Sue Scott Gallery

Preview by Ed Halter: New York Video Festival

Ed Halter
New York Press, July 2000

Similarly fixated on the troublesome lines between restaging, documentary and repetition compulsion is Elisabeth Subrin's The Fancy, a sharp-witted, starkly lush and potentially controversial visual essay on the career of photographer Francesca Woodman. Woodman, who committed suicide at age 22 in 1981 by leaping from the window of her East Village apartment, created stilted pseudo-Victorian erotic self-portraits that were embraced by late-80s feminist art historians still giddy from the Madonnaesque rise of Cindy Sherman. Subrin avoided all contact with the notoriously controlling Woodman estate for the creation of The Fancy, relying only on a limited number of publicly available documents, which, according to the documentary, primarily consist of the three published monographs of Woodman's work. In fact, Woodman's parents probably don't even know the tape exists, and certainly won't be happy when they find out.

Issues of copyright and the legal status of artistic reappropriation have informed a great deal of art from the late 70s on, beginning with hiphop sampling and leading up to 90s culture-jammers like Craig Baldwin and RTMark. Subrin is no stranger to this arena, having meticulously recreated an entire documentary on feminist icon Shulamith Firestone with her previous work, Shulie, which is currently undergoing legal threats from its angry subject. Shot with a rigid but colorfully rich digital cinematography and set to a repetitive tape-looped electronic score, The Fancy pushes copyright boundaries as well, but is structured so tightly around its own legal limits that it practically dares a lawsuit.
The tape consists of elaborately staged visual lists based on Woodman's work and life. One segment portrays a number of interiors that closely resemble locations from her photographs. Another beautifully shot sequence tracks over piles of evidence bagged shoes, clothing, flowers and other items resembling props from the photos. The titles of her photos are presented using a forged version of the photographer's handwriting. In one of the most disturbing lists, contemporary women (none of whom look anything like Woodman) mime the uncomfortable positions and moves the photographer acted out for her self-portraits. Subrin includes stark images of Woodman's residences, culminating in the spot by the window from which she leaped to her death.

The tape's voiceover notes that curators and writers curiously avoided the issue of Woodman's suicide in their writings about her work. Troubled young artists attempt suicide all the time. The Fancy attempts to shake up this jaded truism by prompting us to ask, at least in this instance, exactly why, and ruthlessly challenging Woodman's parents to answer. There's an interesting esthetic issue at work here as well. In a departure from the established mode of experimental video, which tends to stress the shakily handheld aspects of the medium, The Fancy is forthrightly DP-ed, distant and cold. It attempts to discard the notion of video-as-television and embraces a new look that could only be called video cinema.