The ghost of Mary

To escape from the week-end disneyland atmosphere of the Tate gallery, I went to the Camden Arts Centre near Finchley Road, in North London. Accessed through a lovely garden path, the centre has an old Victorian house character that filters through its contemporary, bright, airy interior spaces (it was recently redesigned). The staff welcome you with a smile and are even apologetic at closing time – an underrated luxury these days. The gallery gets a special thumb-up from me for the fact that it is somewhere in unfashionable North-West London, a welcome detour from the beaten art track of the West and East ends. Last Saturday (late) afternoon, my friend and I were the only two visitors in there, so we could talk or quietly meditate through each exhibit. I could feel the silent chatter of my own thoughts fluttering away in front of the video screens. It was intellectual bliss.

mary3.jpgMy favourite video installation of Matthew Buckingham is about the 18th century feminist and social reformer Mary Wollstencraft. During the French Revolution, she wrote her Vindication for the Rights of Women where she claimed that the only difference between men and women was education. Covering one wall of a large room, the video shows a dignified, educated woman, reading her thoughts aloud while walking up and down a room. But who is listening? The room she enters and leaves is a private, confined space: an extension of the one in which Valerie and I stand, waching her. Our room is, indeed, a similarly naked space with a glittering chandelier, installed upside down on the floor, looking like a golden fountain. The film itself is shown upside down and the chandelier hanging up there is a reflection of the one standing next to me. Like a floating ghost, Mary seems to be stepping onto the ceiling, over the projection, into our own room. The effect is destabilising. Mary is trying to tell us something. I feel her presence in the room and sensed how she must have felt back then, in her male-dominated society, frustated, trapped within her own spirit. A mirror is placed on the wall opposite the projection and Valerie and I start making faces while chatting about contemporary femininity, porn magazines and our own frustrations within today’s society. How much has it changed from Mary’s own time? Another glance in the mirror and I see her approaching behind us, grave, tall and imposing, before disappearing again. I feel strangely affected. Am I as liberated as the woman I wish I was? Valerie is angry, and we leave the room with a sense of urgency.

Matthew Buckingham: Play the Story, at the Camden arts centre.

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~ by lavivette on June 17, 2007.

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