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The Spirit and the Letter

Continuous color video projection installation with sound, electrified chandelier, mirror.
18 minutes, dimensions variable.
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The Spirit and the Letter explores the 18th century writer, Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–97), through her own words and work. The viewer enters a space that has been arranged to evoke a feeling of inversion. A chandelier, glowing dimly, protrudes upward from the floor. An inverted mirror hangs on one wall. A video image displays another room where the same chandelier can be seen in its "correct" orientation. A woman in 18th century dress paces across the floor. She exits the image and after a moment reappears standing on the ceiling of the room in the video. The woman is an actor portraying Mary Wollstonecraft. She delivers a brief, erratic but impassioned exposition of some of Wollstonecraft’s ideas. The spoken text is edited from Wollstonecraft’s books, letters, memoirs and tracts.

As biographers and analysts have noted, Mary Wollstonecraft’s work might never have materialized had her life been easier. Her writing expresses ideas that emerged from experience. The actor’s monologue unfolds as an ambiguous encounter with a ghost of sorts. The spoken compilation of Wollstonecraft’s words have been selected to emphasize her resonance with contemporary questions of social identity, and are also arranged to reveal her self-criticism as her position evolved. A subtle proposition is made whereby the viewer is implicitly invited to link past moments of social change, rather than think of them as isolated or thwarted moments of resistance.

The aesthetic qualities of video are utilized to heighten the durational aspect of the project, invoking the medium’s associations with simultaneity (live events), and with surveillance. Film always refers, on some level, to photography. The Spirit and the Letter utilizes the electronic image to avoid this, moving between the present moment and Wollstonecraft’s "pre-photographic time." The image in the video projection and the space in which the viewer experiences the work foreground Wollstonecraft’s questioning of the connection between domestic space, architecture and property, as well as gender and identity. In the video component Wollstonecraft moves through the image, disobeying gravity. This is not achieved by digital means, but rather by analog effects. As the title suggests the project describes a space between intent and action, privacy and the state, where a radical rethinking of identity took place over 200 years ago.