Terre Thaemlitz’s multimedia work INTERSTICES offers compositional strategies to explore complexities pertaining to gender, gender reassignment, and sexuality. Constructed from a range of visual and aural samples, the work stresses the role of the editorial ‘cut’, making clear those moments where one sample is spliced and rearranged into a new form. The result is never completely isolated from its original composition; what we hear or see anew is at once familiar and known.
Entering the space, the viewer is met with the work’s textual component stretching across one side of the room. Printed on deep blue paper and set flush to the wall, the text appears somewhere between an architectural blueprint and an outmoded digital screen. The font recalls that of coding or a midi sequencer, with familiar dashes that indicate cutting to new material. The text functions as an outline of the processes used to produce the work, and further space for Thaemlitz to discuss connecting ideas and themes. It expresses gratitude to other projects and works such as ‘Code Red’, and ‘milleplateaux’, the label that released the original media work.
Thaemlitz’s text refers to ‘framing’ methods and a ‘systolic approach’ to samples, resulting in an ‘incongruous buzzing sound or something similar to an audio-delay or time stretching,’ highlighting how ‘deletion can result in clicks gaps and sharp edits.’ While reading, you become aware of the audio leaking from behind a heavy blackout curtain. Full of clicks, buzzes and gaps; the sonic component of the work lures you in.
The video work begins with the sound of a female voice talking someone through an anal insertion. Detailed descriptions are mixed with continual assurances about the process. The narrative of eroticism and comfort is accompanied by whimperings and groans from the voice’s partner, which slowly become enveloped by sharp, loud, powerful bursts of digital noise. At the loudest of these, the screen flickers into life: close cut images of a woman’s profile looking down at her invisible partner, followed by a collage of erotic and pornographic imagery.
One of the most poignant samples is from ‘Shades of Grey’ by The Monkees. The title line repeats and splutters, encapsulating the show’s emphasis on ambiguity in the face of rigid gender binarism. As images cut from the pornographic, to talk-show makeover, to the blurred outlines of two figures embracing, the viewer is reminded of the works purposeful ambiguity. Throughout the piece, the opening lyrics from ‘Morning Side of the Mountain’ recorded by Donny and Marie Osmond are caught in an echoic cycle. The voices repeat the lyrics ‘there was a girl, there was a boy’, problematising the rigidity of heteronormativity. The lyrics’ use of the past tense hint at traces, echoes and overlaps, mirroring Thaemlitiz’s discussions of how editing techniques can create sharp edits to accentuate cuts and deletions, rather than mask them. The sample continues to shift and surge, repeat and splutter, continuously reforming but always the same lyric.
Another section features visual and audio clips from a talk show makeover, in which we hear a young woman questioned about the way she dresses in relation to her sexuality. The confrontation from the invisible host and the woman’s friends or relatives is upsetting to hear, and as the video cuts to the post-makeover moment, the audio makes hysterical proclamations of “I barely recognise her”. The work suggests it was never the subject that was not recognised, but the dissonance between her image and the normative gendered stereotype expected of her.
The final section discusses intersex subjects in relation to forced medical procedures. Listening, it becomes clear that these subjects underwent traumatic experiences of highly invasive surgery in order to meet heteronormative standards of sex and gender. Two of the speakers stress the shocking insistence of operating on infants, at ages that would otherwise be considered too young. In the case of gender ambiguity, it appears ‘corrective’ surgery cannot come soon enough. The speakers underline their desire for ambiguity, as it defines who they are. The role of invasive surgery highlighted here overlaps with Thaemlitz’s discussion about mastectomies; the mastectomy troubles both the reassignment of gender, and the reassurance given to women who lose one or both breasts due to cancer. Once again, gender is presented in shades of grey.
Rachael Finney is an artist and writer based in London