Girls and Philosophers
Two large, banner-like video projections face each other in a darkened room. There is no sound.
On the one hand, a brighter projection shows a constant stream of young adolescent girls. This is then invariably the first projection that we encounter. The camera pans across each girl, sometimes close-up so that their faces fill the screen, sometimes further back from them so we can see their entire figure. It swiftly becomes apparent that they have all been asked to dance in front of the camera, as if they were themselves pop idols or else at a teen disco (here re-created in a photography studio) that is being filmed for public consumption. It is unclear if the girls are acting out what they imagine to be the prototypes of the young pop star that they may or may not desire to emulate, or if they are simply following the instructions of the artist, who has perhaps asked them to perform in a way that seems to make them appear desirable, or consumable, for the camera and thus also for the viewer. Whichever it may be, and in truth it is surely a combination of both, one can discern that a palpable pleasure can be seen in almost every young girl’s expression and performance. There is little, if any, discomfort here. Which means we might say there is an early-adolescent, and somewhat naïve, eroticism on show here, and this might be an uneasy experience for the viewer.
Either way, it is arguable that the artist, the audience and the girls all appear complicit in this encounter. The artist has set up the scenario and has clearly asked the girls to perform as they do for the camera, apparently with little persuasion needed. The audience consumes this performance, and is thus perhaps faced with a dilemma, depending on their moral and consumption relationship to what they see. That is, they may or may not feel that there is something slightly amiss or slightly inappropriate going on here. This is a representational grey zone that the audience is immediately placed in, as at least this is a projected image that is clearly aimed at no one in particular, unlike video counterparts we might experience in pop culture that have a clear audience to market to. Lastly, the girls appear complicit in this early-adolescent eroticism because they are clearly enjoying their participation and, more importantly, they appear to be enjoying their bodies being watched by the camera, and by proxy, some anonymous audience.
They are all very comfortable in their performances; some are confident, others still in their pre-adolescent clumsiness, but in all we sense their comfortable collision with a youth culture external to them, which we might say has, to some degree, perhaps temporarily, taken hold of their self-desire and self-identity. However, since this stream of young girls and their acting for the camera is, as we know, orchestrated by the artist (albeit with happy collaboration by the girls), we might say there is altogether an interpretational black spot when determining the forms of desire that are present for the girls. Likewise, the apparent, accompanying adolescent eroticism noted above might then be some sort of ruse.
The second video projection, on the other hand, further complicates the entire scenario. It appears, at first glance, to be a less interesting scroll of video that we encounter. As the name suggests, we see the faces of philosophers staring out of an enveloping blackness into the camera lens. Or, rather, the faces of older men, and only older men, whose cool eyes are performing in much the same way as the girls’ bodies had, with an attempt at captivating the audience by being “philosophers” (whereas the girls had done so as “girls”). The philosophers are surprisingly dull in their stoicism and seriousness. While the girls have the bright, white backdrop of a photo-shoot or fashion walk, these middle-aged and elderly men themselves appear to outdo the black ink of a Baroque darkness that seems to reflect their thoughts. This might heighten the associations we might bring to their image – the density and weight of what their thinking and vocation would appear to be – and it also accentuates the spectacle that is taking place across the room from them.
The men, like the girls, are acting for the camera in this long, dark video-stream, and in their emulation of philosophers we might begin to sense another ruse. Their faces arising and passing by us could be akin to the drifting of thoughts – or the passing of ideas and discourses from paradigm to paradigm. Each looks out from his paradigm, confronting the viewer with his alleged pathos or wisdom, or even his sense of having been to the deepest, darkest caverns of thought to return, for our sake, with golden treasures of new thought. However, this narrative is thwarted, exposed and exploded by the video’s proximity and reverse mirroring of the video opposite it, the dancing girls. And the stoicism, darkness, beards and burning old eyes all become part of something comedic, if not immediately, then quickly enough. If there is one word to summarize this relationship between the two facing video projections, it would be irreverence.
Girls and Philosophers presents two sets of archetypes in a near parody for the consuming audience. The performers are all, in one way or another, actors – where anybody can be devised as anything, and thus there are no real “girls” or “philosophers”, but if one had to decide, then it could be argued that the girls appear to be the more authentic ones, being passing shadows on the wall of our experience, despite the girls having to “act out” what early pubescence and its popular representation both exhibits and represses. That is, these girls are caught in an archetypical dance (again presumably demanded of them by the artist) that is associable with the most vacuous of pop entertainment, but the great irony is that the old men that look out from the shadows opposite them, if again gauged on an authenticity scale, drift further back into the darkness, not active, not even restless and quite simply kind of impotent. However, it is this recession into the darkness by the philosophers that the girls are most dependent upon and this is what here further lights their libidinal dance..
Seamus Kealy - catalogue 'Home-Made Victories