Channeling: An Invocation of Spectral Bodies and Queer Spirits

The Hideout, Austin

January 24, 2008
by Katie Anania

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      Shana Moulton
      Whispering Pines #7, 2006
      Courtesy the artist

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      Cinema, in its infancy, was readily associated with the supernatural. Late 19th-century films by the Lumiere brothers drove some visitors out of theatres, overwhelmed and terrified by the shock of moving images. Channeling: An Invocation of Spectral Bodies and Queer Spirits brings this unassimilable mystery of film to bear on queerness. When the compilation DVD broke during the screening at The Hideout in Austin, the jeering and silences that followed re-enforced all of the other sensory details that were supposed to call me back to fin-de-siecle entertainment. Plywood seats creaked. The equipment rustled and chirped. Images flashed onscreen and then abruptly died. The premise of the show’s US tour—that itinerancy and failure are productive properties of queer experience—became an enacted reality as we hooted, checked the flickering streams of information on our own electronic devices and waited.

      Even in its imperfect execution, Latham Zearfoss and Ethan White’s chosen lineup of short videos demonstrated that some permutations of “the spirit world” were more effective delivery devices for queer problems than others. Campy mock-horror was a good conduit for the terror of queerness, we learned, as we tittered at Michael Robinson’s Carol Anne is Dead (2008). Through camp we discovered that queerness is a curse, a hex upon the American family capable of creating searing wormholes through which queerness sucks (ahem) our children. Shana Moulton’s Whispering Pines #7 (2006), the most recognized work in the program, showcased Moulton’s surrealistic wit by making a cardboard sphinx “sing” the Last Unicorn theme song during a teenager’s beauty ritual. An ineffable hesitancy bordering on the monstrous, Moulton seems to say, is embedded in gendered practices. The twinned and tripleted female figures in Jillian Peña’s Compromise (2005) matched this monstrousness with their creepy, vacuous conversations about incest and desire. I found the above works more evocative than, say, Elliot Montague’s Well Dressed (2006), which displayed a broad array of bodies (cruising, transgendered, and pregnant—finally, someone acknowledging the queer freakishness of pregnancy!) so candidly that it was difficult to find them particularly liminal or ghostly. Still, in a tour schedule that (commendably) included both major and minor cities, even these shorts might be truly revolutionary to those less exposed to queer culture. 

      Zearfoss and White understand the stakes of framing queerness as something subterranean, agonizing, perverse, hilarious and simultaneously close. As gay characters loom large on television shows such as the L Word and Workout, are we any better prepared to conceive of queer identity at its ownmost? These carefully crafted media icons seek to provide more concrete (if thoroughly hyperbolized) representations of gays and lesbians. But are they queer? And can they efface the stubborn terror invoked when elementary school students point at each other and exclaim, “You’re gay!”? But the stars and auteurs of Channeling refuse to headline at Los Angeles’ most popular lesbian café (though on second thought, that sounds like a pretty fun night). Their stalled screenings, in their very instability, are blazing, beautiful and coming to get you.

      Katie Anania is a curatorial researcher at Fluent~Collaborative and an assistant editor at ...might be good.

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