Los Angeles

Marnie Weber

Marnie Weber’s work of the past ten years has relied increasingly on her ability to live in the realm of the speculative and fantastic. She entertains narratives without feeling the need to resolve them in unifying conclusions or morals, imaging a parallel “what if” universe without submitting to an “if-then” logic. Recently, this predilection met her interest in the progressive, populist, and protofeminist mid- nineteenth-century American Spiritualist movement, which undermined both social hierarchies and established religious models by proposing equal access to an afterlife, with women often functioning as mediums to help us make the connection.

Wondering what it might be like if a girl band were to die and then come back from the dead to continue performing, Weber began to develop the characters of individual band members and assemble a group of collaborators. The Spirit Girls were born in 2004 as an actual band and performance group, and an exhibition. In Weber’s latest show, her first solo appearance at Patrick Painter, the artist employed a range of media in her quest to materialize the Spirit Girls and their (after)lives.

The exhibition’s centerpiece was A Western Song, 2007, a video projection that is equal parts classic western, surrealist experiment, expressionist drama, and countercultural romp, which chronicles the journey of the Spirit Girls through wooded hills and a ghost town. Done up in flowing wigs, straw hats, white gloves, dainty dresses, schoolgirlish socks and shoes, and pasty-white masks, the mute lasses roam, explore, and party, crossing paths with a band of animal/mutant/clown hobos and a blind old lady who plays an upright piano surrounded by Spirit Girl portraits and a heap of roses.

The lead Spirit Girl, her status as such clear from her vampish looks, assertive presence, and greater involvement in the narrative, at one point faces an image of herself lying motionless beneath the surface of a pond. Later, she falls into the company of the hobo band and is tied up with ropes (though it remains unclear whether this is a genuine abduction or more of a game) and has an out-of-spirit-body experience. The end of the film finds the Girls, suddenly wearing vaguely athletic-looking helmets topped with faux animal heads, walking among horses in a pasture.

There’s no making “sense” out of Weber’s video, any more than there is out of the hobo costumes she has converted into sculptures, or out of the other sculptures in the show, like her bleached-white Ghost Clown, 2006, or her Spirit Horse, 2007, a riff on equestrian statuary with the rider not only reclining like a circus performer but seeming to meld with the horse’s body and saddle. Equally irreducible are numerous photocollages extending the Spirit Girl mythology. The pleasure and strength of Weber’s work reside rather in the care with which it is constructed. Applied to her rich if bewildering imagery, the artist’s highly developed craft invites and satisfies engagement despite confusion.

Christopher Miles