Hysterics and Mentalists

Two 3D Films by Zoe Beloff

Curated by Seth Watter

"Hysterics and Mentalists," designed and printed by Erik Ruin

“Hysterics and Mentalists,” designed and printed by Erik Ruin

ARTIST IN PERSON!

What do psychologists, spiritualists, and filmmakers have in common? Each is in some way concerned with the making-visible of what is normally invisible, whether it be the hidden recesses of the unconscious, the voices of the dead, or the world of human passions as they manifest themselves on our faces and in our gestures. For over two decades, Zoe Beloff has been using cinematic technology as a probe into the collective fantasies of our visual culture, which are not so far removed from the 19th century as we sometimes think. Her work is a sustained exploration of the concept of “medium,” which is never simply a mechanical device but a point of juncture between past and future, here and elsewhere, the visible and the invisible, the living and the dead. The arcane devices she often employs—such as stereoscopic film, 78rpm phonographs, and slide projectors—are more than just quaint relics of a bygone era. They are conduits through which we, too, might commune with the past; they conjure up something of the wonder and the ritual that the earliest spectators of moving images might have felt. As an artist and a thinker, Beloff asks us to ponder what Freud and Coney Island share, what it means to “project” an image into the world, and why the French still refer to film screenings as séances.

Shadowland, or Light From the Other Side, 2000, 32 min., b&w/sound, 16mm stereoscopic film projection
“The title and the narrative are taken from the 1897 autobiography of Elizabeth d’Espérance, a materializing medium who could produce full body apparitions. We discover a lonely little girl who can conjure imaginary friends that appear, to her, completely real. This remarkable ability causes her much suffering, for upon reaching adolescence, she is diagnosed as mad on account of seeing people who are not there. Only later does she find a way to cultivate her gifts within the spiritualist movement… The film traces this complex interaction between the birth of cinema in relation to both conjuring and mediumship. My phantoms are drawn from magic lantern slides, glass negatives and early cinema footage. Indeed some of the scenes themselves are stereoscopic reconstructions of films from the 1890’s” (ZB)

Charming Augustine, 2005, 40 min., b&w/sound, 16mm stereoscopic film projection
“The film is inspired by series of photographs and texts on hysteria published by the great insane asylum in Paris in the 1880’s under the title of the Iconographie photographique de la Salpetriere. It is an experimental narrative based on the case of a young patient, Augustine. At fifteen she was admitted to the hospital suffering from hysterical paralysis. The doctors were captivated by her frequent hysterical attacks. They appeared extraordinarily theatrical and photogenic. She became the star, the ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ of the asylum. Yet at the same she was deeply disturbed. She had visions and heard voices. She hallucinated. The film explores connections between attempts to document her mental states and the prehistory of narrative film… To conjure up a time just prior to the invention of cinema, I shot the film in a stereoscopic format to suggest a different direction that cinema might have taken had it been invented in the 1880’s” (ZB).

Zoe Beloff grew up in Edinburgh, Scotland. In 1980 she moved to New York to study at Columbia University where she received an MFA in Film. Her work has been featured in the Whitney Museum of American Art, Site Santa Fe, the M HKA museum in Antwerp, and the Pompidou Center in Paris, among others. Her writing has appeared in Triple Canopy, in the edited collection Still Moving: Between Cinema and Photography (Duke, 2008), and in several artist’s books published in collaboration with Christine Burgin Gallery (New York). Her most recent completed project is The Days of the Commune, a 2012 production of Bertolt Brecht’s play staged in conjunction with Occupy Wall Street; documentation of this work was recently featured at PARTICIPANT INC. (New York). She is currently working on a new project called the “The IFIF” (Institute for Incipient Film) about Eisenstein and Brecht in Hollywood and the films they might have made. She is a Professor in the Departments of Media Studies and Art at Queens College CUNY.