Who's Afraid

John Palmer - 2004, 4:00, DV, Culver City, CA

This four-channel video (originally designed as an installation) uses dialog from a scene from the film "Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?", with me as all four characters. As an installation, this is projected on four opposing walls of a small room, but can also be viewed as a one-channel piece, as shown here.

John Palmer is a Los Angeles-based interdisciplinary artist and designer. His work includes film, video, photography, and sculpture, and has been exhibited internationally, including Southern Exposure, SF Cameraworks, Black Maria Gallery, Blaffer Gallery, La Enana Marron, Artists Space, Pacific Film Archive and Millennium Film Workshop. He received his BFA from San Francisco Art Institute and is a recipient of the Princess Grace Foundation Honorarium and the James Broughton Film Award.


ATA: What led you to organize the film's characters in such a straightforward way?

JP: This was originally intended as an installation for a square room with each of the four characters projected on opposing walls, so the viewer would stand in the middle and be unable to see all the characters at once. The film is performed in its entirety, with only one continuous shot of each character. I made this short excerpt with all characters assembled in a line for a proposal, and people liked this iteration as well, so I started showing this as a separate piece. It's obviously a different experience, more straightforward as you say.

ATA: Were you watching the film as you performed each different part?

JP: I watched and memorized the film verbatim, one character at a time, with pauses and all. As you might imagine, this took a looooong time. I think I watched about 8-10 times for each character, then another 2-3 times for practice with the volume off to make sure I had it. I did have the the film playing silently behind the camera, but didn't end up paying much attention to it once I had it down.

ATA: Does Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf have any particular significance for you?

JP: It does, yes. It's one of my favorite plays and films, and the performances and filmmaking are brilliant. They hold up even today. I was doing a series of works reinterpreting Hollywood films, but mostly those that I didn't particularly care for. I wanted to explore a film I actually liked, and this was hands-down my top choice. There's so much depth and tragedy and comedy, and voicing the four separate characters with just one dry, deadpan me seemed to heighten the absurdity. The film's also terrifying in its own way, and the installation version (with my big head on all four walls) lends itself to that.

ATA: What should I have asked you?

JP: If I'm waiting for a haircut from a leather daddy in Amsterdam... And the answer would be yes.

Interview by Liz Wing of ATA

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