Althea Thauberger


A Memory Lasts Forever

Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson
Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive | 2005

Four teenage girls clad in bikinis and jeans stand in the middle of a suburban street. It is nighttime, and the theatrically lit scene reveals faces full of anguish and concern. Why are they there, and how are we, as the audience, intended to respond? Are we to take seriously the girls, their emotion, their reality? The work of Althea Thauberger, a Vancouver-based artist working in video, addresses such diverse themes as popular culture, teenage angst and self-awareness, romantic ideals of nature, and the role gender plays in forming identity. But her perspective is itself not entirely clear. Is she looking at adolescence from the viewpoint of an adult? Or are her collaborations, primarily with female youth who respond to newspaper advertisements, vehicles to fulfill the desires of the participants? And if so, to what end? It is here, in the tension between the critical view and the melodrama that often defines girlhood, that the work succeeds.

The title of Thauberger’s MATRIX project, A Memory Lasts Forever, is taken from the lyrics of a song written by one of the nonprofessional actors with whom the artist worked to create the film-to-video installation. Thauberger auditioned twenty-five girls who responded to a casting call distributed to musical theater groups in Greater Vancouver. Four were selected, and the group met weekly for six months. In the artist’s words, “the heart of the work is in my interaction with the girls and in the fact that they are interpreting my own story.” The story, drawn from Thauberger’s youth and performed as a fragmented narrative with four individualized versions of the same event, involves a tragic incident that forces the adolescents to confront death. Their subsequent actions and small-scale transformation are motivated by dread, courage, naïveté, and love.

The four teenagers spend the evening getting very drunk at one girl’s home while her parents are away for the weekend. Deciding to go for a swim, they discover the family dog drowned under the pool cover. They respond by praying. The prayers are songs staged in the style of musical theater. (Music often figures prominently in Thauberger’s videos, as both a social and psychological construct.) One prayer is overtly Christian: “If by calling out Your Name, will redemption be what I find…Heavenly Father, it’s me, Sky.” Another is a wish, “I wish I may, I wish I might, undo the things that happened tonight.” Still another is a reflection of the girls’ friendships intermixed with New Age elements: “You build, you birth, you bring form, you raise with might and energy storm…never again shall I kneel and cower.”

The work of many contemporary artists addressing spiritual and political issues seems to suggest a return to the personal as an optimistic means to effect positive social change. Acknowledging the theatricality of her plot, Thauberger offers stereotypical elements of “enlightenment”: abjection, moral confrontation, and spiritual redemption. But she herself may be subtly or not so subtly highlighting the ways in which people find consolation for personal tragedy, and the potential such events hold for transformation.

Thauberger’s work has been seen across Canada and included in numerous group exhibitions, including the traveling exhibition Baja to Vancouver: The West Coast and Contemporary Art. This is the artist’s first solo exhibition in the United States.

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