by Kara Q. Smith
sinne [Swedish] n.
spegel [Swedish] n.
a mirror; a smooth reflecting surface
something flat and smooth, resembling a mirror (e.g. the surface of a lake)
a (moral) guideline, used for correcting errors, similar to a mirror
My creative practice, or lack thereof rather, exists in my head. I take other people’s ideas and make them my own and find them wildly successful in there.
The layers of identity laid bare in Anne McGuire and Karla Milosevich’s Sinne Spegel are bewildering. I’m an identifier (I don’t know if that is an official term), the kind of person who mentally grafts myself onto cinematic characters for any number of reasons. Perhaps it is a version of escape, but it’s also my personal version of storytelling: of rewriting my past, indulging in the present, and creating futures. My stories change constantly. I find a lot of solace in these secret projections, which are no longer so secret, dear reader.
Sinne Spegel is screened on one wall in a dark room at Steven Wolf Fine Arts. There are three projections overlapping in a diagonal from the upper left-hand corner of the wall to the lower right. Each projection rotates a series of scenes from Ingmar Bergman’s 1966 film Persona. In each, McGuire and Milosevich physically mirror each of the two main female characters. The bodies and faces of the artists appear to fill their cinematic counterparts, as if they were molds; they move as they move, speak as they speak. Sometimes the two forms merge so well that a new face is born on the screen, neither actress nor artist fully recognizable, completely destructing the distinction between either. Many times, the merging is less fluid and it is evident that a second form is standing behind another, creating a ghost-like shadow, or the artist is fully present, alongside the actress. As if Bergman’s film wasn’t haunting enough!
Deconstructed and re-embodied, Persona is no longer Persona in a cinematic sense but its ethos still bleeds through. A tale of two women who endure psychological traumas and whose identities are blurred throughout the film, Bergman problematized the portrayal of women in society and embraced identity as shifting, multiple (he set up many scenes with both actresses' faces overlapping in front of the camera, a forced visual combining of the two females). McGuire and Milosevich only build on this concept by using Persona as a vessel for their personal and creative trajectories. It’s hard to tell which actress is which, especially if one has not previously seen the film, not to mention in which order the scenes may have been originally. If you don’t know the artists, or what they look like, you can’t tell which one is playing which part. But this is not important. Watching Sinne Spegel is chaotic; any linearity the film possessed has been severed and re-constructed. As a viewer, you slowly put various elements together, becoming enchanted and engrossed in the screens in front of you, but there is no fixed narrative, allowing you to intervene as you see fit.
The dinner party scene in Věra Chytilová’s film Daisies, released the same year as Persona, depicts the two main characters, each named Marie, using a fancy dinner party as their personal stage for subversion: throwing cake, walking across the food-laden table, refashioning themselves with the curtains. It’s pure chaos and magic. There’s an overt anti-heteronormative complexity, or perhaps complication, in the work that eluded (troubled) many and led many others to try and capture it in writing. This is how I feel about Sinne Spegel. I identify with the layering of identity, its slipperiness shifting between emotional, creative, and personal.
I brought up Daisies because after I watched Sinne Spegel for a while, that’s the movie I would want to embody. I sat on the gallery floor, mentally casting myself as both of the Maries. A close second would be The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant. And now you know all my secrets.
—Kara Q. Smith
(All Images: Anne McGuire and Karla Milosevich, Scene from Sinne Spegel, 2014; Courtesy the Artists and Steven Wolf Fine Arts, San Francisco)