11.22.17 — Welcome Home

It has been a long time now since Anita Thatcher invited others into her home. Nothing much was going on that day, unless you count the chair suspended upside-down in midair.

Maybe that sense of the mundane is why I took this for her home rather than a performance. She is alone on camera, not doing much besides looking now and then at her face in a hand-held mirror. Its shape, an oval on a long handle, makes it belong to the private spaces of 1982 as well. Yet she and everything around her seem to dance, at Microscope through December 3—and I have added this to earlier reports on the intersection of film, video, performance, sculpture, and dance as a longer review and my latest upload.

Anita Thatcher's Anteroom (Microscope, 1982)Why a dance? It could be the soundtrack by David Byrne (adapted from “The Catherine Wheel”). It could be the casual grace with which she conducts herself or that black silhouette of a chair above her head. It could be her moving in and out of the picture without so much as taking a step. Additional silhouettes do so as well, including thistles and that same or another chair at ground level right side up—the very chair on which she sits. It could be the enigmatic space they inhabit, of pristine chambers and brightly colored planes, not to mention an actual brass plate and knob on the projection as collage.

For nearly twelve minutes, the architecture itself is dancing, and who would want to miss a moment of the dance? One might hesitate to leave anyway, lest one collide with the walls or furniture on the way out. The dance seems to encompass the otherwise empty gallery as well, but is one within her space or outside looking in? Her title, Anteroom, hedges its bets on that one. One could be in a waiting room, the gallery suggests, although doctors and airports keep one waiting far longer far too much of the time. One could be in the entryway or a foyer—enjoying, expecting, or still hoping for a welcome in.

The ambiguity makes sense because one is exploring the interior, but the clues keep one from ever quite knowing what is there. It makes sense, too, because one perceives the video as an experience in the round, but only by looking. Even in its brevity, so little is happening that there is plenty of time to look. One can glimpse other rooms or corridors, but barely. One can rest absorbed in the room at hand, its walls parallel often enough to the picture plane. One can look around to explore the gallery as well.

Thatcher’s layered spaces contribute to the video’s pleasures, puzzles, and sense of motion. If you are not sure where you stand, just try to place the objects casting their dark silhouettes. A slight blur distinguishes them from the crisp, brightly lit interior, as if the dark gallery were a camera obscura—which, as it happens, flips things 180 degrees unless assisted by a mirror, much like that chair. For a further puzzle, she holds the cosmetics mirror to obscure her face, but its outline appears slightly enlarged and in far stranger colors on the side of the glass that one can see. None of that is necessarily unsettling. This is still a place for slow looking, and one is still invited in.

Thatcher has not often entered the history books, but she was plainly on the cutting edge. She uses color more pointedly than others in new media like Bill Viola or Gary Hill barely emerging back then. She manipulates the image, the space, and the necessity of self-reflection without the pixilation of early TV for Stan VanDerBeek and Nam June Paik. Byrne was no longer new, of course, but he was still at his most amazing. His repeated rhythms convey his usual merger of party music and stasis. No wonder she can relax while seeming to dance.

Read more, now in a feature-length article on this site.

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