Pivot: Turning Around Suppositions

1976, 9:52 min, b&w, sound

"This early single-channel video is an investigation of the physical and psychological roles played by director, camera, and performer in the film or video shoot. Similar to the two-channel video installation Attack Piece (1975), Pivot: Turning Around Suppositions establishes a duality between the camera and its subject, pivoting between a moving camera recording an immobile performer, and a moving performer acting for a stationary camera. As in Attack Piece, these roles have gendered significance; Birnbaum herself is cameraman Michael Lanley’s object, a loaded dynamic demonstrating a woman’s subjection to a male gaze.

Over the course of Pivot, Dara Birnbaum and Lanley take turns calling out and interpreting ten "suppositions," generalized assumptions one person might have about another—"You really must be the devil," for example, or "You are always there when needed." Lanley's camera frames Birnbaum's facial expressions and bodyily gestures, while she is a stationary model for his evocative movements around her, illustrating the symbiotic relationship between performer and camera.

The ambiguous nature of the suppositions leaves them open to wide interpretation, and Birnbaum's and Lanley's responses are improvised, likening the process to a Rorschach test, in which an individual is asked to interpret ten inkblot designs in the hope of revealing his or her personality traits and emotional conflicts. Birnbaum's interest in psychology and the characterization of emotional states can be seen in works throughout her career, as well as her rigorous analysis of the power structures implicit in camera-subject, viewer-performer, and male-female dichotomies." (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. 178.