Monika Tichacek: Beautiful bad dream

Marie-Anne Mancio

The Shadowers

The Shadowers

The Shadowers

A woodland scene: birdsong and azure sky; pools of sunlight on dappled green. A girl—ebony-haired, crimson-lipped, sitting at the foot of a tree. An older woman (is this the girl’s mother?) lifting the skirt of her dress to reveal thighs stitched together like a grotesque doll. There is no text, no speech. This is a video work in which 3 performers enact macabre rituals in the dark. This is the world of The Shadowers.

The dystopian fairytale is the territory of writers like Angela Carter, artists Paula Rego and Matthew Barney (particularly his Cremaster series), and film-maker David Lynch. Monika Tichacek’s video is reminiscent of each of these in its dark blend of the Gothic and the surreal. The work has the feel of a bad dream. It’s as if we drift in and out of consciousness, our sense of continuity fragmented by the work’s distribution across 3 large screens. An image appears on one, then disappears. A girl standing with her legs apart, blindfolded, dress hitched up; the same girl seated on another screen.

Slowly, the video explores the sublime and the simultaneous relationship of the (female) body to nature. The natural and the artificial are deliberately confused, ambiguous. Are those translucent pomegranate seeds or rubies that sit like bubbles of blood on the woman’s face? Butterflies and insects are embroidered and sequined in forest hues. There is the ominous, reverberating drone of bees. Sometimes the body is reduced to its animal impulses. One performer feeds off another’s face. There is violence: hair is grabbed to drag the body; a hair pin slowly pierces a woman’s tongue, securing her to a tree stump, elongated fingernails nailed to the bark. Later her tongue is blue, her face bruised purple like battered fruit. The zip on a dress looks like a wounded spine as a woman crawls through foliage. Despite their explicitness, there is an incredible beauty in the framing of the images. We are made to focus on minutiae: a globule of saliva travelling down cat-gut strings; the movement of a hair; the quiver of lights like fireflies on a branch; the blur and sparkle of a jacket. We are not always sure what we are looking at. At times, images glow like jewels in the pitch black night.

An accordion plays tango and 2 women dance together. This dance—said to have originated in the brothels of South America—is typically associated with sexual passion. We see the performers’ legs criss-cross against the screen until they have woven a spider’s web of threads, a metaphor for desire and how we become trapped within it.

2 February 2006