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Eli Cortiñas at Rokeby: ‘Awkward Studies and a Decent Take on Serious Matters’
2 May - 15 June 2013
Review by Yvette Greslé

For a fleeting moment we are seduced. We register the cinematic sensibilities of classic Hollywood cinema: a woman looks outwards through an open window. We observe the back of her head (her immaculately styled blonde hair emanates a slight halo-like glow. Lavender (nuances of colour and light) enfolds her from the chiffon she wears to the obscured view at which she looks. We glimpse rain falling (although, obfuscated by colour and light, it is barely visible). The edges of curtains frame the highly staged, dreamy image we see. The woman appears immobile, as if suspended in time. Femme fatale or angel, the beautiful woman is the pressure point of innumerable, familiar narratives about love: romantic, unrequited, tragic or destructive. A voice, and the music that underscores it, animates our looking, our experience of how it is we look, and how it is we listen. The source of the voice (detached from the immobile figure we see) is unclear to us. The voice has its own materiality: its soft, carefully modulated tone belongs (unmistakeably) to Hollywood’s golden age, and the femininities it imagined. For a moment we lose ourselves in what it is we see and what it is we hear: it is beautiful after all.

The artist (Eli Cortiñas) cuts to a blank, blacked out surface, and we are nudged from our reverie. Another voice makes its entrance. Again, a woman speaks but this time the voice is sharper, perhaps older. As the film unfolds we are made aware that this is no benign re-staging of images and sounds that we might describe as ‘pretty’. It deploys strategies familiar both to twentieth century experimental cinema and art - the disassembling and re-casting of found footage and sound, and the disruption of causal narrative and linear time. The film’s figuring of women, and the narrative it sets up across generations of women owes a debt to feminist practice. Situating it within historical frameworks that were radical and shifted our relationship to experience, perception and politics, we are forced to ask the question: what is different here’ But looking closely at the sequences of female figures with their backs turned to us (and the curtains either lifeless and immobile or whispering and alive) we recognise that this is not the question to be asking. It is futile to even try to extricate ourselves from the entanglements of history. But what we can do now (in the twenty-first century) is look more attentively, and more carefully. We are not paying enough attention to the familiar, and to repetition as an object in and of itself: in the field of the political, and the arena of violence, our century is a century of repetition after all. Eli Cortiñas in both film and object-based works demands that we look (and look again), and that we shift our gaze ever so slightly (but powerfully) to the nuances of how it is we actually engage in the activity not only of narrating a story but also of looking, listening and living.

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