Desiree Holman's Spooky Videos at the SFMOMA
The shadow play speaks louder than words.
Photo by Claude Shade
If you feel a sense of unease looking at Desirée Holman’s videos, as if something important is going unsaid, then the artist has succeeded. “My formula is performer plus prop, but I’m not necessarily interested in those two parts. I’m interested in what happens in between the two. It’s an intangible space, the story that’s not being explicitly told.” Take The Magic Window, for instance, on view at SFMOMA this month as part of its SECA Art Award show (Holman, along with three other local artists, won the award for 2008). In it, two separate video screens show actors—hooded in eerie masks—playing out typical scenes from the sitcoms Roseanne and The Cosby Show, while, on a third screen in the middle, they break character, join together and dance in a green-on-black glow. It certainly reads as a statement on the ’80s, the artist’s formative decade, but the viewer is left to decipher what, exactly, the message is. And while the prop part of the equation (those spooky masks) is evident from the beginning, that’s not the case in Holman’s Babies, a video installation opening in April at the Silverman Gallery. Not to ruin the element of surprise, but those aren’t real infants the actors are cradling. They are sculptures that Holman based on Newborn Nursery dolls, lifelike figures that collectors “adopt” from “nurseries” complete with “birth certificates.” “I’m interested in all of these women engaged in this massive fantasy game,” she says. “The prop allows the expression of fantasy in a way that’s different than without it. It’s like when you give a child a toy and with it, they express feelings they aren’t comfortable talking about.” Yes, Holman’s work is exactly like that—like giving an intelligent, perceptive child a toy and watching as she indirectly speaks to you through it. You’re not sure what she’ll say, but you instinctively brace for it.
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