, who quote cinema with an intention that is fundamentally anticinematic, Blader’s aim is to achieve a sort of stylized quintessence of cinema that can only be distilled in the laboratory conditions provided by art.

Letter’s fragmented strands of narrative are composed around female figures who are apparently unconnected yet seem somehow to be in search of one another. One section is a direct reenactment of the opening scene of the Aldrich film, accompanied by its actual sound track: A girl wearing only a trench coat desperately runs out into the middle of a road to stop a passing car, practically running it off the road. “When people are in trouble they need to talk,” she tells her reluctant rescuer, but holds back her confession. For Aldrich’s moody nocturnal black and white Blader substitutes searing daylight shot in saturated color, and she reimagines his blond on the run as a black woman. What hasn’t changed is a sense that the tough male protagonist will never be able to produce his own narrative, only react to the enigmas women keep thrusting at him. The nonsynchronization of sound and image draws attention to the temporal split at work, as does the work’s alternation between portions shot on film and on digital video. Another sequence echoes Aldrich more obliquely: A scene in which the protagonist’s girlfriend warns him of danger while dancing around a vertical pole (at once a substitute partner and a device for making him into the audience to her spectacle) becomes a dance between two teenage girls, their only witness the camera itself dancing with them drunkenly but invisibly. Here the stand-in for the stiff, undemonstrative male becomes a focus for their own mutual desire, a dance of attraction that becomes (as the artist puts it in an interview with critic Christopher Miles) “the sexual turbine that the whole piece turns around.” The scale of the projection renders it nearly abstract—more like a landscape in upheaval than bodies in motion. For those who know its source material, Letter from the Girl functions as a commentary or immanent critique that is the opposite of academic, insofar as it gives itself over wholly to desires the original both incites and deflects. For anyone else, it is a dreamlike poem to landscape and the body, presence and memory, more delirious than anything Hollywood could imagine.

Barry Schwabsky