New York

Aïda Ruilova, Goner, 2010, still from a color film in 35 mm, 11 minutes 35 seconds.

Aïda Ruilova, Goner, 2010, still from a color film in 35 mm, 11 minutes 35 seconds.

Aïda Ruilova

Salon 94 | Bowery

Aïda Ruilova, Goner, 2010, still from a color film in 35 mm, 11 minutes 35 seconds.

From the early Oh no, 1999, to Meet the Eye, 2009, Aïda Ruilova’s fast-art reflections on filmic constructions of women have progressed from schooled DIY antiaesthetic to polished commercial appearance (the latter work features 1970s B-movie queen Karen Black). In their synthesis of formal and stylistic elements from experimental filmmaking, avant-garde video, and mainstream psychological thrillers and horror flicks, Ruilova’s works conjure a condition of endless, narrativeless suspense: Women—her protagonists are usually female—confront existential and corporeal jeopardy, often navigating spatial-temporal fields disrupted by relentless knifelike visual and aural jump cuts.

Presented at Salon 94 Bowery, Ruilova’s new video loop, Goner, 2010, stars actress-model Sonja Kinski (the offspring of actress Nastassja). In shooting the 35-mm film (subsequently transferred to video), the artist enlisted the services of the production company Commonwealth Projects; the result is professional, edgy, slick, and efficiently formulaic, like Saw meets Vogue.

The video opens with a low tracking shot that reveals Kinski’s scantily clad body lying facedown on a light-purple-carpeted floor. As she rises to crawl to a heart-shaped bed, blood-red stains are visible on the carpet and her shirt. Suddenly, the film cuts to a medium close-up of Kinski’s face as she confronts an unseen assailant; this point of view endeavors to make the viewer complicit with (or an extension of) the tormentor (and, in turn, the artist), and foreshadows a proliferation of intercutting that shreds temporal logic and at once splinters and compresses an already claustrophobic space of representation (the bedroom or hotel unit). Next, Kinski is shown lying in bed, her T-shirt no longer blood-stained—does this suggest temporal asynchrony, or that it’s all a dream? At another moment, she is dragged across the room by the invisible force—is she possessed? Often the camera moves toward her, and she seems to be receiving invisible blows to the face and stomach. There is an economic, high-velocity, graphicness to the action: At one point, a knife severs her Achilles tendon; at another, she removes a knife from her abdomen, implying self-mutilation. She does fight back, punching at her phantom tormentor, spitting blood at the camera. But it’s hopeless. Problematically, even as Ruilova may be seeking to unpack the sexualized violence of scopophilia intrinsic to normative filmic representations of women, she has adopted a traditionally male voyeuristic gaze, offering up just another femme fatale who can find no emancipation from this condition.

Prophouse, 2011—shown on the gallery’s exterior and viewable only from the Bowery—is a trailer for a longer piece. A lone woman navigates a verdant forest, which we quickly realize is a stage set in a prop house. As the atmosphere becomes increasingly sinister and noirish, she aims a replica of a 45-mm automatic pistol at herself and at the camera. Finally, silhouetted by her own shadow, the woman sings “Me and My Shadow.” This sequence is intercut with a shot of her holding a feathery pink boa, standing in front of a heart-shaped light; for a moment, the gloved hands of a man appear wrapped around her neck. This initial fragment of the work apparently aspires to the level of an allegory concerning the ideological-psychological constructedness of woman (as staged subject, imperiled by the representational web), but threatens to devolve into irredeemable campiness.

“Cinematic images of woman have been so consistently oppressive and repressive that the very idea of a feminist filmmaking practice seems an impossibility,” film theorist Mary Ann Doane wrote in 1981. She then provocatively asserted that “the simple gesture of directing a camera toward a woman has become equivalent to a terrorist act.” Yet Doane acknowledged that artistic strategies could deconstruct the feminine subject within the cinematic frame. It’s clear that Ruilova’s camera terrorizes her female subjects and sometimes her audience. Yet does the artist reproduce the sensationalistic, sadomasochistic, violent gaze of the cinematic apparatus to launch an attack upon these conventions, or do her films represent yet another contrived, postcritical practice?

Joshua Decter