In the United Stats of Shana Moulton’s Imaginative Videos and Sculpture
Shana Moulton explores our obsession with self-help fads and wellness therapies, as well as consumer culture as a whole. She primarily uses video, with her alter ego Cynthia, who never speaks, as the protagonist. The MFA is featuring all nine installments of her Whispering Pines series, as well as other videos, sculpture, and an opera/performance piece. Though Ms. Moulton has received many solo exhibitions in galleries and has been selected for a wealth of group shows, this is her first solo museum project in the United States.
Shana Moulton: Journeys Out of the Body opens Saturday, June 18, and continues through Sunday, October 9, in the Hazel Hough Wing. This is one of the most inventive exhibitions ever presented/staged at the MFA. Inspired primarily by soap operas, Whispering Pines will unfold, appropriately, on television sets. A life-size anatomical theater in the central gallery of the Hazel Hough Wing will display the 2008 video Repetitive Stress Injuries. Ms. Moulton has also created a site-specific video for this exhibition and is premiering another, All Angles are Angels.
On Thursday, October 6, at 7 p.m., Whispering Pines 10, a one-act live-performance video opera, will be presented in the Marly Room. Backed by Nick Hallett’s libretto and score, Ms. Moulton will bring Cynthia to life in a contemporary take on the “mad scene.” Daisy Press will be the vocalist. The opera is free with Museum admission, which is only $5 after 5 p.m. on Thursday.
Whispering Pines, her best known video series, takes its name from the California mobile home park, chiefly comprised of seniors, where she grew up. With very few children around, she turned to her elderly neighbors for companionship and was fascinated with the knickknacks lining their shelves. Her videos are full of such objects, carefully arranged for the camera, which she views as part of the cast. She also explored the large woods next door, which fuels Cynthia’s fantasies and dreams.
Television was another major influence. A soap opera fan, she was also drawn to the cult classic, Twin Peaks, created by Mark Frost and David Lynch of Blue Velvet fame. Only on the air for two seasons, Twin Peaks uncovered the darker side of small-town life and had supernatural elements and quirky humor. The artist notes that the serial format of Whispering Pines and its production quality are inspired by both soap operas and home movies.
Cynthia can be funny, as she deals with her hypochondria and follows yet another fad. At the same time, her anxiety is ever present. Her costumes embedded with medical devices, especially a dress with a hemorrhoid pillow, are over-the-top. That dress is part of the exhibition. Born in 1976, Ms. Moulton earned her BA in art and anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley and her MFA at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. She has been an artist-in-residence at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Minnesota, Harvestworks in New York, De Ateliers in Amsterdam, and The Sommerakademie in Berne. Ms. Moulton has shown her work and performed around the world, including in China, and her videos have been selected for leading experimental film festivals. Curator of Contemporary Art Katherine Pill invited Ms. Moulton to bring her fantastic and fantastical work to the MFA.