Ajna Lichau’s video installation “Dominion,” which just closed on Saturday at the Tribute gallery (625 NW Everett #102), explored the representation of control and resignation without being polemical. The video, composed of a single shot, was mostly filled with dense foliage. The only action in the frame was the face and shoulders of the artist and an anonymous hand, presumably male, which alternated between gently caressing and brutally pulling the woman’s hair. The barely on-scene face of the artist was continuously forced down to the bottom edge of the projection where it threatened to disappear from view altogether. Her facial expression hinted at moments of anguish interspersed in dull acceptance. The combination of the composition of the shot and the incomprehensible position of the figures made the dynamics of the interaction nearly illegible. The question that the video poses became who or what is being controlled and what is the nature of the power being exerted.
The initial connection that I made when viewing the video was with Andy Warhol’s “Blow Job” that was recently on view in an edited form at Reed College’s Cooley gallery. What connects these videos is the ambiguity of the off screen action and frustrating uncertainty of the mental and physical state of the onscreen subject. In “Blow Job,” the implication of a sex act is frustrated by the inability of the viewer to visually verify and therefore participate in the act itself, as is presumably the goal in pornographic imagery. With the title “Dominion,” Lichau implies a power structure and some brand of struggle but gives few further cues into the dynamics or cause of the interaction. In the same way that Warhol frustrates the pleasure seeking ability of the pornographic viewer Lichau frustrates the viewers ability to sympathize and/or identify with the figures in the video. Rather than being able to assume a role in, or participate in the narrative of the power struggle one is left searching for hints of pleasure and pain that would allow for the assumption or prescription of a binary power relationship. It is precisely this disavowal that gives “Dominion” its power.
Film still from “Blow Job,” Andy Warhol, 1963.