Sad boys are on the rise. Sad girls are old news, you might say. But not actually. Weakness can no longer be set against strength, nor can weakness simply be tagged as its own kind of power. That supposes that power is the only goal, and that we’re all fine with it attracting and consuming everything. It seems like everyone is trying to reframe their sadness to push against an idea of dominance, and really parse out how this called misery might be incredibly necessary.
In the media, and, especially, advertising, sadness and its sisters—aggression, apathy, pain—are shunted cultural currents. They are alluded to through sarcasm and irony and almost never addressed directly. Happiness is a given and sadness is a myth, and this is where Esme comes in.
“I am interested in the idea of mythology relative to both cinematic history and online culture; how our experience of the everyday is shaped by things we observe and participate in, second-hand, whether through film, digital media, photography, or the internet. Increasingly, there is a disconnect between the time/space reality of the everyday, and a heightened elaboration, or staging, of the subjects of cinema, film, and social media. I find that these distinctions between form are becoming gradually blurred as we encounter fictions or processes of myth that emerge out of the everyday.”
Eighty Sad Women consists of a slide show of 80 images projected in relative darkness from a Kodak Carousel—80 being the exact amount of slides able to fit into the device. The works are projected at 6-second intervals onto the wall of the space. When performed, Eighty Sad Women gestures towards a discussion of projection onto and out from the female body, which is where Esme and I focussed much of our discussion.
Esme: The first ‘sad women’ I found were Elaine and Mrs. Robinson from The Graduate. Within a ten second interval you see both Mrs. Robinson and her daughter’s distressed faces, and that’s where the whole thing began. It’s hard to say exactly what drew me to these images in particular, as the work I make is all interrelated to some degree. I have had an interest for some time in the process of abstracting or reducing images by separating them from their original context, and Eighty Sad Women began as an application of that.
Natalia: I feel that what drew me to the project was just that idea of a “narrow cinematic history.” Although the eighty images can not be called comprehensive, the act of tracing this motif across such a wide range of films puts films in dialogue with each other that may never have been put in relation before, such as Zoolander and Contempt. It is a non-hierarchical space where all kinds of films are given equal weight. How do you feel about the connections the project has fostered?
E: I like that you picked up on me saying “a narrow cinematic history.” This history is my history; films I have seen at various stages in my life. I am fascinated by the process of finding connections between things that ostensibly don’t seem to have any. That’s what I mean when I talk about the processes of fiction and myth emerging from the everyday, because that’s what I get really inspired by.
N: Seeing as you are interested in the idea of narrative, I wonder if you have any thoughts about this continued narrative of the ‘sad woman’ across film as a whole. What your piece seems to be pointing to, among other things, is how the sad woman is a kind of trope or cliche around the idea of femininity. Do you feel that your incentive was to reclaim this image back from the lenses of predominantly male directors?
E: I think as one work, the images are very seductive. A lot of the shots are alluring and glamorous in the context of their films, but when taken out of the narrative of the film as whole, and put together with other visually similar images, the series draws attention to the perpetuated idea in mainstream cinema of women being weak and overly emotional. Also, these women are often of a so-called ‘standard beauty.’ They are overtly glamorous and, within their roles, they are often portrayed as morally ambiguous characters, or have very little character at all. This does not mean, however, that I think these films are without merit. I am drawing attention to something, particularly this presumed weakness, or standard model of beauty, but that doesn’t mean that I am not the victim, or indeed perpetrator, of it myself.
N: These images are almost all dark and grainy. The images perform each women’s emotion, and this piece, projected in a dark room, re-inscribes that performance. Your relationship to found imagery is incredibly intimate, tactile, and alive.