Althea Thauberger is currently exhibiting a new music video work titled A Memory Lasts Forever, maybe her most challenging work to date. As in previous works, Thauberger has hired young amateur female singers and cast them in a music video that plays with the conventions of Girl Pop.
The new video follows on the heels of her successful Songstress project, which gained her some notoriety and was exhibited from Baja to Vancouver. If you haven’t seen Songstress, it’s a little bit like that Much Music reality program where a contestant is given a makeover and does a cheap imitation pop-video. Thauberger’s depiction is lo-fi and far stranger. Imagine an amateur (or art-grade) version of the lush theatricality of a real girl-pop music video with just a single fixed camera shot doing nothing to flatter the musician and instead creating a scene of extreme pathos.
In A Memory Lasts Forever an additional complexity is added to the project: before the start of each of the four music videos, the girls act out a dramatic sequence of discovering a dead dog in their backyard swimming pool. This doesn’t remove the work from the music video genre because this is an entrenched convention (there’s probably a name for it in the industry) where a short drama unfolds before the music starts in order to establish a context. As well, Thauberger has brought more resources to bear on the project this time, and elevated the production values to the level of afternoon soap operas.
The girls write their own lyrics and make wardrobe decisions and here the video begins to tip towards documentary. As pseudo-documentary the work shares a territory more in common with England’s Jeremy Deller than it does with Rodney Graham who is arguably the main inspiration and legitimating force behind the trend of Vancouver artists working formally and referentially with Pop music.
Possibly the most perplexing aspect of the new work is its negotiation of spirituality and Christianity which is referred to as “pragmatic spiritual art” in the exhibition catalogue. It may be that the potency of Thauberger’s work derives from the fact that music videos have become the dominant spiritual influence on teenagers; a corollary being the rapid assimilation of rock music into Christian rock by fundamentalist organizations which initially shunned the form as “Devil music” before they understood its superiority to the pulpit sermon in terms of emotive power and potential for subliminal delivery of content.
In A Memory Lasts Forever spirituality only exists as abject spirituality. It shares a place with Alfred Stieglitz’s 1923 photo of “Spiritual America” (a horse’s head shackled with leather and steel) with which he intended to symbolize the subjection of the spirit to puritanical industry.
In the 80’s Richard Prince reworked Spiritual America into a kiddie-porn version to suggest a turn in the second half of the twentieth century from a puritanical morality of production to a sexually exploitive marketing of consumption. Similarly, Thauberger’s ‘pragmatic’ relation to spirituality in her work tends to strip bare the desire for authentic emotion and expression by placing it conspicuously against the unifying forces of mass cultural production. In this way, A Memory Lasts Forever can be read as the spiritual fallout of the late nineties phenomenon of ‘Girl Power’ which centered around Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears.
As a reversal of feminist values, “Girl Power” amounted to the hyper-sexualization of the adolescent female body in the anachronistic performance ritual of Pop video that continues to transcend history.