Close Up

8 September 2023: In Focus: Mary Helena Clark 2


American artist Mary Helena Clark makes enigmatic, associative, oneiric films that propose cinema as both a trance-like and transparent experience, one “that operates on dream logic until disrupted by a moment of self-reflexivity, like tripping on an extension cord.” Whether working with 16mm film, video or installation, with found footage or her own images, Clark uses the language of collage in order to bring together disparate sounds, images and texts that suggest an exterior logic or code, a puzzle to be solved, a mystery to be cracked. Her work explores dissociation and the limits of cinema as an embodied experience – it questions the relationship between bodies (both animate and inanimate) and sounds, between touching and hearing, whilst problematising the notion of the body as an instrument and that of the object as a fetish. As Hannah Bonner writes, “whether Clark’s collaging distances or attracts us, it indelibly touches us (aurally, haptically, sensorially, corporeally) to experience our own porous selves, and cinema, anew. The films’ affective properties bring us back to the animacy and excitement of our bodies.” 

Delphi Falls
Mary Helena Clark, 2016, 19 min  

Testing the limits of identification with the camera’s point of view, Delphi Falls cycles through multiple subjectivities, misusing traditional narrative conventions – the suggestion of a story, the anchoring of actors as characters – inviting the viewer to constantly question who or what they are.

Mary Helena Clark, 2017, 8 min  

Palms, a film constructed in four parts, each moving further away from a human subjectivity. Alluding to a state of disembodiment, the film’s images arrive like thoughts. In this way, Palms skirts an expected relationship with its subjects, encountering them as both agents of and extractions from the real world. Here our vision is monocular, collapsing figure and ground.

The Glass Note
Mary Helena Clark, 2018, 9 min

The Glass Note re-contextualizes seemingly unconnected elements – fragmented bodies, statuary, a beach marred by a storm, a virtual ocean, the phenomena of lithophonic stones, empty bear cages at an abandoned zoo, a chair that served as a hearing aid – to understand the body’s permeability and to extend the sensorial beyond the corporeal. Playing with notions of ‘thrown voice’ and the untrustworthy image, sound and image commingle, animate, and touch each other, exploring cinema’s inherent ventriloquism.” – Mary Helena Clark

Figure Minus Fact
Mary Helena Clark, 2020, 13 min  

“Night, like mourning, remakes space through absence: forms at the threshold of perception heighten sound and touch. When someone dies there is a pull towards the concrete and tangible, but disbelief creates a world of unreliable objects. Figure Minus Fact draws and redraws coordinates between spaces, senses, and objects, groping in the dark, desiring to see something that’s not there. Spaces become evidentiary yet deceptive in a subject-less portrait of loss.” – Mary Helena Clark  

Mary Helena Clark, 2022, 19 min  

“Exhibition moves through gallery rooms and archives, compounding multiple biographies into a single imaginary subject. A woman marries the Berlin Wall, stabs a Velázquez painting as an act of protest and longing, declares herself a doorknob, and plumbs the erotics of the Klein bottle. Using citation, appropriation, and museological forms of display, the film is a mediation on the assertion and refusal of subjecthood.” – Mary Helena Clark

Followed by a Q&A with Mary Helena Clark

Presented as part of Open City Documentary Festival – The Art of Non-Fiction