Open Frequency 2009: Sheena Macrae selected by Paul Stone

Open Frequency 2009: Sheena Macrae selected by Paul Stone Sheena Macrae, Alphaville, 2009. 1 minute. Credit: Sheena Macrae Limited

Artist and curator Paul Stone profiles the film work of Sheena Macrae

Sheena Macrae involves herself in dissecting, remixing and remodelling iconic works from cinema and TV. Originally working as a post-production editor in Vancouver – dubbed ‘Hollywood North’ in the film world – her background is steeped in moving pictures, viewing the same work over and over, in real time, on fast-forward, rewind or reverse.

Appropriately, her first trademark work was ‘Fiction in one minute’ (2000) – Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 cult Pulp Fiction speeded up to one minute’s duration, compressing and mapping the film’s structure and narrative down to a rapid succession of stills, highlighting both the original’s reliance on, and reverence of, quick-hit stylistic tropes to tell its story. In an interview with Nadine PoulaineMacrae comments: 'it is a film that is already using a pastiche element. So I thought, it would be its logical conclusion, its own trailer in a way’.

Macrae’s next target was arguably the most iconic film in the history of cinema – Gone with the Wind (1940). Reducing the original from its three-plus hours duration to just five minutes, ‘Gone’ (2004) sits in contrast to ‘Fiction in one minute’ in that Macrae does more than just speed up the film. Instead, at points she slows down the footage to ‘real’ time to allow us to hear Scarlet O’Hara’s line ‘I’ll think about that tomorrow’, which is spoken at the film’s beginning, middle and end. Such is Gone with the Wind’s elevated place in the cinematic canon, audiences feel a familiarity with it even if they have never actually sat through its duration. A ‘classic’ it may be, but many of us have only part absorbed it through numerous TV screenings, clip-show documentaries, comedy spoofs and once-removed quotation.

Rather than focussing on Rhett Butler’s widely quoted line ‘Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn’, Macrae’s alternative choice instead serves to draw a parallel between the way in which the film - despite its considerable running time -presents us with an accelerated life, and with how we today often experience life on fast-forward, deferring deeper-level engagement until some never-to-arrive ‘tomorrow’. In repeating her line O’Hara continually displaces the outcome of what has just happened to sometime in the future, outside of both the present and the physical frame of the film, which ultimately tells the story of her own downfall – in no small part occasioned by her own inability to face the consequences of her own actions.

Turning her attention from the big to small screen, Macrae’s ‘Dallas’ (2005) takes all 18 episodes from the eponymous TV series’ 1980 season, the one embedded in a certain generation’s collective memory forever, when it culminated leaving the question: ‘Who shot JR?’. Layering all the episodes one on top of the other, there are moments of confluence – starting with the pre-credits recap of last episode’s story, followed by the credit sequence itself, and ending with the cliff hanger endings (is that ‘the shot’ we can hear, or one from another episode?) and closing titles. Book-ended between the beginning and ending is a dreamscape – nightmarishly hallucinogenic, rather than escapist – of ghostly figures talking, arguing, plotting, seemingly with themselves, set against the shiny urban scenes and vast open landscapes of their Texan backdrop. The work highlights the structure of soap operas, their reliance on cliché, exaggerated characterisation and repetitive storylines.

‘My choice of films starts from the attempt to solve an idea or problem. I pick iconic material, often with epic proportions so I can play on the pre-existing value of collective memory, narrative and film language that is epitomised. I try to estrange this familiarity, reducing it to data vectors, pointers to memories that already exist in our heads. These archetypes of power and melodrama are determining energies in the material. The patterning of the narrative is addictively charming ... In this way the work doesn’t contain a narrative, or not recognisably – which is the point – you know the films so well you can get rid of the story altogether, the story is totally irrelevant. This mirrors actual memory, films become about self (how the individual interacts with info bytes), style (the pure look of the thing) and the subtle editing twists...’ (interview with the artist by Frank Lamy and Julien Blanpied in Deux ex Machina, Musée d'Art Contemporain Val-de-Marne (MAC-VAL), Paris, 2007).

More recently, Macrae has moved away from the use of found footage. With ‘The Set’ (2008) she continues to exploit the techniques of mainstream films, with a series of tracking shots that appear as over-articulated ‘set ups’ or scenes arrived at through the laboured process of filmmaking, familiar from countless ‘making of’ and ‘behind the scenes’ extras one might find on a film’s DVD release. The stylised shots move smoothly through richly illuminated green billiard tables, players emerge and disappear in the velvety darkness, casually playing their turns in this revolving cinematic world. But what we are seeing is in fact a fake, a documentary. Filmed on location in Australia and shot in available light, it shows only real life unfolding.

Paul Stone, April 2009

Artist's biography

Sheena Macrae was born in Toronto (Canada) in 1972 and currently lives and works in London. She studied at Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design, Vancouver, Canada (1992-95 and 1997-99) and Goldsmiths College, University of London (1999-2002). She has exhibited widely since 2001 with recent solo exhibitions in Melbourne, Brisbane, Paris, London, and Helsinki. Her work has included in numerous international group exhibitions, festival and screenings.

Her recent solo exhibitions include Sheena Macrae, Arc One, Melbourne (2009), Silvered, Vžigalica, City Museum, Slovenia; Centre for Contemporary Photography, Gallery Four, Melbourne (2008), Sheena Macrae, Raw Space Gallery, Brisbane; Deux ex Machina, Musée d'Art Contemporain Val-de-Marne (MAC-VAL), Paris (2007), Flatpack, Raw Space Gallery, Brisbane (2006), Dallas, Galleria Huuto, Helsinki; Retro Continuity, St Paul’s Gallery, London; Focal 2005, Focal Solo, Ruthin, Wales (2005).

Selected group exhibitions include Soundproof 2, London; Lightcone, Nettie Horn, London; Play with Narratives, James Taylor Gallery, London; Set, Rencontres Internationales Festival, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin; Lumen Evolution Festival 2009, c/o, Projection Gallery, Leeds; Nervous System, James Taylor Gallery, London (2009), Set, Rencontres Internationales Paris/Madrid, Beaux-arts de Paris, Paris; Summer Show 2008: Miniatures, Arc One Gallery, Melbourne; Soot from the Funnel, LOKAAL 01, Breda; HAIP 08: Multimedia Festival of Open Technologies, Cyberpipe, Ljubljana; Suffragette City, The Spare Room Project, London; 3 Provocations One Night Stands, The Gallery, Wimbledon College of Art, London; Out of Darkness, Kulturzentrum K4, Nurnberg; Matt Franks, Sheena Macrae, Richard Ducker, Fieldgate Gallery, London; The Smallest Cinema, Saltburn Artists Projects, Saltburn (2008).

About Paul Stone

Paul Stone has been based in Newcastle upon Tyne since 1986, moving to the city to study Fine Art at Northumbria University, both on the BA and MA courses. Having exhibited as an artist since 1990, he curated his first exhibition at Newcastle’s (now defunct) Zone photographic gallery in 1993. His involvement in other projects includes time as a Co-Director and Curator of Waygood Gallery and Studios, Newcastle (1997-2001), Newcastle Curator for the LMN (Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle), a cross-regional project consisting of exhibitions in each of the three cities (2000), Curatorial Advisor to HART, Hull (2001), co-curator and organiser of Vane Export (Stockholm, 1999) and Outlanders (Newcastle, 2001) for BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, as part of their B4B pre-opening programme. He was awarded a Crafts Council Spark Plug Award for curatorial research in 2009 and is also an Editorial Production Assistant for a-n The Artists Information Company

Stone has been involved with Vane since the organisation’s foundation in 1997. There are three phases to the history of Vane’s activities. The first consisted of four large-scale annual events acting as an umbrella for a number of diverse exhibitions across the city of Newcastle and the surrounding region (1997-2000). The second was a series of curated exhibitions, often involving working with invited national and international partner curators or galleries (2002-03). Having staged the majority of exhibitions and events up until this point in temporary venues, the third phase was the opening of a permanent gallery space in Newcastle city centre in July 2005. The gallery presents around six exhibitions a year and participates in a number of international art fairs.

Open Frequency keeps you in touch with new developments in contemporary art practice from across the UK. The artists are selected and profiled by leading curators, artists and writers, presenting the work of artists to watch out for over the coming year. Open Frequency represents a forward-looking glance today of the artists who will be setting the agenda tomorrow.