Cecelia Conditby Heidi Howard
Cue Art Foundation, September 4 – October 11, 2008
Cecelia Condit’s videos from 1981 to the present chart the psyches of American women. Based on her immediate personal experience, the early narratives discuss the tensions between young women and their lovers, their close friends, and their families. As Condit broadens her medium in accordance with her maturity, her work becomes more meditative, and her subjects expand to children and the elderly.
Immersing the viewer in timing, diction, and image proves Condit a true storyteller. The 1983 piece “Possibly in Michigan” depicts two chic women in the mall who are stalked by a cannibal. While testing different perfumes, a certain scent makes one woman in the piece recall her unusual aunt. She explains that the aunt was so crazy that she put her poodle in the microwave. When the other woman exclaims/shrieks, “To eat it?” the screen turns to raw white meat with bubbled skin being sliced, making the viewer want to avert his or her eyes from the “grotesque.” But, the meat is only chicken. There is a constant play between horror, reality, and anxiety. Condit’s narratives emphasize the strains of making choices in a world brimming with humanity’s vices. A man looking for a sexual relationship with a woman wants to eat her. Combating the man’s predatory nature, the two women kill the man and relish a soup made from his boiled flesh. Despite the dark plots, most scenes are hypnotically filled with ‘80s industrial glamour, with each word spoken in a specific tone and mixed with sound, resembling an upbeat pop song. The juxtaposition of aesthetic appeal and horror is a constant in Condit’s work.
Trepidation in the early videos morphs into calm observation in the later work. Condit’s videos from the ’80s all feature a songlike narrative. In the ’90s she uses a classical storyteller voice, natural ambience and instrumentals. Considering the environment, earlier works, set in urban areas, focus on blocks of color, while newer works are abundant with magnificent shots of landscapes. The camera’s increased technological sophistication captures nature’s ornate liveliness, which contributes to the change in temper of Condit’s work.
“All About a Girl” begins with seductive shots of flawed flowers, with petals missing and some leaves dried, crinkly, in colors blending between golden and mossy. But many plants are alive with buds and strong thick stems. Interspersed with music and nature sound–samples, a narrator says, “Sometimes we are so drawn to our worst fears that we keep them close to us as though they were our best friends. There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot.” Condit chooses to repeat the word “some,” a modifier that makes nouns multiple (common). Her work is no longer about dramatic anomalies. It describes a shared experience. An image of a girl in a play dress is slowly interspersed with the images of the environment. The girl leaves her house to play in the landscape with her friend, a dead rat. The girl dresses the rat in delicate doll’s clothes. She wishes to remain with the rat in the forest, away from the confines of human society. The girl’s mother appears in the piece as a silent antagonist to whom the girl cries in her head, “I don’t want to end up like you.” The overall rhythmic tone of the piece, which ebbs between a fear of the wild and an embrace of all its elements, casts the girl’s sentiments as those of an innocent youth who will inevitably mature.
In a recent interview, video artist Mary Lucier, the show’s curator, explained, “work that really interested me was and still is about having a real eye and a strong sort of cerebral quality, as well as this thing about the sublime. It’s about being in the presence of simple but powerful phenomena.” Cecelia Condit’s work certainly has these attributes; it creates a poetically ironic narrative that engages the viewer in a psychological puzzle full of paranoia, sensation and joy.