HAIRY EYEBALL “The black queen is not interested in sympathy,” intones the artist Tim Roseborough dryly in Portrait of Jason II: Rebirth of the B*tch , his “sequel” to Shirley Clarke’s 1967 film Portrait of Jason. It’s one of many verbal snaps issued by Roseborough’s piece, a séance with and tribute to its titular subject currently on view at the tiny Scenius Gallery.
The Jason is question is Jason Holliday, who, for close to 100 minutes, gives Clarke’s near-static 16mm camera the performance of a lifetime. In an uninterrupted stream of speech filmed mostly in medium close-up, Holliday holds forth on the life experiences, aspirations, and observations he’s picked up as an African American, a gay man, an ex hustler, and a showbiz dreamer.
As the culled remains of the 12-hour shoot roll on and Clarke loads in new reel after new reel, Holliday’s finger poppin’ sassy front gradually gives way to flashes of deep-rooted pain and vodka-fueled rage, culminating in a tear-streaked finale that qualifies as one of the most unsettling moments in American documentary film.
Dressed in Jason drag — Coke bottle glasses, a natty white shirt, and dark blazer — and speaking in Holliday’s jivey cadence, Roseborough resurrects Clarke’s subject as a ghost from the past commenting on current events (Obama is discussed) and a cultural climate worlds away from the pre-Stonewall moment of Portrait.
Things get more interesting when Roseborough uses his performance of Jason to dive into how race and gender are affectively coded in Clarke’s film. The above quote is spoken in the midst of a disquisition on representations of “the queeny black man” as either an object of (presumably white) pity — here he brings up Paris is Burning — or exotic fascination (RuPaul), who is invariably collapsed with the figure of the drag queen.
Although it bears the look of its source material, Roseborough’s piece fundamentally differs from Clarke’s film in its presentation. Shot on single-channel video, Roseborough’s movie is shown on DVD. At my viewing session, I was given a remote allowing me to skip around between chapters, effectively taking in as much or as little of his Jason as I would like. Of course, when watching the original Portrait, you can up and leave the theater at any time (many viewers have in the two screenings I’ve attended), but its grueling duration and unrelenting pace are also what gives Jason’s performance, and Clarke’s film, their urgency.
Roseborough’s Jason might be more effective if unleashed across YouTube instead of confined to the by-appointment-only limitations of Scenius’ white cube (although, even former reigning queen Kalup Linzy has moved on and up to episodes of General Hospital). I’m glad the bitch is back, but I’d like to have a clearer sense of the stakes behind Roseborough’s new portrait.
FREE TO FALL
There are scads more shows opening just around the corner that space limits me from including in last week’s fall arts preview. That said, here are a few more current and upcoming exhibits worth seeking out in the coming weeks:
Composed of hundreds of miniature landscapes inspired by Western landscape painting, Sean McFarland’s refracted view of California’s blues, browns, greens, and golds turns Adobe Books’ back room into an exploded postcard shop.
At the Contemporary Jewish Museum, the cleverly titled “Black Sabbath” examines how black artists used Jewish music as way to define African American identity, history, and politics. The Idelsohn Society of Musical Preservation, which curated CJM’s recent “Jews on Vinyl” exhibit, has uncovered all sorts of hidden-in-plain-sight encounters between black and Jewish musical cultures, from Cab Calloway doing Yiddish jive to Johnny Mathis singing the Aramaic prayer “Kol Nidre.”
Radiohead fans know Stanley Donwood as the go-to cover artist and frequent artistic collaborator for the British rock group’s albums from The Bends onward. “Over Normal,” Donwood’s first stateside solo exhibit, features many of the painter’s colorful “word map” canvases, whose wavy, grid-like structures (based on the street layouts of major world cities) are filled in with politically resonant and controversially juxtaposed words (see the cover for 2003’s Hail to the Thief).
TIM ROSEBOROUGH: PORTRAIT OF JASON II: REBIRTH OF THE B*TCH
Through Sept. 10
3150 18th St., Suite 104, SF
SEAN MCFARLAND: UNTITLED LANDSCAPES (CALIFORNIA)
Through Sept. 19
Adobe Books Backroom Gallery
3166 16th St, SF
BLACK SABBATH: THE SECRET MUSICAL HISTORY OF BLACK-JEWISH RELATIONS
Through March 1, 2011
Contemporary Jewish Museum
736 Mission, SF
STANLEY DONWOOD: OVER NORMAL
Thurs/2 through Oct. 27
218 Fillmore, SF