Paris

Shana Moulton, Life as an INFJ, 2015–16, HD video, mixed media, dimensions variable.

Shana Moulton, Life as an INFJ, 2015–16, HD video, mixed media, dimensions variable.

Shana Moulton

Galerie Crèvecoeur

Shana Moulton, Life as an INFJ, 2015–16, HD video, mixed media, dimensions variable.

The latest chapter in Shana Moulton’s ongoing video and performance saga “Whispering Pines,” 2002–, is Act One from Whispering Pines 10, 2016, a nine-minute video based on an opera she developed and performed with composer/vocalist Nick Hallett. In the live version, which premiered at the Kitchen in New York in 2010, Moulton’s alter ego Cynthia, a hypochondriac introvert with a wild imagination, mimes and dances in front of projections of mountains, forests, and her wacky home, which is decorated with a Himalayan rock-salt lamp, a yoga mat, a crystal pyramid, and other assorted New Age tchotchkes, self-help gizmos, and pharmacy sundries, and plenty of pastel-patterned fabrics. In the video, Cynthia is confined to a virtual world. And although Moulton’s endearingly awkward live slapstick is missed (as are the live vocals), a flat, digitally enhanced environment suits Cynthia’s agoraphobia and delirium just fine. Using special effects and animation techniques, Moulton has optimized the opera for digital consumption, channeling Robert Ashley’s 1980s made-for-TV opera, Perfect Lives.

Like all the “Whispering Pines” episodes, Act One from Whispering Pines 10 is a tale of self-improvement and spiritual enlightenment rife with pop-culture references and props. Waking one morning with a bloated stomach, apparently caused by Busby Berkeley dancers in her intestines, Cynthia looks to a different choreographer for relief and puts a Lester Horton–technique warm-up video on the TV. While Cynthia dutifully, if clumsily, imitates dance moves on her yoga mat, Hallett’s score kicks in with a solo by soprano Daisy Press, after which the protagonist is transported from her living room to a mountaintop, where she gives birth to the moon. Back home (and presumably still feeling swollen), Cynthia prepares a soothing bath of Eno fruit salt while Press sings variations on the name of the antacid brand over and over in a meditative aria. Next, dried and dressed in her favorite pastel housedress, Cynthia follows a yellow bird, flown free from an M. C. Escher poster, through a butterfly-decorated hearth. The triumphant final scene—inspired by activist Julia “Butterfly” Hill, who climbed an ancient California redwood in 1997 and lived there for 738 days to protest logging—shows Cynthia exiting a small door to scale a giant sequoia.

Elsewhere in the exhibition, Cynthia’s neuroses, fantasies, and self-help accoutrements crept subtly beyond the screen to confront the viewer in real space. In the installation Feed the Soul, 2016, a larger-than-life wall projection of Cynthia’s heavily made-up face was intersected by a stepped plinth, onto which a parade of affirmation-emblazoned charms was projected. Words and phrases such as THINK POSITIVE, FITNESS, and ENJOY NATURE climbed the ziggurat-like structure toward the golden headdress atop Cynthia’s quizzical brow. Also combining two- and three-dimensional elements, Life as an INFJ, 2015–16, used a video projection as the backdrop for an arrangement of lamps, statuettes, vases, and crystals. In the video, a life-size Cynthia—the viewer’s proxy and, according to the title, an example of the rarest Myers-Briggs personality type: introverted, intuitive, feeling, judging—writhed inside a wicker shelf displaying the same miscellaneous objects presented on the gallery floor. Meanwhile, to her left, a nightmarish shower of human organs and limbs rained down. Miraculously, each virtual body part dropped perfectly into a shadow cast by one of the actual decorative objects. Like her live performances, Moulton’s latest multimedia installations cleverly weave together physical and digital elements in order to communicate a disorienting fluidity between reality and fantasy.

Mara Hoberman