Why Are You Angry? 2017 is a film by British artists Nashashibi / Skaer lasting eighteen minutes. It was co-commissioned by Tate St Ives, La Fayette Foundation and Creative Scotland and exists in an edition of five plus two artists’ proofs. This copy is number two in the main edition. The film was originally made on 16mm and transferred to HD video. For exhibition it should be projected in a dark space with seating.
Taking its title from one of Paul Gauguin’s (1848–1903) late paintings made in Tahiti, No te aha oe riri (Why Are You Angry?) 1896 (Art Institute of Chicago), Nashashibi / Skaer’s film follows Gauguin’s voyage to Tahiti. As a contemporary exploration of the established narratives that surround Gauguin and his time in French Polynesia, the film also functions as a reclamation of the exoticised woman and asks fundamental questions about representations of women, colonised lands and the power of myth. The film was first shown in Athens as part of documenta 14 2017 and then at Tate Modern, London in September 2017.
Often using historical references or taking the work or biographies of individual artists as starting points, Nashashibi / Skaer’s collaborative films oscillate between the symbolic and the documentary. For them the camera becomes an eye, used to record fleeting moments and events, and merging everyday observations with fantastical and mythological histories and fictions. Their films are often meditative and sensuous and utilise an array of filmic conventions in order to challenge the gendered nature of art historical genius, female value, empathy as a radical position, and the subjective self in relation to the mediated body. Previous collaborative works include Pygmalion Event 2008, a double video projection concerned with the topic of metamorphosis, religion and art history and filmed in the Vence Chapel, France, which was designed by Henri Matisse (1869–1964) as a ‘total work of art’. A year later the pair made Our Magnolia 2009, a single channel 16mm film that takes Paul Nash’s (1889–1946) painting Flight of the Magnolia 1944 (Tate T07552) as its starting point and intercuts details of Nash’s painting with other images: actual magnolia blossoms, a whale skeleton deteriorating on a deserted beach, footage from the response to the looting of Iraq’s National Museum, and a haunting photograph of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Nash’s painting becomes more and more ominous as the film constructs its flight through Thatcherism and the Iraq War, before returning to Nash’s painting and his position as an official war artist during World Wars I and II.
Created nearly eight years later, Why Are You Angry? extends the duo’s interest in the role of artists in the construction of history. The film moves between choreographed and informal footage of different Tahitian women dancing in front of their homes, going to work, to the supermarket, swimming at a waterfall, driving in their cars, and re-enacting recognisable tableaux from Gauguin’s paintings. Thus, as well as its title, the film borrows both locations and poses directly from Gauguin, in order to examine the problems and potentials of re-imagining women through his particular gaze. Seeking to reclaim his fetishised subjects through the artists’ own female gazes, the film flickers between moments of great beauty – a beach or waterfall scene, or scenes in which the women are relaxed, dancing, talking and singing – and moments of knowing and deliberate discomfort, in which they appear nude and posed to resemble a particular work by Gauguin, visibly vulnerable and frustrated. In this way, the film directly addresses the difference between a filmic gaze in which time passes, the agitation of the subject is notable and the audience – and artists – are implicated by their own gaze, and a painterly gaze in which time is seemingly captured as a single moment and the subject of a painting can read as an object.
British artists Rosalind Nashashibi and Lucy Skaer have collaborated as Nashashibi / Skaer since 2005. Both also have individual practices across a range of media, including sculpture, painting, photography and film.
Lucy Skaer, Lucy Skaer, Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh 2008.
Herbert Martin and Rosalind Nashashibi, Rosalind Nashashibi, ICA, London 2009.
Quinn Latimer and Adam Szymczyk, Documenta Daybook, Munich 2017, pp. 126–7.
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