Millmans mix

SARAH GREGG MILLMAN at Mercer Union (1286 Bloor West), to August 15. 416-536-1519. Rating: NNNNVideo, once the most naked and.


SARAH GREGG MILLMAN at Mercer Union (1286 Bloor West), to August 15. 416-536-1519. Rating: NNNN

Video, once the most naked and bare-bones practice, has morphed into something entirely different. Layer upon layer of visual art and cinema references build up until the screen becomes as opaque as a painting.

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In A Fun Time Is A Great Time, a collection of her videos at Mercer Union, Sarah Gregg Millman’s prettified female subjects are ciphers of cinema and art allusions. Lighting, makeup, wardrobe and hairstyling are used to almost cloying cinematic effect to show a glamorous vulnerability recalling the French New Wave.

Interior monologues presented as voice-overs give viewers some access to the thoughts behind each winsomely vapid face, but they do little to dispel the sense of awkward displacement.

A series of women stare off self-consciously while their monologues recount activities depicted in Impressionist paintings. (They’re all supposed to be female extras from scenes painted by Manet, Seurat and Renoir.)

In Blue, a brunette fantasizes about leaving her children and doing vaguely dangerous things at night, only to conclude that she wakes up safe with them. In Pregnant On The Couch a woman naively toys with the desire to be pregnant (she’s obviously holding a pillow under her dress). Interview has two women in an office engaging in a painfully cliched and stilted conversation.

Yet these videos aren’t entirely about giving subsidiary female subjects a voice. They’re more about exploring the tensions between interior and exterior representations of femininity.

Each subject’s apparent desire to be seen and glamorized (supported by the camera’s gaze) plays out against a deadpan and meandering monologue that circles around stilted possibilities and vague fantasies.

In the end, each piece conveys an almost menacing sense of ennui. Millman’s women shine on camera, but they don’t necessarily want to be there. It’s the sort of tension that makes for compelling viewing.

art@nowtoronto.com

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