On Moheb Soliman’s “Naturalized”, by Emily Gastineau

In descending order:

Still shot, moving head. A nature scene, a mechanical grinding, yellow and orange fall leaves over mud. A head descends into a brown puddle. The head is resting on something, an invisible machine, some rusted chain and a wood platform. Workmanlike, industrial, probably abandoned. The body lowers enough to wet the face, reverses to rise back towards the camera.

Cloudy daylight. The features of the face are distorted when upside down, depersonalized and almost inhuman. The head ascends past the camera to leave only the blank face of the mud puddle. The gears grind, the head descends. Mechanical reverse, the head ascends. Descends. Ascends.

Now a new head, a new person moving in the same pattern but there is no introduction, no break in time. Three passages for each persona, then they are silently replaced with no differentiation between them. Some faces flinch slightly and some do not, but it is enough to see that the action is in real time.

Ana Mendieta went to the earth and left her mark on it, Siluetas of fire, water, foliage, stone, and impressions into the mud. Positive or negative space, the trace of the body left behind but the space always absent. This could be her invisible process, carried out with solemnity and abstraction.

This is ritual space, this is repetition, this is ancient news, this is modern accessory, this is habituated, this is denaturalized, this is separate from the usual progression of time but still not void of teleology. This is not a coffin nor a baptism, but the water appears to be real and cold.

This is choreography, no question: a chosen focus, a relationship to time, and not only a perspective on the body but the sense that the body is being acted upon by external forces, specifically memory.

My mother likes to say that we don’t have ritual anymore in our culture, but she is a woman who eats her meals at the same precise times every day. Ritual is a set of foreign processes: if it’s something we really do that changes us, it’s too close for us to name it as ritual. This is a representation of ritual, the idea of it, rather than the very real yet wholly cultural actions that move us from one life state to another.

Andy Warhol trained the moving image onto the still object and blew both of them open. Twenty-four hours of the empire state building, beauties waiting for interviews, the face of a man as he receives a blow job. We do not look at the action but we observe its effects. We are forced to confront time.

If (following Goldsmith) Picasso is like a candle, drawing in to contemplate the qualities of the object, and Duchamp is a mirror, pushing attention away from the object itself into many interpretations, this is a mirror. The still surface is more generous. Duration is more generous.

Moheb Soliman
“Naturalized”
Pleasure Rebel
Bryant-Lake Bowl Theater
August 27, 2014

Moheb

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