Althea Thauberger

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Althea Thauberger

Wim Peeters
London: Contemporary No. 89 | 2007

Being young is defined by incongruous assumptions of mortality, guilt, death and reconciliation. Outgrowing these stages of assumed naïveté is what Althea Thauberger seems to target with her filmic and performance based research into attitudes and reactions towards events of a more or less dramatic nature.

Thauberger is a Canadian artist who primarily works with film, video and photography, using these media in collaborative project with trained and amateur performers. Her projects offer a highly complex staging of the moral and existential angst that underscores the coming into being of adulthood. Thauberger is not interested in depicting adolescents as young adults, but prefers to portray them as they develop into an awareness of their actions and their consequences.

The heavily lit scenes of a suburban driveway and of a pool shed/garage in the video A Memory Lasts Forever (2004) reveal just such moments of lament and lost innocence. It does so with the proper sense of theatre and drama, making a very acceptable and even enjoyable performance by mixing elements of musical theatre with tragedy in her extremely dramatic screen photography.

The four girls are provocatively dressed in bikinis and jeans, yet they reach a paradoxically high and intense level of moral appeal that expresses itself in prayer and singing. Chances are greater that the heavenly light originates from a car’s headlights or from a street lamp than stemming from supernatural causes. In her portrayal of the romantic longing of these aimlessly meandering adolescents Thauberger seems to suggest that this longing could be a defining trait of innocence fading.

In the story of A Memory Lasts Forever we witness four girls getting drunk at one girl’s house one evening when her parents are away for the weekend. The teenagers find themselves around a pool and discover the dead body of the family dog in the water. The tragic discovery confronts them with death as an inescapable loss. The structure of A Memory Lasts Forever is repetitive. Each of the four girls responds to the same event: they discover the body and respond to the shock by performing a prayer. The four actresses were recruited through a casting call to musical there groups in Greater Vancouver.

The uncanny nature of the discover affects our interpretations of the events and lifts them out of the binary oppositions of child/adult, sober/drunk, innocence/guilt, purity/contamination and, ultimately, of life/death. Thauberger does not locate the young girls on the positive axis of this grid but rather extends out into a third space that allows her characters to attain a deviant complexity.

Her art is not an art of spiritual or mental awakening, and rather seems meant to offer spectators a moment of loss, revelation and insight into the way these events define the construction of identities. In 2005 Thauberger mounted a concert performance with a choir of American soldiers’ wives that lives at a local army base apart from their men on duty. For Murphy Canyon Choir these women were allowed to write lyrics and co-compose the music for a concert that was staged during a one-night concert hall performance. Thauberger was very open in her support of the performers/participants. Her role is not only that of stage director, but she is also a personal coach, who encourages her performer’s input. Consequently her work raises questions about the relationship between realism and truth. Does (amateur) conviction equal realism or does it run the risk of leaping into exhibitionism and voyeurism? Thauberger’s most recent project, Social Service ≠ Art Project (2006) involves nine young German civil servants.

They find themselves trapped in a three level scaffolding construction. The story was written and performed by the young men and it deals with the distribution of authority and leadership, and the response of the group to a traumatic event over a period of time.

Thauberger’s work is constructed with an appropriate application of psychology, and an analytical sincerity combined with a gothic sensibility to offer a brilliant account of both being and becoming, representative of a new allegorical impulse.