Posted by Anna Simon
I kept waiting for something to happen while watching Johanna Billing’s four short films, which are brief in real time but tedious in theater time. How many of us have hung on a little longer to see if something’s worthwhile, to have their patience rewarded with a pay-off? Billing offers no such relief because the significance of her work is derived from repetition. Her silent characters move (or don’t) closely to each other without any connection but with mildly bored poker faces. They are waiting in a room for something to happen or are meticulously packing up a Swedish apartment. They’re young, expectant and isolated. They have beautiful hair and bone structure.
Yes, there is a melancholy that pervades these films, a modern, sparse quality that is not particularly hopeful. How sad to silently and efficiently pack up boxes with others, putting away sheets and rolling up glasses in paper but never acknowledging the person beside you. Is this a metaphor? Is Billing commenting on the break-down of communication within contemporary society? The first short conveys this the best, showing an increasingly larger group of twenty-somethings singing and playing instruments in a recording studio. The song is kind of awful (being Swedish pop) but the refrain is alright, you don’t love me yet. I imagine all these sad-looking young people must want to go out and love each other, take someone’s hand, make eye contact even. But in a recording studio all components must be separate to produce a harmonic whole. Even singers standing shoulder to shoulder have ear phones on. It’s lonely out there, good hair or not.
Seeing this movie alone further impressed the sentiment of isolation. Funny feeling for a festival that is constantly bringing people together in new combinations. When I left the theater a prelude of autumn rain was pouring. I walked to the bus stop and joined a few other people. We stood silently and no one looked at one another. A bit too Billing. Hadn’t I left the theater early because I knew there was no reward?
Films screened at the Whitsell Auditorium Sat, Sept. 9 and Thursday, Sept. 14. Magical World, a separate installation, is on view at Corberry Press. I have not seen it yet.