Control Piece

1975, 5:55 min, b&w, silent

"In the first section of this early video, Dara Birnbaum is seen placing her hands on the surface of a projection screen. Though the screen is glowing with the light of a projector, the surface is blank, foregrounding her gestures and the screen's physical dimensions. The artist's motions seem ritualistic and practiced, as if the arrangement of her hands were a from communication. She turns away from the screen to look back at the unseen cameraperson, and the camera goes dark.

When shooting resumes, the projection screen shows the still image of an open loft/gallery space being prepared for an exhibition. The camera has moved closer to the screen, so that it takes up the entire frame and becomes an illusory window. Birnbaum's hand suddenly enters the frame, intercepting the projection and creating a trompe l'oeil effect; her arm looks like that of a giant as it reaches for a refrigerator. She then places her whole body in the path of the projector, and the loft/gallery bends around her arms, torso, and face as she moves self-consciously in the camera's gaze. Her movement shift from being seductive and confrontational to shy and withdrawn. As in other early videos, Birnbaum explores the physical expression of psychological states, trying on different extroverted or introverted attitudes.

The camera shuts off again and resumes with a closer zoom on the projected image, and on Birnbaum, showing mostly her face and hands as she writhes either sensuously or seemingly in pain. After another break in the filming, Birnbaum's erratic behavior reaches a climatic fervor; and the she faces the camera one last time with a soulful, hurt expression, simultaneously implicating the cameraperson and the viewer in her physical and emotional exposure." (RC)

Text reprinted with permission from Dara Birnbaum: The Dark Matter of Media Light. Karen J.Kelly, Barbara Schröder, and Giel Vandecaveye. Ghent/Porto/Munich: Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst/Museu Serralves/Del Monico Books-Prestel, 2011. p. 168.

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1975, 41:12 min, b&w, sound