Mariah Garnett

I am an LA-based artist; film/video is my primary medium. My work exists in the intersection of appropriation, documentary and narrative fiction. I often orbit around a subject rather than try to directly represent it, employing multiple strategies and media. My interest lies less in the end goal of representation than in its process, which is often fraught with tension, affection and sometimes, even violence.

“Full Burn”, which premiered earlier this year at the Hammer Museum’s biennial exhibition, “Made in LA,” and my Calarts thesis film, “Picaresques” illustrate my ongoing dedication to using the medium as a means to access communities outside the scope of my immediate experience. “Full Burn” features US war veterans who continue to test their physical limits, three as stunt men and one as a body worker, in Hollywood. In “Picaresques”, an attempted historical adaptation of transgender conquistador’s memoirs turns into a portrait of my friendship with a 9-year-old tomboy from Santa Monica. In both films, the desire for connection is palpable, as is the ultimate, inevitable failure of the medium to reproduce “real” experience. Different kinds of relationships emerge –maker to subject and maker to the art object.

These tactics, at the center of my films, are often mirrored by formal gestures, and one project can occupy many different “bodies.” For example, my 2012 film “Encounters I May or May Not Have Had With Peter Berlin” exists both as a single channel 16mm film and as a large-scale installation involving two projectors sharing one strip of 16mm film and projecting off a disco ball. It originally exhibited in 2010 at Human Resources in Los Angeles, later traveling to Essen, Germany and San Francisco, where it showed along side work by Kevin Killian and featured text by Frank Smigiel, a curator at SFMOMA. The project deals with monumentality, narcissism, and the ways in which our heroes are manifested through the body. In the single channel version, there are two central figures, Peter Berlin (1970’s gay sex icon) and me; our identities merge, clash, and relax parallel, by degrees. The installation attempts to unify these two oppositional figures with an almost absurd sexual metaphor (the two facing projectors sharing one strip of film). The disrupted view of the performing body effectively collapses the two protagonists, while at the same time flagrantly claiming control over the viewer’s access.

In 2012 I installed “Piderman,” a 10-second 16mm loop, which gives physical shape to an Internet meme. Underlying this gesture is the fear that our bodies, once transformed into data and uploaded, can never be fully recovered. This, in turn, led me to make “Signal,” which attempts to narrativize a collection of SPAM emails culled over a three-year period. “Signal” was first exhibited at ltd los angeles in a two-person show with Anton Lieberman, and was accompanied by an essay by Karthik Pandian. Both “Signal” and “Piderman” exist as formal 16mm installations and both generated photographic prints, which were attached to the projects but not an iteration of the work, as in “Peter Berlin.”

While my earlier work exhibits a desire to situate myself in close proximity to significant, albeit under-recognized players in queer history, in the last year it has seen a shift towards the geo-political. “Full Burn” marks this transition, as questions about the longest running US war are raised through conversations with returning soldiers.

In 2015, I am producing new work that deals with my own family diaspora, wrought by political conflict. My father was raised Protestant in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and found himself at the center of “The Troubles” when the BBC publicly investigated his cross-denominational relationship with a Catholic girl. He was forced to leave the country due to threats from both sides (The IRA and the Loyalists) and has lived in Vienna for most of my life. I met him and his two children for the first time in 2007, and he is currently reconnecting with his Irish family for the first time since the early 1970’s. Using re-enactments featuring myself and my siblings, the found BBC footage, and straight documentary portrayals, this film deals with the potential of the medium to unite or divide on both the personal and the global scale, as well as to examine the ways in which memories and family legend are constructed.

Another big part of my practice is collaboration. Over the past 5 years I’ve worked with a wide-ranging group of LA-based artists on a variety of collaborative projects. I am currently making a film with Barry Johnston based on the myth of Orpheus, using reconstituted SPAM emails as the basis for our script, and am involved in an ongoing film project with Eve Fowler about female surfers called “Life is Torture,” for which we were selected as artists-in-residence at both Echo Park Film Center and Ship in the Woods. In 2013, I completed a collaboration with Guillermo Gómez-Peña titled “Mexercize,” which we describe as a series of exercises for “outsiders facing the 21st century,” outlining strategies for survival in the face of an aggressive police force and for navigating an often opaque art world. In addition to equal collaborations, I shoot film and video for other artists whenever possible. I’ve worked for Stanya Kahn, Zackary Drucker, Anna Sew Hoy, Karthik Pandian, Wu Tsang, and am shooting a film for Eve Fowler outside of “Life is Torture.” While my collaborative works often range in scope and content, once again I use the medium to push, explore and fortify the lines that describe my community.

My work is rooted in re-interpreting “found text,” using desire as an access point and often employing impersonation as a strategy. Broadly defining “text,” source material for my films and installations range from the written word to YouTube videos to actual people. The boundaries between genres are recklessly crossed and re-crossed as the circularity of my films investigates slippages in the language of cinema to locate and codify identity.