Kerry Tribe: The Terminal Attrition of a Conscious Memory

Published 20 January 2014 Simon Marsh

Kerry Tribe’s time based media installation, There Will Be____… (2012), successfully negotiates the ever diminishing line between culture and popular culture, between entertainment and art and in so doing, poses artistically elegant questions for the discerning viewer who critically engages with Tribe’s fluid investigation of memory and cognition: the viewer who critically engages with the mechanics and representational spatial aspects of an installation format, and in particular the overall methodological fluctuation between the structural and post-structural framework of her medium, which can and at times does, enter the psychological territory of the imagined and illogical.

I’d never made a narrative film shot for continuity where basically the same thing happens over and over and over again…it gets extremely confusing.

Filmed in Greystone mansion, Beverly Hills, California, from the outset we begin to formulate a sense that the overall mise en scene points toward an obscenely excessive wealth that simply lay’s beyond the normative conventions of culture. Tribe’s exceedingly high production values map, in a five act sequence, hypothetical’s surrounding the high society murder of Edward Doheny Jnr and his personal assistant Hugh Plunket in 1929. Whilst superficially, the installation sounds, looks, smells and feels like it ticks all the boxes of our preconceived expectations of what traditional narrative film based media is composited, the distinct and at times absurd friction that we as an audience feel between the projected image and scripted language – reminiscent of concrete poetics – leads to an almost uncomfortable slippage for an audience, with which to formulate any sense of attachment with the characters. The elasticity of this sporadic image/language schism, posits us in an extremely liminal space between an unconscious attempt at comprehension and a conscious rationalisation of what it is we are actually experiencing and yet:

You can start to create an experience with the viewer where the structure of their experience begins to rhyme with the subject of what they are learning about or alternately interested in.

Throughout her complex and multi-faceted oeuvre Tribe is well known for her pathological amounts of appropriation. The cult of postmodern cultural quotation is simply inescapable. The language that Tribe utilises – sourced from the sixty three films shot on location at Greystone mansion – intelligibly operates as the trigger that ignites this push/pull from the clearly signified to a distinctly disenfranchised contextual unease and yet it is this language that manifestly resonates with an audience’s lived cinematic memory. The complication of language utilised throughout the work can be seen to be operating as an artistic strategy initiating a felt, bodily recognition within the viewer and speaks to just how out of step we can become in the construction of and the seemingly indiscernible organisation of a working memory. Essentially allowing an audience to exercise an intuitive understanding of what it is that is signified regardless that a coherent perceptual reference is at times negated. This overt contextual fracturing that leads to the negation of a coherent perceptual reference, designed to tease out an audience’s perceptual rhythm, aligning it with what it is they are experiencing, begs the question: is there any such thing as a remembered representation of an objectified truth?

With memory there exists a perception that from the present we loop back to a past in an effort to understand an event. However what it is that we remember is always coloured by what our needs or desires demand from our understanding of the present. In this sense the past isn’t really the past it is simply alive and it then becomes an act of re-remberance, an act of mis-remberance.

Tribe’s re-signified poetics of appropriated scripts operating throughout the five acts of There Will Be___… (2012), clearly signal the levels of static and interference reverberating within and throughout our shared human capacity and desire to construct an absolute, objective, remembered truth. Whilst individual identity is said to be contingent on our memory in the ongoing construction of self, is not that memory but a subjective synthesis of various cherry picked shades of an absolute truth, constantly re-shaped, galvanised and re-applied to satisfy an understanding, a generalised perception of self? And is this collated synthesis therefore dependent on who we once were, who we perceive ourselves to be and perhaps more importantly who we may well desire to become? This perpetuation of a distorted forgetfulness operating in the realm of remembered truth, can be ascribed to an overwhelming desire, a human necessity perhaps, to adhere to a ‘normalised’ environment dictated to us by the perception of a majority that asserts a primary definition of group conformity. It is within this constancy of slippage that notions of a temporal unreal/real duality take shape. In a constant state of flux, is it this contrast of concepts that we as humans choose to inflect and negotiate on a daily basis? Where a fictional understanding of an event takes on a capacity to be more true than truth itself, therefore becoming a hardwired, implicit system where we begin to construct tangible effects from that which is not real. This nebulous terrain of an impressionable shared memory, points to the inevitability of its terminal attrition and coercion toward an eventual corruptibility and as such, its ultimate unverifiable nature.

Evocative of the Asch experiment – one of psychologies most popular pieces of research initially conducted in 1951 – dealing with the phenomena of the altered visual perception of a subject motivated by the desire to formulate group conformity. It is an experiment that identifies a three-phase process within the subject, consisting of action, judgment and perception, before that individual’s overall perception becomes distorted by the majority verdict and conforms with the general, albeit inaccurate belief of the group. This seemingly straightforward clinical test speaks to the overt interdependence of the human organism to maintain, trim, colour and continuously shade perception to preserve a sustainable homogenous environment.

In this sense the subtle poetics of Tribe’s time-based media installation questions the meticulous nature – or lack thereof – of our mediation over the phenomenological administration of our own perception, our own memory, our lived experience and as a consequence the veracity of an objectified absolute truth. Not one aspect of gratuity leaks from her watertight, insatiable and at times self confessed obsessive questioning and rigorous conversation surrounding the invariable shifting sands that comprise the mercurial human psyche.

Displaying a film noir aesthetic with at times noticeable Lynchian acts of a purposeful dislocation, There Will Be___… (2012), is but one step in Tribe’s artistic journey toward an understanding of the workings of human memory and cognition. Her consistently coherent artistic ownership over this slippery terrain of an inherited human idiosyncrasy – wrapped in the cloth of traditional narrative film based media – positions Tribe’s installation as epitomising an art-form that encapsulates an uncompromising and at times compulsive critical enquiry that exhibits the distinct capacity to artistically eat at the thin veneer of our carefully constructed sense of self.

Most Recent Work 2017:

“New Work: Kerry Tribe” premieres an SFMOMA commission by the Los Angeles–based artist and filmmaker that offers insight into the work of Standardized Patients—professional actors who portray patients in a simulated clinical environment as part of medical students’ training. The multi-channel video installation explores questions of empathy, communication, and performance, and was developed through Tribe’s close collaboration with professional clinicians, communication experts,and Standardized Patients at Stanford University and the University of Southern California. In this, Tribe’s first solo exhibition at a major U.S. museum, the artist builds upon her history of engaging individuals from the acting and medical communities and exploring the willing suspension of disbelief. The exhibition will be on view from October 7, 2017 through February 25, 2018 at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. © Blouin ArtInfo August 30, 2017.