Sheila and Nicholas Pye are an art partnership like none other. Married to each other, until a few years ago, they continue to produce videos and photographs that depict difficulties of love. But here we should drop all vestiges of journalism and get a bead on what is happening in their work—so glibly capsulized as “difficulties of love.” The fact that their work brings to us filmed enactments of themselves embodying impasse between a man and a woman does not by any means confine their effort to easy blues.

A distressed couple in the primeval forest. This gambit leads us, I think, not to some pat moral/political conclusion, but to a tradition of problematic and mysterious questioning—a mystery under close investigation by a number of visual artists, AND by a number of feature filmmakers. Part of the excitement of their work consists, I think, in their consulting not some runic snippet of academia but recent commercial movies which deal with a dimension of distress hard to describe but not hard to feel. Here we have confrontation very reminiscent of Lars von Trier’s gruelling and dazzling horror and perceptual discovery film, Antichrist (2009). There a husband thinks to bring his wife out of her depression regarding their baby’s falling to his death from an upper window. His facile curative rationalism (apropos of the experience of facing fear being good for everyone in this situation) clashes quite terrifyingly with her mystically-tinged feminist rationalism. In their recent video, “Unspoiled,” this motif is extensively explored. In one segment, we have his ice cube, slowly melting, and her cataract swiftly coursing.

Antichrist could be described as the ultimate down and dirty movie, and here the Pyes have, in an instance of their generosity in putting across unflattering energies, found their way to a great capture of the surreal tempest at issue. (A sequence of von Trier’s film has the woman hunting down the man, who has hidden in a raven’s lair at the base of an ancient tree.)
An adjunct to the current showing of “Unspoiled”—where she buries his corpse, in contrast to Antichrist’s male protagonist murdering and burying the female protagonist—are several still photos redolent of the anxieties of the drama.
I think this component illuminates the heart of their dialogue with Surrealism and with cinema. Far from content to ring clever and disturbing variations on a filmic biggie, they seem to be intent upon contrasting von Trier’s magisterial stream of action (and its tonal fusions therefrom) with their own option of quite static, repetitive enactments of horribly difficult situations. They seem to be insisting that the full weight of discord must be savored in order that one be fully apprised of the hand nature has dealt to humans.
It’s a fascinating premise. Some recent auteurs in the field of feature films are remarkably adept at conveying tough odds. But there is the perhaps compromising factor of big expenses to be covered, and big profit potential to be met.
This echo of runaway electrodynamics as seen in the denouement of von Trier’s Melancholia (2011) exchanges vaguely hospital gear for the billowing wedding dress of the film.In the video, “The Bride,” a woman in a bride’s dress twists in slow-motion in some cosmic twister. Here the ways of ecstatic love are allowed to put in an appearance within a saga replete with disconcerting impasse.




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