IN SEARCH OF LOST MAGIC Jannie Regnerus’s One-Person Theater

text by Midori Matsui for exhibition Gallery Koyanagi Tokyo

Jannie Regnerus’s photography belongs to the genre of staged photography. Nonetheless, it’s purpose and methodology differ from those of other contemporary female photographers working in similar genres. For example, Hellen van Meene and Nikki S. Lee basically follow Cindy Sherman’s lead, simulating, through models and their own body, images of woman as conventionally defined by classical painting, advertisements and photographic media. Regnerus, on the other hand, documents her own performance by slipping in position ten seconds before the timed camera takes the picture. While Lee and others secure their post-postmodern subject position by referring to prototypical (stereotypical) gestures as a shared cultural property, one might say that Regnerus reaches for a world of values and a time beyond such as art-historical cross-references.

At first sight, Regnerus’s photos show a woman relaxing in various outdoor situations- lying on a picknick blanket in a green field, sitting under an apple tree, rowing a boat on the ocean, But these apparently bucolic impressions are soon made ambigious by ritualistic gestures, enigmatic details, artifical arrangements. For example, underneath the appletree Regnerus spread out white pillows, for a soft welcoming of the falling apples. Behind her boat Regnerus rows a ‘private sunset’, an object made of red fiber. The man Regnerus is having her picknick with, turns out to be made of hay. These revelations create a dramatic tension in the photographic space, transforming the viewer from neutral spectator to guilty voyeur intruding on a child’s make-believe play.

Regnerus’s photo’s thus function as a two-dimensional theater. Rather than invoking a Jeff Wallsian tableaux-vivante, they aspire to the condition of ‘holy theater’, after Samuel Beckett, in which simple gestures and cliched images are transplanted into an empty theater, uncompromisingly stripped to their essence, relentlessy repeated so as to render them visible to the audience. –1 In her own words, Regnerus attempts to turn the audience attention to the natural, unmanipulated world. She does this by showing innocence, concentration and patience, which characterize all rituals and therefor slowdown time. Regnerus’s private rituals, nevertheless, are so intensely childlike that they suggest almost an obsessive attachment to innocence. For example, the image of Regnerus impersonating a girl as a modern Leda clasping a stuffed swan that evokes both fairy-tale and kitsch. The image overlaps with that of the saintly wife and whore in Lars von Trier’s film breaking the waves, who sacrifies her chastity in order to appease her crippled husband or the so- cial truants in Idiots who feign idiocy in order to recover their ability to spontaneously enact their repressed inner wishes.

In the same way Regnerus is sailing her private sunset across the ocean, she covered the dry Mongolian dessert with a blue silk sheet as a symbolic river. These actions reflects her wish to rekindle magic that was once invoked by every ritual, or reclaim the ‘omnipotence of thoughts,’ the belief in the power of imagination that can influence the phenomenal world beyond the temporal or spatial limits, as children and primitive people once believed. –2

She tries to do so by patiently reenacting symbolic acts that can be regarded as hackneyed and naive, reenstating the power of prototype in her personal allegory. Magic frequently resides in the most banal-looking popular rites, oumoded pop songs and the play of children.-3

The silent momentary plays staged by Regnerus in order to embody such innocence, frequently convey unintended humor and sadness.For example, in Picnic with a hayman the man is an impromptu creation made by stuffing with hay the shirt and jacket Regnerus wore to the field. The description recalls Eve’s creation from Adam’s rib, while at the same time the photographic image evokes a lonely child’s conversation with an imaginary friend. Another photo, Sha- dow and me, presents a man in black standing over a reading woman, the man is looking into binoculars; this image of someone’s shadow become a free agent suggests another fantasy about doubling. Instead of using computer manipulations, Regnerus only manipulates the scene at the spot by simple handmade props and minumum stage set, all of which emphazise the fictitiousness of her images. Regnerus tries to reenact a magic in theater, in which the inanimate assumes a life of it’s own and is revealing the effect of animism- the oldest system of human thought through which a person comprehends his or her relation with the phenomenal world- reanimated by theatrical acts. Her photos reflect her belief in authenticity of emotion into which the audience is awakened as he or she encoun-ters the anti-mimetic representation of life.

-1) Peter Brook, the Empty Space (London; Penquin books 1968) p. 48, pp.63-4 -2)Sigmund Freud, Totem and Taboo, trans. James Strachey (New York Norton, 1950), pp. 83-7 Freud maintains that ‘omnipotence of thoughts’ maintained by children and primitive men, is found to survive most visible in those with ob- sessive neuroses (83-6); in fact, he states that only in the field of art in our civilization omnipotence of thought is retained. (90) -3) Walter Benjamin, ‘in Dream Kitsch,” Selected Writings Vol 2. trans. Rodney Livingstone. rt. al, Ed. Michael Jenning. et. Al (Cambridge, Mass. Belknap Press, 1999)4.