There are times when you see something and it changes you. It makes you feel differently and think differently in the same way one might feel when they suddenly realize that they can understand a language that is not their own. This happened to me last night while watching Jacky Connolly’s video Hudson Valley Ruins.
Having worked for over two years on this project Connolly screened it for the first time last night and it left me actually at a loss for words, which is both rare and delightful. I did not know anything about Connolly’s work so had little expectation besides the trust in the curators who were presenting it, Kimberly-Klark, and their vouching of it.
So here is what you see. You are in a place, a town, and there are suburban houses, trees rustling in the wind, sunsets and hills. You enter into these spaces, into rooms and into homes, and inside there are characters. Some are adult, some are male but mostly it is girls. As the video proceeds it is focused on two of these girls. Both are brunette, one adolescent, perhaps eight, and another a young teen, perhaps fourteen. We will return to them later but let’s go back to the general spaces. You are in environments, buildings, a school, a kitchen, a basement rec room, a Chinese restaurant…and you travel in these but you are also given shuffled first person views. The characters, when present, are both at points of being looked at and also the directional pull in which you travel through the spaces.
The spaces are sets. There is a precision to their details that is dizzying. The posters on the wall, the color of the couch, the texture of the carpet, they are all so specific and right. There is a minutia to detail that becomes both brutal and bland. The environment they are depicting is a replication of middle-class Americana which is both sterile and nauseous. Anyone who grew up in this knows this feeling to the core. It brings back smells and memories of these types of rooms in an almost revolting Proustian fashion.
These spaces are surreal as well. There are ladders that lead to bizarre places that feel more like psychological and emotional zones than actual spaces. There is a Lynchian quality to many of them in both staged presentation and also the pulsing ambience of the uncanny, unsettling and possibilities of violence.
Within these settings the characters exist but there is a claustrophobia to every space, even those depicting outside landscapes. When the characters are in a room together there is at times interactions but even in these there is a containment and isolation. This is further compounded by the lack of any talking. There is none at all and only once, when the teenage girl is at the psychologists, is there even a donating that words are being said. The only sound throughout the film is the sound of wind and at moments rain.
What is happening to the main characters is revealed in the habitations and the interactions they bare witness to or take part in. Seeing parents (or a new dating partner) getting spanked on the family room couch or giving a blow-job to the boy from school while wearing a Red Hot Chili Peppers tank top. All the actions and inactions feel like tight screws in the brain. You also question the possibilities of everything including time. Are these two girls the same girl? Is past/present/future simultaneous or are they discreet? The ambiguity and tension is unrelenting and the banality of it all makes you beg for some form of release.
But no. You don’t get that. Connolly does not give you an easy way out by handing you some arching narrative or visual gateway. You would think that this type of tightness would make you want to leave the room but you can’t because what you are looking at – the visual depth, skill, and technique – anchors you down into place.
I should probably mention at this point that this video was made using the characters, settings and programming of the video game Sims. This is a game in which you create a world and build a society, community, whatever you may wish. I have never played this game but knowing that this is the source for this visual fantasy/reality left me even more impressed by Connolly’s capacity to imagine and cull. The static expressions, the clothing, the lamp, the dog, the sunset, these may have been prototyped in some fashion but in the hands of Connolly they are surreal in their exactness.
Watching this video makes you not think the words ‘video art’ but rather ‘film.’ The quality and the completeness of vision being displayed is something that teams and teams of producers, designers and fabricators would have had to do on a movie set. Connolly has created her own type of film using a technology and source that allows her to delve and articulate her story maximally by using minimal means. The combination of all the elements and the obvious labor and care that was taken into making this work is a bit mind numbing but in the best way. Seeing this work left me awed as it shows how much is possible in art right now and gives me a taste of what will be coming which I hope leaves me as dumbfounded and amazed as this did.