Christina Yang

“When the audience can respond to video as a medium that exists in the same dimension of them, there will be a celebration.”
Wynne Greenwood, GIVE ME VIDEO, Give me air

Wynne Greenwood shapes new worlds through her work in video. Her consideration of the medium as an extension of the “real” permeates a wide-ranging, freely mixed production of work including music, performance, writing, single-channel video, and installation (forthcoming). The moment of a pause(d video) grows into space enough for social progress. Repetition unites fragments of identity. Conversation indulges the pleasure of more questions than answers.

Tracy and the Plastics, Greenwood’s most sustained artistic project over the last five years, exists as a touring band on the alternative music scene and more recently as a performance-based art event, notably featured in the 2004 Whitney Biennial. A Tracy and the Plastics performance, however, does not unfold like a straightforward musical set. Audience members are invited to sit close in the same space as the band. In a friendly conspiratorial voice, Tracy will ask someone nearby to “push play” so the performance can begin. Greenwood performs live as Tracy who sings, sometimes plays electronic instruments, and interrupts the set by responding to her two other band members, Nikki (keyboards) and Cola (rhythm/drums), also enacted by herself and represented on video. Banter between live and pre-recorded sources flip back and forth. Metaphors become imaged as a fly buzzes through and a white elephant enters the screen. Greenwood uses ! live performance and video to mirror a reality of multiple posibilitities as she stitches together an act that cloaks her intentions to improvisational advantage.

Shows are often scripted as informal rehearsals between the three youthful, idealistic friends. That two exist only on film and perhaps as fabrications of the imagination and one always talks to herself/ves make the quirky comedic experience all the more revelatory in its message to mix-up genres and suspend expectations. As they string together lyrics and musical riffs, recurring themes about (of?) questioning authority and queer, lesbian identity pinpoint the conversation. In speaking about Tracy and the Plastics, Greenwood explains

“I sing live and talk to my “band” in between songs. Nikki asks Cola why she puts socks down her pants, to look like a dick or a third dimension? Cola turns to me, Tracy, and asks my advice. “I don’t put socks down my pants, I say. Cola says she does it to look more real.”

While the set evolves and boundaries between live and virtual, self and other, space and time blur, the realization that Greenwood has achieved a social utopia quietly settles in. Through the characterization of herself as manipulations of multiple selves, the separate surfaces of stage, screen, and audience unite into a single active presence. While the superficial impression of these performances might recall innocent childhood games of dress-up and imaginary friends, just as psychoanalytic theory exposes an intricate inner exploration of personal roles and social mores through play, Greenwood’s performances aim to rethink identity and resolve social crisis.

Theories of “the gaze,” which track different psychoanalytic models in which a viewer’s eye and mind are drawn into a work of art and whereby meaning becomes read, form a powerful critical tool within the discourse of contemporary art. In particular, discussions generated by feminist film theorists provide insight into Greenwood’s compelling occupation of all three seeing roles of auteur/director, subject (Nikki and Cola), and spectator (live as Tracy). E. Ann Kaplan explains in her introduction to Women and Film: Both Sides of the Camera:

“…in dominant cinema…The gaze is built upon culturally defined notions of sexual difference. There are three looks: I) within the film text itself, men gaze at women who become objects of the gaze; II) the spectator, in turn, is made to identify with this male gaze, and to objectify the women on the screen, and III) the camera’s original “gaze” comes into play in the very act of filming.”

Greenwood remakes this classic filmic relationship between male voyeur and passive female subject into a dynamic model of spectatorship by siting all three views within her own control, nestling the narrative gaze within female/lesbian experience, in opening interaction between all three performative roles, and by endowing her characters with mutably gendered personalities.

The artist’s clever and coy use of masquerade, another visual trope from feminist film theory (but which also has histories in traditional theatre such as Japanese kabuki and Chinese opera), yields further awareness of the political agenda of her work. Her theatrical playing of all three female roles in Tracy and the Plastics allows viewers to experience her characters as possibilities for splitting and re-constructing identity rather than accepting “self” as an essential, monosyllabic narrative. After Cola thumps out a drum beat, Nikki asks:

“ Whoa Cola! Are you saying that… are you telling me that you also are thinking … that you are also thinking a lot about the lesbian creature as constantly disappearing and or always being something as a remembered past? And never given the actual now moment? Like pre-historic, um, myth of the always, once was, never actually is a lesbian?

Greenwood’s performance of the same yet different young women poses questions about art, identity, and culture that dwell in the seams of still-becoming and being-imperfect. Across the face and bodies of Tracy, Cola and Nikki, female identity becomes an exercise in empowering gender potentials rather than static definitions. In their more sexually mixed than androgynous garb—wigs, worn t-shirts, and pants—the young women actively and perpetually self-question. Greenwood explains that “The front interacts with the back in a way that emphasizes their equality and the dependence on one another to dismantle their roles and prescribed boundaries.” Nikki, usually a dark chocolate brunette, often flirts with the camera, meeting its gaze and teasing her unseen audience with eye and hand gestures. Her demeanor hedges on being slightly more optimistic than Cola yet less firm than Tracy as she raises wordy questions. Suggestively bouncing a tennis bal! l or eating potato chips out of Pringles canister, Cola appears as a slightly surlier white-blond, rarely speaking except to utter hesitant objections. Somewhat more level-headed, Tracy appears in little apparent costuming from Greenwood’s street attire, with reddish-tinged brown hair in a ponytail, hints of facial hair, and providing considerate, almost maternal, answers to her friends’ questions and protests through such talk as “Okay, why don’t we try … ?”

In addition to the open-ended performance dialogues, Greenwood’s subtle and unrestrained use of language comes out in two other forms—her song lyrics and her writings on performance and video. The two essays “GIVE ME VIDEO, Give me Air” and “Can you pause that for a second … and let yourself groove?” provide poetic insight in Greenwood’s conceptual approach to video as a tool for social change. Gently elegiac, dwelling on war, loss and reprieve, Greenwood’s lyrics express jagged emotions served with longing and reinforcing a sense of incomplete desire. Sampled excerpts from her latest CD culture for pigeons include:
We’ve lost some
We’ve lost some people this year
Found a way to come back again
Found a way back here again
Just what the way you wanted to be
Its too much trouble in here
(big stereo)

You should have seen me yesterday
Got to get my time
I love freaky Friday
Should have taken a holiday
Walk the baby down the avenue …
You can’t clean it up unless you make a mess
(save me claude)

As a young artist working today with a myriad of tantalizing technological tools, Greenwood’s practice advocates spending time with video’s handheld qualities - manipulation, rewind, pause, repeat -- rather than falling too quickly to the seduction of illusionistic special effects. As she moves on to new experiments, tantalizing areas ripe for further thought could revolve around her use of iconic forms such as a longneck beer bottle swinging between a woman‘s lap, the keeping of time through a clock ticking or fingernail taps, flowers that bloom into vagina, an arm breaking through the screen to play the drums or switch off a light. In her video work with the ascendant all-women pop-rock group Le Tigre, an entire litany of feminist pioneers including Gloria Steinem and Rita Mae Brown are named. In remaking models for self and society today, Wynne Greenwood’s work steps into line along that trajectory of change.