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WRITING for the Medianale

Reeder’s Femme Fatales

By Mary Scherer

I saw Jennifer Reeder’s A Million Miles Away (2014) last year at The Chicago Underground Film Festival. During the Question and Answer session with Reeder, a young woman in her early 20s asked why Reeder made the main protagonist Crystal Chambers “so unlikeable and pathetic.” Jennifer Reeder and I attempt to answer this question.

Jennifer Reeder is a feminist filmmaker interested in portraying the female grotesque, vulnerability, and fallibility, which she feels are inadequately represented in mainstream film. She describes her characters as “assholes that you still want to hang out with,” citing influences like Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemity (1944) and Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard (1950). In the American film noir genre, the femme fatal character is a complicated and challenging woman, who sometimes goes batshit crazy. Reeder’s female characters are a new iteration of the femme fatale character archetype. They’re not deadly, but they’re just as challenging.

In the Forevering Trilogy (2010-2012), three short films made from one feature length script, Reeder’s female protagonists make big and small mistakes. In Seven Songs About Thunder a woman fakes a pregnancy to potential adopters because she wants attention. In Tears Cannot Restore Her: Therefore, I Weep, a sign-language interpreter at a Recreational Physics Association meeting experiences an emotional breakdown and willfully misinterprets what the physics speaker is saying in order to vent about her personal problems. In And I Will Rise, If Only To Hold You Down, a mother is going through a divorce and dresses up for her daughter’s school dance and tries to be “one of the girls” much to her daughter’s dismay. Throughout all three short films, Reeder creates fluid character relationships between the adult and young women actors. The characters can simultaneously be read as Mother-Daughter, Peer-Peer, Adult-Inner Child, and Child-Future Self. These complex character relationships complicate the story line and raise the question of who is nurturing whom? Reeder sees teenagers as having valid insights and thinks that adults should listen. However flawed, Reeder believes these characters deserve 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th chances because we as humans are always making mistakes and figuring things out. “Hopefully, we only fake a pregnancy once,” says Reeder.

Reeder studied Film and Video at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and worked with Barbara DeGenevieve and Daniel Eisenberg; both artists had a profound impact on her work. Reeder states that “Barbara’s influence seems really clear in terms of her ability to encourage feminism and abjectness,” while Daniel Eisenberg seemed to really understand her work and introduced her to the work of Jack Smith. While Jennifer thinks that no one would see a relationship between Flaming Creatures (1963) and A Million Miles Away, one might see Smith’s abject beauty in her early video series White Trash Girl (1995-1997). Jennifer Reeder stated her influences and her films like an art family tree: “I feel like in a way my parents are a combination of Maya Deren, Linda Montano, George Kuchar, and Jack Smith. You know? And maybe the four of them birthed White Trash Girl and then WTG became a lot more refined and now she’s in front of a better camera. It’s the same story of a monstrous, unruly woman, who finds power in unlikely spaces and had the ability to transform or transcend on her 5th chance to get it right.

(This piece was written on the occasion of the Dallas Medianale 2015. Scherer is an artist and curator with an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Before her recent relocation to Athens, Georgia, where she has already curated and presented a program on Harun Farocki, she served as interim distribution manager for Video Data Bank.)


Re- !Mediengruppe Bitnik's Random Darknet Shopper (2014), "Why !Mediengruppe Bitnik went on a darknet shopping spree" by Carmen Weisskopf & Domagoj Smoljo, frieze d/e, Issue 18, Mar. - April 2015 and "Dark Web drug-buying bot returned to Swiss artists after police seizure" by Cyrus Farivar, ars technica, April 15, 2015.

Re- Cécile B. Evans' Hyperlinks or it didn't happen (2014), review by Stephanie Bailey in ArtForum, Feb. 2015, and "Please don't call me uncanny" by Daniel Rourke on Rhizome, 2014-12-04. Also, Han Ulrich Obrist interviewed one of the characters in Evans' piece in Art Papers' Mar/Apr 2014 issue.

Re- Laure Prouvost's Wantee (2013), "The Sun on Your Face," interview by Zoe Pilger, frieze magazine, Issue 166, Oct., 2014; see also "Interview with Laure Prouvost" by Alice Hattrick, The White Review, Sept., 2014, and "Laure Prouvost Invites Gallery Visitors to Dig for Her Missing Grandfather," artnet news, Aug. 4, 2015.

Re- My Barbarian's Universal Declaration of Infantile Anxiety Situations Reflected in the Creative Impulse (2013), review by Catherine Damman, Art in America, 2013-10-22. Also, Pastelegram will publish a manual and course reader for My Barbarian's "Post-Living Ante-Action Theater (PoLAAT)," available fall, 2015; you can pre-order here.

Re- Sheila & Nicholas Pye's Loudly, Death Unties (2007), review by Kriston Cappas, Art in America, 2009-04-07.

"Dallas Medianale Wraps Up for 2015" by Caroline North, Dallas Observer 2015-03-05.

"Dallas Medianale: Call and Response at the MAC" by Colette Copeland, Glasstire, 2015-02-02.

"Don't Miss Another Dallas Medianale Event" by Lauren Smart, Dallas Observer, 2015-01-30.

"Video Art is Dialing Your Number. Answer the Call at the McKinney Avenue Contemporary" by Caroline North, Dallas Observer, 2015-01-23.

"Roger Beebe's Flicker Circus Comes to Town" by Peter Lucas, Glasstire, 2015-01-15.

"Experimental Video Art Festival Dallas Medianale Hits Play this Weekend" by Caroline North, Dallas Observer, 2015-01-07.

"5 Art Events for Your Weekend" by Peter Simek, D Magazine - Front Row, 2015-01-07.

"Organizers behind Dallas VideoFest Launch a New Dallas Medianale this January" by Christina Rees, Glasstire, 2014-01-02.

"In Conversation: A Jennifer Reeder Preface to the Dallas Medianale" by Colette Copeland, Glasstire, 2014-12-28.

"Taking a Leap" by Justin Hunt, Arts+Culture, 2014-12-08.

"Video Association of Dallas Experiments with New Mini-Fest at the MAC" by Alex Bentley, Culturemap Dallas, 2014-12-02.


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