Shana Moulton

Galerie Gregor Staiger & OSLO10

Sometimes, a single work is enough for an exhibition – one good example being Shana Moulton’s Decorations of the Mind II (2011) at Galerie Gregor Staiger. A large sculptural installation somewhere between a giant diamond, a shelving unit and a room divider served as a projection surface for the latest instalment of Moulton’s multi-part video project Whispering Pines (2002–ongoing). The series borrows its title from a trailer park of the same name in California’s San Joaquin Valley, an idyllic settlement where the artist grew up. Moulton’s humorous, surreal and occasionally abstract videos, which are based on the TV series format and which can be understood as a kind of one-woman version of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks (1990–91), always follow the same structure: we see Moulton’s alter ego Cynthia using various New Age and wellness products. As tireless as she is unsuccessful, she explores the transcendental potential of plastic kitsch and weird orthopaedic aids, always hoping to find relief from her spiritual and physical ailments.

In the latest episode, too, we follow this unfortunate, hypochondriac dreamer, whose life is shaped by loneliness and a self-centred quest for inner ‘fulfilment’. In terms of content, the plot of Decorations of the Mind II differs little from that of previous episodes, although this was of little importance if one considers the complexity and staging of the video installation: the video projection transformed the sculptural display in the exhibition into an altar-like living room wall with a recessed fireplace and a flat screen. By duplicating the countless props from her videos as real objects in the installation (moisturizing creams, animal figures, African masks), Moulton confounded the difference between the spaces inhabited by the projection and the viewer. Cynthia’s eerie imaginary world, which repeatedly superimposes itself on her domestic surroundings, is realized in formal terms by using psychedelic animation effects recalling video aesthetics of the late 1970s and the 1980s as well as the visual idiom of the nascent techno culture in the early 1990s. Thanks to the deliberate use of cheap greenbox effects, objects take on life of their own, exerting a suggestive influence on the protagonist. In Decorations of the Mind II, for example, it is an animated ‘Magic Eye’ poster that promises Cynthia a transcendental experience.

This complex layering of levels of reality was extended by Moulton in a performance version of the work presented at the OSLO10 art space in Basel under the title I Lost Something in the Hills (2011). This time, the protagonist appeared live and performed as a multiple personality, interacting both with the figure in the video projection and with a Cynthia doll that she lovingly treated with cooling face packs and vibrating massage devices. To an even greater degree than the video installation, this performance was based on a precise choreography of various sound, image and spatial elements that quoted the vocabulary of the New Age and wellness movements.

Moulton’s works draw much of their strength also from the artist’s ambivalent relationship to her alter ego. Her emphasis on the close biographical and psychological link with the invented character can be understood as an autobiographical game of reality and fiction – a game that saves her works from being read as purely ironic.
Translated by Nicholas Grindell

Barbara Preisig is an art historian who lives and works in Zurich and Berlin. Her dissertation project investigates ephemeral forms of Conceptual art from the 1960s and ’70s.

Issue 2

First published in Issue 2

Autumn 2011

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