The Wonder Women of Video

Dara Birnbaum

Dara Birnbaum

Nowhere, perhaps, is the distinction between interior and outside space more pronounced than in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death.” Prince Prospero and his privileged colleagues hole up in “the deep seclusion of one of his castellated abbeys,” which is decorated with the prince’s “eccentric yet august taste.” The outside world, plagued by the Red Death, “could take care of itself,” Poe writes. All sorts of pleasure “and security were within. Without was the ‘Red Death.’”

No masked corpses traipse through the 18th-century German castle Schloss Ettersburg in Janaina Tschäpe’s 2004 film “Lacrimacorpus,” but the artist, who was born in Munich in 1973, clearly meant to address outside ugliness permeating and contaminating beauty within. The castle, which housed dignitaries like Goethe, overlooks the concentration camp Buchenwald.

The film’s title refers to a mythical creature that, when captured, melts into tears and bubbles. The dancer in “Lacrimacorpus” wears a dress, a large bonnet suggestive of E.T. and a ring of balloonlike bubbles around her neck. She twirls for a few minutes in the castle parlor before collapsing on the floor. Outside is the shadow of the crematorium; inside, death has gained its foothold.

“Lacrimacorpus” is one of 10 works on exhibit in “Total Art: Contemporary Video,” on display through October 12 at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, in Washington, D.C.

Read more of my Jewish Daily Forward article, “The Wonder Women of Video.”

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