Elena Knox, Reinventing the Wheel, 2014, HD video and stereo sound, colour, 3:15
My stop motion animation Reinventing the Wheel (2014) rehearses the physical vocabulary of the professional game show hostess as exemplary of the social policing of the female body. It uses an original poem by the artist, incrementally revealed on a Wheel of Fortune game board, to augment the expressive capabilities of a mute, performing hostess. As notional contestants guess at phrases (and prizes), the doll-like hostess who turns their guessed letters becomes a medium for her own message to the host and all the viewers at home.
First, in the National Film and Sound Archive, I watched masses of episodes of the Australian version of Wheel of Fortune, minutely observing and peculiarly notating ‘hostess’ Adriana Xenides’ gestures and poses over the 18 years that she spent working on the show. Over 4 complete seasons, I identified only about 50 different poses/gestures.
Next, I storyboarded my video according to the poem and the rhythms, rules and conventions of Wheel of Fortune. I crafted and learned a routine imitating Adriana’s gestural codes and variations. Using a lo-fi, life-size game board adorned with Post-Its, I performed my version of Adriana’s performance(s), filmed by my collaborator Campbell Drummond. I turned the exact letters of the poem in each pass in front of the board (20 passes), prefiguring the doll’s eventual performance.
The hostess doll’s range of motion was then precisely mapped to the human movement. Campbell and I created the 4,138 frames of the animation by ‘onion-skinning’, an editors’ technique of superimposition allowing animators to achieve smoother motion by viewing previous, present and forthcoming frames concurrently. Using a video mixer, we superimposed my performance over the doll’s unfolding performance as tweaked by Campbell’s patient fingers. Plotting the doll’s motion according to the guide video frame by frame, we copied onto the plastic little ‘object’ body the inscribed performance of (an artist’s interpretation of) Adriana as already initiated, encoded, socialised subject. This working method roughly paralleled a process by which women and girls learn to bring our bodies under social control, painstakingly growing and shedding our own onion skins.
man the heels are high
and I say man
coz I’m on a level and look
them in the eye I say
and learn to listen mister
my filigree frame
fisted round discipline
you’ve never dreamed