Los Angeles

Michele O'Marah, Tim Jackson, and David Jones


In their video Faustus’s Children, 2006, Michele O’Marah and collaborators Tim Jackson and David Jones draw from a variety of sources, including Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope, 1948, Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan, 1990, and John Guare’s play Six Degrees of Separation, 1990, to create a tense supernatural thriller. Their primary text, however, is Donna Tartt’s bestselling novel A Secret History, 1992, in which a group of classics students murder one of their pals at an elite New England college.

Like O’Marah’s earlier video Valley Girl, 2002, Faustus’s Children is concerned with the appropriation of familiar stories, so while its screenplay is original, much of its language has been lifted. Faustus’s Children was shot entirely in O’Marah’s Los Angeles studio, and the mostly handmade set, which includes a papier-maˆché forest and the interior of a country cabin, was displayed in the main gallery. The cabin, which echoes a luxurious vacation home, features a wall of papier-mâché ducks, a brick fireplace with a fake fire, faux wood floors, and orange plaid wallpaper made of cut paper, all painstakingly crafted by the artist. The color scheme is psychedelic, with vivid purple and orange walls and a lime green satin brocade sofa which combine to evoke the creepy decor of the Overlook Hotel in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980). The eerie sound track by Jones and Kelly Marie Martin, which also features songs by Nina Simone and Fairport Convention, accompanies the characters’ discussion of good and evil and eternal life while they drink themselves into oblivion.

The opening scene shows four men strangling their victim, Richard, in the forest. As he dies, a mysterious light hovers above him. The murderers gather at a nearby cabin and get drunk and pillsy to the toast “Live forever,” implying that by taking Richard’s life they hope to become immortal. Claire, the only female character, arrives unexpectedly and learns of the horrific act over the course of the evening. One by one the dirty bunch are hypnotized by a mysterious light (Richard’s ghost) and are lured to the forest to meet their deaths—ah, the fate of the amoral bourgeois! Toward the end of The Secret History, the narrator asks, “What are the dead, anyway, but waves and energy? Light shining from a dead star?”

Faustus’s Children has its humorous side but is clearly a serious piece of work, and the information that it was shot over the course of nine months on a low budget with an amateur cast makes the fact that its story concerns the exploits of the upper crust decidedly ironic. Since building community and making connections is one of the hardest things to do in Los Angeles (in part because of the city’s design and lack of public transportation), O’Marah’s success in adopting a collaborative approach in the making of her new work is enormous. While fellow LA-based artists Harry Dodge and Stanya Kahn ruminate on aloneness in works like their video Can’t Swallow It, Can’t Spit It Out, 2006, they still create work as a team to circumvent the isolation. O’Marah, for her part, employs a whole gaggle of pals in her project, immortalizing all of them frame by frame.

Amra Brooks