By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
|Photo by Becky Cohen|
In fact, those early annotations are a delight to read, and those film and video works are largely beguiling, captivating, even magical. You must leave yourself some time because you will be sucked into a world you won't be anxious to leave, a world of people and images and stories that seem strangely familiar in their strangeness, their long-ago-ness. You may see your childhood fantasies reflected back at you. You might locate your adult realities here as well -- or, perhaps, your adult fantasies.
The greater part of Antin's oeuvre is adult fantasy -- the good clean fun (if occasionally ribald) kind. She proffers escapist drama, historical fiction and romantic projection not as fantastical transport, nor as metaphorical parallel, but as philosophical investigation, as well as social polemic. Antin is something of a neo-Platonic feminist, rehearsing, amplifying and validating the kinds of imaginary lives women elaborate for themselves. The housewife thus becomes a king, The King of Solana Beach -- not a queen, invested with mere authority, but a king, invested with the responsibility supposedly borne by men alone. The nurse becomes a soap-opera heroine (The Adventures of a Nurse, The Nurse and the Hijackers) and a 19th-century legend (Angel of Mercy's "Eleanor Nightingale"). The wannabe dancer (Caught in the Act) who can barely jeté, much less stand en pointe, becomes the only American ballerina in the legendary Ballets Russes -- and then a star in revolutionary Russian cinema, and an exile in her native land, and so forth.
Yet Antin doesn't fool us for a minute, nor does she intend to. She enacts her stories so as to set up expectations of dramatic illusion, as in the theater or the movies (whose traditions as well as techniques she knowingly apes and distorts), but leaves enough clues to let you know her enactments are that and no more. The seams show; like a magician nonchalantly tipping his hand while executing an otherwise flawless trick, Antin doesn't undermine the conviction of her fiction so much as reveal its conveyance. She doesn't admit the fakery, she simply exposes it. Our compliance in it thereby becomes that much less passive.
What Antin embroils us in is a layering of fakery, a stratification of fact and fancy that makes her narratives -- deceptively simple on the surface and deceptively complex just beneath -- coherent. Yevgeny Antinov, ã
for instance, the Russian-Jewish filmmaker who made the purported "lost masterpiece" of early Soviet cinema The Last Night of Rasputin, is as much a figment of Antin's imagination as is the story the film tells. Antin imitated the style of old silent movies to make the film seem like a true "rediscovered" classic -- which happens to star Antin's own character, Eleanora Antinova, who happens to be Antinov's widow, who happens to be an African-American woman who happens to have been a diva danseuse for Diaghilev, who happened to have seen her do her non-dance dance, a sequence of poses learned from photographs of ballerinas in books, and on that basis invited her to join his legendary troupe. Got that?
It's an implausible story within a story within a story within a story, told with wit and panache -- and a touch of ham. Trained as an actor and a writer, Antin in performance, and in self-documentation, makes use not only of her gifts but of her shortcomings. She's nothing like a ballerina physically, and her onstage style is more old-school declamation than new-school naturalism (although she ad-libs well). Actually, this stiltedness is itself a fabrication, the reanimation of an anachronistic manner that gives Eleanora Antinova the aura of a bygone era -- and clues us further to Antin's artifice.
Accustomed as we are to the virtual realities of screen naturalism and method acting, the degree to which Antin admits her phoniness proves jarring. This quintessentially postmodernist gambit makes the audience complicit in its own suspension of disbelief. In approximating
artifacts such as mid-19th-century photographs, early-20th-century theatrical wardrobes, mid-20th-century movie theaters and late-20th-century television storyboards, Antin seeks not to envelop us
in anachronism, but to show that such
removal from contemporary reality can
never be complete.
UNLIKE HER FRIENDS AND COLLEAGUES IN Fluxus and happenings, whose experiments in conflating art and life influenced her own, Eleanor Antin does not confound distinctions between art and life but highlights the crucial presence of art(ifice) in life. A product of the New York art and intellectual scene of the 1960s who moved to San Diego at the end of that decade, Antin took to heart the Duchampian lessons of her time and came to a different conclusion than did the Conceptual artists who were her coevals. In raiding life for art, she exploited rather than suppressed her literary and theatrical bent, keeping her own voice in her work rather than pretending to the Conceptualists' emphatic self-effacement. The life she mixed up with art was her life and the life around her.