“There's a whole lotta shakin' going on.” Shaking and shimmering lines, shivering renditions of playful or painful moments in time with an immediacy that is as haunting as a ghost image. The process helps to explain the eerie feeling that the 'medium', video, is operating within the definition of the word that is commonly associated with séances. The presence called forth in this instance is the artist, Paula Jean Cowan, but still held at bay, kept distant by the hand. Cowan videos herself acting in a short skit. In one of these quick encapsulations, there is a table in the foreground on which there are cupcakes. She's dancing, the kind of light hearted self content that happens when one is completely alone and there are great tunes playing in the background. There is in actuality, silence. She takes a cupcake and peels off the crinkly paper. This is all executed in a series of squiggly, wriggly lines. The flickering light of the television screen is interrupted only by the lively snaking drawing, outlines. Cowan has traced her image from the video screen onto paper, shot the pages as singles and then edited them sequentially in order to create the animation. In an extreme examination of the self, she veers on the comedic within the tradition of self criticism that is imbedded in both theatrical comedy ( theatre del Arte, Shakespearean comedy, Theatre of the Absurd and right up to modern comedians like Lenny Bruce, Ray Romano, and Dave Chappelle). Humanity pokes fun at itself and in experiencing a delightful belly laugh, the human condition becomes lighter, more nourishing and less devastating.
The aspect to Cowan's work that deals with self image lies within the long history of artist's self portraits. The snippets, staged, appear to have been captured without guile by a hidden camera. In actuality, Cowan has been a peeping Tomassina practicing a voyeurism with herself. She has concentrated on her corporeality in much the same way as the mirrored interpretation was used as reference for the more traditional painterly portrait. A considerable duration of focus has been spent in an objective rendering of the physical attributes of the self. By tracing image after image, minute variations on her movements reveal an ongoing discussion with time and personality, physicality and performance.
Copyright © 2007, Julie Oakes