One Night Down South – Julie Lequin

Julie Lequin

Having recently relocated to Montreal after living in Los Angeles for a few years, La Centrale invited me to present a one-night program of video art. I curated the event without any particular topic in mind. I made a list of artist names whose work I admire. I emailed them. These artists were friends, classmates or colleagues I had exhibited with previously. Some of these artists were in the same age range as me. Others were a bit older. Pretty much everybody emailed back. The selection of video work was inspiring, hip and quirky. The program was titled “I am your biggest fan” and it took place in February 2011.

Being a French-Canadian video and performance artist, I tend to scribble only for the purpose of telling stories in my video work. While living in the United States, I took on the habit of writing in English to differentiate myself from the narratives I create. When I write, the voices of my personas are fictionalized, but based on things I notice and on anecdotes from my own little everyday dramas (and those of others too). These days, people refer to what I am interested in as ‘auto-fiction.’

That said, I have always been interested in humour. Humour is a key component of my practice, and I enjoy laughing when I look at other artists’ projects. It pulls me in and then keeps my attention. But of course humour is often used to cover up more delicate subjects; one such topic might be solitude.

In the program “I am your biggest fan,” solitude made a strong impression. This common thread intrigued some viewers. Apparently there is a fear going around: we are afraid of being alone. Solitude is taboo nowadays; we find the idea of being single repulsive, and we don’t leave the house without an iPhone. But perhaps this is a false conception for artists? I personally don’t find solitude that shocking. True, there is layer of solitude in the work, but in order to create monologues for a camera, artists have to retract from their everyday into narrative. Some artists feel an urge to be alone, to go into retrospect and find something meaningful there. Being alone is part of the process, and it shows on camera. I could describe the videos included in “I am your biggest fan” as a confessional container. The artists have carefully constructed narrative around their ‘attractions.’ For each of them, narrative is being used in a compelling way, a way that makes me interested in their idiosyncrasies.

Besides solitude, other topics could come to mind.

In the video “Joe DiMaggio 1, 2, 3,” artist Anne McGuire’s camera follows an old man walking through the Bay Area landscape. We quickly learn that the man she is tracking is baseball icon Joe DiMaggio. Or that’s what she makes us believe. Anne is alone in the car, singing a wonderful stalker love letter to herself, while filming the old man speed walking by the ocean. I am disturbed with the length of “Joe DiMaggio 1, 2, 3.” I wonder: Is this man really Joe DiMaggio? Does Anne McGuire follow Joe DiMaggio everyday? Has she followed other people before? Is she singing live while stalking Joe DiMaggio? Is this scripted? Is she like that for real? Obviously I laugh to let go of my nervousness. I laugh because I am uncomfortable. I fear I am being fooled. But I keep watching.

In “One week Walden,” we witness Jennifer Sullivan’s quest to live as simply as Walden from Thoreau’s novel. Leaving Brooklyn, where she normally lives and works, she chooses to isolate herself in upstate New York, in her dad’s camper parked in his backyard, behind the house. In a whiny yet sincere voice, Jennifer narrates her days, filled with dramatic alienation, boredom, confusion about having an art career versus being homeless, versus living in her parents backyard while trying to have deep thoughts about art and life. She doesn’t know what to make of her days. She tries to stay occupied. And really what I find upsetting (and interesting) about Sullivan’s video is how art world pressure can paralyze an artist’s process. And then again I laugh. I laugh because I feel sorry for her and also because I see myself in her testimony.



The other art videos in the program included: Catherine Ross’s “Fingering and Footing,” based on her childhood fascination with The Price is Right, which brought her to L.A. in 2005, where she repeatedly attempted to be chosen as a contestant on the popular television quiz (requiring her to camp out every night outside the CBS studios on Fairfax Boulevard). She was never picked, and with dejection, she returned to New York a week later. Her experience in California triggered “Fingering and Footing,” a bricolage created with found footage of the show.

There was also Lucas Michael’s “U don’t bring me flowers,” where we see a split screen of two bare-chested Lucases, wearing only (maybe) iPod-type headphones. He is waiting to listen to a song. Then we hear the first musical notes of “U don’t bring me flowers,” the popular tune sung by Barbara Streisand and Neil Diamond. Lucas lip-syncs on both parts. I laugh quietly. Is this practice for a drag show? As the song unfolds, I understand that the narrative of “U don’t bring me flowers” is basically an argument about a woman’s reproach to her lover. He doesn’t bring her flowers anymore. Looking at Michael talking to himself via his mirrored image, I can’t help thinking of tale of Narcissus and wondering which gender perspective he comes from.

Also included was Nina Schwanse’s video titled “k-a-t-e (s).” Inspired by the numerous Hollywood public figures first-named Kate (Kate Gosselin, Kate Beckinsale, Kate Moss, Kate Hudson, Kate Spade, Kate Walsch) that Nina read about in the tabloids, she scripted monologues for each of them. Right away we are seduced by the delivery of Nina’s personas, they all look so different with wigs, props, costumes, makeup, all the different voices and accents that she mastered. It doesn’t matter if I can’t remember what Kate Hudson looks like. But as minutes go by, the monologues get entangled, and the Kate tale turns into a flat, incessant blur of feminine caws. And I laugh with guilt because I enjoy reading the gossip columns even if they are insipid stories.

In Kelly Sears’s “Voice on the Line,” the deep voice of the narrator leads us into this well-crafted tale of moving still images: a spy saga from the 1950s. Sears invented a fable around telephone operators with ‘warm’ voices, where the sound of their voices entranced and disturbed a whole community. I smile wondering how Sears has come up with this crooked yet sexy story.

The screening ended with Harry Dodge & Stanya Kahn’s “Let the Good Times Roll,” where the main character opens up to someone she just met and shares with him an unusual yet intimate adventure plot. Kahn’s delivery is so graphic that it seems like you were with her that night. I blush just remembering her monologue.

I work alone from the sunny room in my apartment. There is no distraction outside of the window. It’s tremendously rewarding to have an unexpected laugh by myself or be entertained when I put words into the mouth of one of my characters. I have never talked to any other artists about this, but I assume it’s similar for them.

P.S. I would like to thank Julien Bois for listening to my rambling.

Julie Lequin (born in Laval, Quebec in 1979) is a French Canadian artist. She received a BFA from Concordia University (Montreal, PQ) in 2001 and an MFA from Art Center College of Design (Pasadena, CA) in 2005. Julie’s multidisciplinary practice interweaves personal history with fictionalized events and circumstances in a manner that constantly blurs the line between the artist as individual and the artist as self-consciously constructed persona. Julie’s first book and DVD project was published in 2007 by 2nd Cannons Publications. In 2009-10, she exhibited at the Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum in California, La Centrale Powerhouse in Montreal, White Columns and Horton & Liu gallery in New York City. Julie was awarded a fellowship from the California Community Foundation and residencies at Yaddo, Art Omi, Macdowell Colony and Les Recollets in Paris. Julie is currently based in Quebec and her work can be found online at www.julielequin.com.