Action Figures at SBCAF – Michele O’Marah: Video Portraits

Michele O’Marah: Video Portraits at the Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum, opening this coming Saturday May 21.

Basic deadpan presentation of information:

Michele O’Marah drew inspiration for her “Video Portraits” from Andy Warhol’s “Film Portraits.” (At some not very well defined time in the mid 1960s Andy’s Film Portraits became known as “Screen Tests.”) O’Marah chooses to use video and color for the very same reasons Warhol gave for many of his artistic choices: ease and availability. Friends are O’Marah’s subjects for these portraits, these friends are filmed against colored or patterned backgrounds – one participant labeled the film-maker as a “giver of auras.” (My quote may not be quite spot on but the LA/CA vibe you pick up is pretty true to the moment.) Michele O’Marah has made 160 video portraits, give or take.

“Home Show, Revisited” is a group exhibition in a number of homes around Santa Barbara. Many of the artists included in the Home Show are in Michele’s community of friends. Each of the artists in Home Show have done Video Portraits and those portraits will be included among the sixty in Michele O’Marah: Video Portraits. No, these will not be called out as “Here look! This is artist X.” Each portrait is discretely titled with the name of the individual, the groupings of videos in Michele’s presentation are based on color and pattern themes that suggested themselves to the artist as she compiled the videos she wanted to use. There are “pink people” and “pattern people” and so on. Some will be shown on monitors on stands, raised above the gallery floor. (These monitors will be large-ish old fashioned televisions, sanded down a bit then sprayed in colors of Michele’s choice and design.) Several will be projected. All will be looped, and as I recall all will be part of a sequence rather than presented singly. (I may be wrong on this last part – how many “pink people” can there be?)

The videos are silent and not edited for the full three to four minutes. Each is slowed a bit to mimic Warhol’s elegiac style of presentation. To make these short films O’Marah will spend two and more hours preparing her set and talking with her subject – this interchange informs her choice of background color and also probably gets her subject in the portrait groove. Not unlike Warhol, Michele O’Marah turns on her camera facing her subject and then walks away……. the person being portraited is alone with a camera. Hmm. We may and we may not attribute high drama to the slow reveal of a person as the camera’s flat stare melts their persona away. Our patience with the looking and what we come away with may reveal to us something about ourselves, too.

Several online resources for Andy and Michele:

A critique of a review of “Andy Warhol: Motion Pictures” at the Museum of Modern Art, Dec 19, 2010 – March 21, 2011. From Left Bank Art Blog: Jersey City and Metro Art and  Charles Kessler.

Images from several video portraits from the 2008 Mandarin Gallery exhibition, “You, Whose Beauty Was Famous In Rome.” Plus, for additional fun: fifty-one candid shots of the guests at the opening reception. (Michele O’Marah is on the left in that first image with a small, leashed white dog looking up at her.)

Fascinating interview with O’Marah on VBS TV.

I think that curator Miki Garcia has been wanting to do a show with Michele for quite a while, and with Video Portraits she executes one of those graceful institutional double dips that so benefit us culture hounds: in addition to having O’Marah conceptualize and install her elegant solo presentation in the Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum main gallery spaces, Michele O’Marah also worked with Miki Garcia to co-curate “Home Show, Revisited.”

Smart move Miki. Drop dead smart.

As much as any artist now working in Los Angeles – and as much as then young Andy back when he started playing with his friends to make his factory art – Michele O’Marah is a community organizer. Creatively purposed social cohesion is very much her practice, and O’Marah’s friends can be seen as the medium and the message of her work. Her films, from the early “For Those About To Rock” and “Valley Girl” to “How Goes It With The Black Movement” and “A Girl’s Gotta Do,” present O’Marah’s thinking on culture, politics, our variously mediated experiences, filmic narrative, and friendship using hand-made, charming and also powerful means and methods. The contradictions in her work demand to be questioned, and – this being art – as we question Michele O’Marah’s work and practice we also begin to question our own thinking, our motives, politics, relationships and our expectations.

Curator Miki Garcia’s practice lately has been all over community and ways we use it to join others and to difference others. Michele O’Marah’s “Video Portraits,” by doing everything that portraits are able to do, is an excellent place to begin thinking about and talking about community. Having myself seen a few of her portraits in group exhibitions over the years, I cannot wait for this solo presentation at SBCAF.

Talking with Michele to prepare these notes I came away thinking, “Aha. For years Michele has been working and making films – forgive a cliched metaphor – she has been honing her skills and her practice. All along the “Video Portraits” have been part of her vocabulary. Now, here the portraits are a focus – a summing up perhaps – and as is often the case in a creative practice, something new is waiting to leap out. A conversation will be created by these many portraits in the space of the Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum gallery, and out of that din… just might arise another thing, powerful and new.

Michele O’Marah: Video Portraits

Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum, 653 Paseo Nuevo, SB CA 93101

Opening reception May 21, 6:30 to 8:00

SBCAF Part 1: Michele O’Marah – Video Portraits

SBCAF Part 2: Conversation with curator Miki Garcia

SBCAF Part 3: The Home Show in general – 1988, 1996

SBCAF Part 4: Florian Morlat – A Monument for the Dovers

CAF Part 5: Bettina Hubby for Home Show, Revisited

CAF Part 6: Jennifer West at Andy Perry’s house

CAF Part 7: Jennifer Rochlin for Home Show, Revisited

CAF Part 8: Evan Holloway: Art History = Successful Products + Time (a smorgasbord)

CAF Part 9: “Home Show” again

CAF Part 10: “One More Time For Home Show 1988

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