Victoria Miro presents Phil Collins’ latest work, Soy Mo de Me, a thirty minute telenovela created in response to the glaring differences in lifestyle between two Aspen communities discovered while on an artistic residency. Collins’ interests as an artist appear to lie in the lack of responsibility provided by ‘reality’ based media, specifically in the wake of the Celebrity Big Brother racism row.
For the latest exhibition Collins contemplates the ability of popular culture – specifically melodrama – to deal with racism, modern slavery (embodied by the character of the maid), social segregation and the TV soap’s favourite plot device of tenuous identity due to being given up or swapped at birth.
Emotional problems are bigger and more expansive on the set of a soap. Human emotions and miscarriages of justice become shrieked across the stage. The episode portrays the dramatic condition of humanity through our self-created dramas. Subsequently the theatrical acting borders on the theatre of absurd or the Victorian melodrama beloved by the artist.
Popular culture is all too often disregarded precisely because of its popularity. What is too frequently overlooked is its ability to portray and explore political and social tensions through apparently mindless TV. Soaps can provide a different platform to the news media from which to examine the continuing implication of social issues such as race, poverty and the outcomes of inequality.
As in previous work by Collins, the telenovela explores the relationship of suspended trust between the viewer and the camera. Collins’ work frequently asks the viewer to question what it is that they are watching and what is all too often left out of the edit.
Soy Mo de Me continues to question ideas of the camera as a representation of ‘visual truth’ through revealing the set and the people involved in creating the soap’s ‘reality’. The revelation of artifice within TV programmes can also be read as a comment on the construction equally involved in making a documentary, suggesting they can be as fictional as a television drama.
The level of artifice created by crew members is revealed as the camera pans backwards from a particularly emotive scene (the maids begging their mistress for money to save a husband). The movement of the camera slowly reveals the wooden walls that create the lush parlour, the camera crew and the maid walking off set, shaking off her character as she accepts a drink from an on set runner.
A beautiful film, it retains a humour portrayal of humanity’s continuity amateur dramatics whilst in search for a sense of identity. Soy Mo de Me’s poignancy lies in the level of inequality visualised between maid and mistress (a reference to Genet’s exploration of the violence inherent in the unequal relationship between maid and mistress).
The unsettling technique of changing actresses playing the lead characters also comments upon the use within telenovelas of lighter skinned actresses to play mistresses and those with darker skins to portray maids. Collins’ use of multiple actresses playing the role of maid or mistress disregards skin colour, consequently disregarding another human folly, the separation and value of people through the colour of their skin.
The decision to change the actresses playing the maids highlights the continually changing face of slavery, or to be more specific, the facelessness of those who make the world tick. These actresses become those ever-interchangeable characters history too often forgets.
The telenova’s predictable framework, manipulation of the viewer’s emotions, incredulous narrative, and most importantly the huge part of the culture of the community, are all elements Collins records. Soy Mo de Me is a homage to humanity’s ability for dramatic flourishes and popular culture’s opportunity to question the current status quo through over dramatic situations.
The exhibition finishes this week. It is a must see before Christmas.
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