Scarlet(t)

single-channel audiovisual installation (2011)

Duration: 1'34"

Design & Coding: MO

Exhibitions:

  • Galerie Gabriele Meyer, Bielefeld, 2013
  • Clocktower Gallery, New York 2011
  • Center for Digital Art, Brattleboro, VT, 2013

Scarlet(t) is a re-synthesis of the middlebrow Hollywood romance "Girl with a Pearl Earring," a systems-based attempt to isolate the 'latent' content of this popular film.

Plot has become largely irrelevant in Hollywood product: the real drama is taking place between images and audience, not in the action onscreen. The fictive world of the movie is only a channel for fetishes held permanently out of reach, juxtapositions of signifiers which trigger desire with no resolution.

This project uses processes of reduction and filtering, emptying the movie of the superfluous adornment of its story, and reducing it to one such signifier. Using a tracking algorithm, "Girl with a Pearl Earring" is reduced to its most crucial token – Scarlett Johanssen's scarlet lips. The remainder of the image is obscured, leaving only occasional flashes when she is off screen – the wandering eye searching for its object of desire. The audio of the film is processed likewise, based on the same data used by the tracker, stretching, squeezing and positioning the sonic content of the movie based on the size and location of Scarlett's lips on the screen at any given moment.

The themes of this particular film recapitulate the paradox of the viewer revealed in the work. The story of an unrequited love affair between Vermeer and his housemaid-turned-model, Johanssen is the object of not only our gaze, but that of all the characters in the film, with their conflicting motivations and desires. Thus we watch her, and we watch her being watched, but she remains inaccessible, a sphinx without a secret, whose only role is that of thing observed.

Extracting the signifier of Scarlett's famous mouth wrenches the true subject of the movie – her lips, and their erotic juxtapositions – out of the extravagant context of the costume drama in which it is cushioned. Scarlet(t) thus sonically and visually processes "Girl with a Pearl Earring" through it's primary feature, the point to which our eyes are inevitably drawn: the inaccessible eroticism of the star.

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