New Media Surrealism
Female video artist (and musician), Aïda Ruilova, creates short, spastic, repetitive, and chaotic videos. Her videos contain the element of confusion as do many disturbing surrealist artists and their work—the images are just recognizable, yet completely unfamiliar and unsettling. As a fast-paced American artist, Ruilova uses the brevity of her videos to comment on the oddities of what it means to “keep time.” The “erotic and frenetic” nature of her films contains a unique abstraction, with the camera angles and colors formulated together in odd ways (Elena Filipovic 208). Having received her MFA from the School of Visual Arts New York, Ruilova’s spheres of influence are great having been reviewed in Artforum, Artmonthly and Flash Art. Though Ruilova does not directly claim to respond to the art historical past, her new media work cannot escape the connections it makes. Her obsession with the unconscious, the nightmarish state and the unknown are represented in her “frenetic” videos, which are definite characteristics to surrealism and fantasy.
Ruilova’s 2000 video, Hey, captures these disturbing and anxiety causing characteristics best. Clocking in at only 33 seconds, Ruilova’s video succinctly represents her other videos. Most of Ruilova’s videos are well under a minute, revealing her attention to the brevity of time and her fascination with chaos. Because the video is so short, the viewers do not have a chance to really grab hold of the video—there is no time to make sense of anything besides respond to its seemingly chaotic state. Throughout the video, the viewer only sees certain shots, organized in seemingly disordered fashion, but repetitive in the sounds and images one sees. So, at the beginning the viewer gets a glimpse of a woman’s face that looks partially harmed. Then the clips continue to a frame of a hand tapping rapidly on a beaten banister, to dangling feet, to a woman’s shaking chest, to a woman poking what seems like a stick to the ceiling and to a shaking banister. These fractured and chaotic glimpses of the woman appear to be the same actress because of her clothing which forces the audience to put these clips together; although the narrative is abruptly interrupted by the soundtrack clips of scratching, gasping, quick blurts of “Hey” and heavy breathing. The video evokes a disturbing and frightening state of corrupted eroticism with the panting and shaking, while at the same time creating a death story because of the dangling feet and broken face. The repetitive “hey” continually disrupts the story and The way that Ruilova has organized the sound with the clips creates a space of anxiety, unfamiliarity and tension. Because the video is so short, Ruilova forces the audience to engage quickly with the video, although one cannot make sense of it after one viewing. So, I had to watch the video a few times to catch all the pieces.
Hey captures Ruilova’s attention to the absurd, to the nightmare, reveals her interest in the sublime and unconscious. She is fascinated about what drives our unconscious, what makes people repeat certain chaotic and animalistic routines and behaviors. Her new media work continues the exploration of the unconscious identity in contemporary forms. Critics have claimed her work to be that of B Horror film status (as she has created films) because of her lo-tech like films and disturbing content (Filipovic 208). The surrealistic tendencies found in Ruilova’s video reveals her conscious or unconscious awareness of this collective reality of behavior humans portray. Although her videos may not be all that appealing, her commentary on the oddities of human behavior add to conversations of what art is. Ruilova’s conceptual video work raise questions of influence and reference due to their chaotic nature.