Hard Fascination is a study of the close-up. In a moving image, the tight framing of the face by the camera's gaze is coded as an insight into a character's emotional response to the action. Different genres make use of this intimate shot to generate different affective registers. In soap operas, the close-up operates in service of melodrama. It thickens the audience's experience of deep entanglement with their most beloved and most despised characters. Elsewhere, the close-up produces pathos or amplifies abjection.
When an extreme close-up fills the frame, the face becomes readable as a landscape. What are the politics of this territorialization through a queer-feminist lens? How do they intersect with Gertrude Stein's proposal of the “landscape play”? What are the pleasures and perils of this poetic device as it draws us into a sticky, haptic encounter with what Laura Marks calls “the skin of the film”?
The title Hard Fascination toys with its own trebled possibilities of magnetic enchantment: difficult, strong, turned on. It references Attention Restoration Theory, which states that the capacity for attention is depleted over time by stimuli that require hard fascination, such as cinema or gaming, and regenerated by softly fascinating phenomena such as images of nature. Consciously departing from a genealogy that includes Dreyer's Passion of Joan of Arc, Warhol's Screen Tests, and Bergman's Persona, Hard Fascination proposes a performance-led revision of the close up.
2021, Recording of a screening and artist talk
Hard Fascination, 2021 (video) was presented at Ecology of Attention #4: stand out of our light and accompanied by a talk on Zoom that can be accessed now here online.
Melanie Jame Wolf makes performance, moving image, and installation works for theater, screen, and gallery spaces. Her practice is focused on accumulating a critical taxonomy of performance techniques from everyday popular entertainment and artistic contexts. Recent works explore the libidinal economy of stand up, impersonation, and the trope of “the actress”. Concerning herself with the poetics and problematics of ghosts, class, pop, sensuality, gender, narratology, and the body as a political riddle, Wolf pursues an ongoing interest in analyzing the idea of performance-as-labor. She does this in order to understand performance as a potential strategy for survival and as an engine for fluidity of subjectivity from a queer-feminist perspective. She approaches her work as an expanded choreographic practice. Leaning into a hyper-stylized pop aesthetic, she is invested in humor as a strategy for critical possibility, and in working with language in subliminal and surprising ways.
Melanie Jame Wolf is a 2020/21 artist in residence in the International Studio Program of Künstlerhaus Bethanien, supported by the Australia Council for the Arts.