Talking Landscape: Early Media Work, 1974-1984
Films by Andrea Callard
February 13-19 at the Maysles Cinema
Some of Andrea Callard's 8mm frames are exhausted, empty and dry; others pulse with spontaneity. Most fall somewhere in the middle, like a long first-person take in Lost Shoe Blues (aka Walking Outside) of Callard attempting to put on a pair of flipflops without using her hands, which eventually morphs from an accidental dance into a bona fide shuffle. The next scene is a jittery, handheld panorama of resplendent flower patches in the Battery Park landfill, with Callard's chipper singing overlaid: "I lost my shoooooes / In a field of clo-verrrrrr...." The moment is at once dislocating and liberating. Callard reconciles urban space with unspoiled domains—so what you'll see spanning multiple works is a kind of hat-tipping to nature, as in the form of a community garden or a trip to a Brooklyn beach. Hacking and whooping with one eyebrow arched, she stammers, "this is a method of contraception... Thank you very much." And then falls back into the surf, swimming off into the sunset.
One of the founders of the legendary artists' group Collaborative Projects, the artist dodges grandiose, Thoreau-esque declarations, clearly preferring insinuating puns and blunt, unanswerable questions. In 1977's 11 thru 12, her deadpan narration is penetrating, equally Terry Gross and grade school science fair presentation. Speaking directly into the camera, she makes an eerie, tone-deaf correlation: "Here's the natural procedure. First you find a desired vacation spot in National Geographic; then you rent a taxi to the airport, umm... well, first, you find a taxi in the Yellow Pages and you call them up..." The joke is twofold: the idea of items bound together by color speaks to a kid's pointless sense of rigorous organization, which isn't a bad analogy for the just-industrialized planet.
Resource-scarcity absurdisms pop up in other works, as in a homemade game of pool with thin plaster balls that can only roll in one direction, or the downtown guerrilla campaign of the Alainthus tree—the "Tree of Heaven". But what would feel twee and tidy today can also feel dispirited and anemic, the life of a hardcore downtown studio artist nowhere funnier or more perilous than in Sound Windows, the most melancholy in the spread. It includes a handful of stationary shots of nothing more—or less—than Callard descending and ascending a set of particularly squeaky, dust-ridden old ladders. Another example is a long take of her endlessly scrubbing a windowsill, bent over on her fire escape: the "work" is never specified, but the process dominates everything.