A response by Dr. Jennifer Dyer

Andrea Cooper’s oeuvre is characterized literally by bold enactments of stereotypes of feminine sexuality and the experience of living through those stereotypes. As with her previous works such as Honey and Oh, Darlin…, Cooper takes on the part of her newest figure in the experimental short Anna, but this time the stakes are higher. Anna, in her own words, is “sought then unfurled” throughout a monologue with the viewer, a viewer that is positioned to be seduced and despised by Anna. We are never quite sure if Anna is dead or alive, present to us or lost to us. As Anna explains, she has the quality of the “most beautiful failure”, an identity itself imposed on women who cannot live within normative female gender constraints, be they professional, nurturing, or sexual. Anna confronts her predator – fixed in the position of looking as the audience – with disturbing allure. She plays a dangerous game, seducing the viewer into a desire to objectify her without ever allowing that objectification to occur.Anna still woods Anna is there but not there for us. The 12 minute film is set in an abandoned barn within a remote wood. Anna begins to speak before we can see her; when she emerges on screen she is pacing and crouching, crawling into the camera then curled coquettishly away from us in a filthy corner of an unlocatable room. From the outset it is clear that practically and metaphorically, we will never find her, she cannot be placed by us. The suggestive zebra print slip she wears is set off by the cozy warmth of the long beige sweater she pulls around herself, separating herself from both the viewer and her situation. Anna wears nothing on her feet. She has obviously not chosen to be here. “Anna, Anna”, her own ghostly voice asks, “Where did you go? We’ve looked high and we’ve looked low”. As Anna paces and curls and gazes into the camera, we hear faintly in the background the
anna stillwell-worn portents of horror, a tinkling of chimes and faded laughter of the play of children, though we know she is alone with us, the predatory viewers. Anna is trapped in this barn, clearly against her will, and she knows how her story will end. “STOP! STOP SEARCHING! It’s always, always the dogs that find her.” The camera moves from Anna within the barn to Anna digging her own grave in the woods outside. There is nothing to suggest she will leave. Amongst these spaces, Anna speaks to us in a poetic voice, cut through with shouts and angry curses, an unsteady voice that contrasts with the confident poetry of what she says. She brings together the experiences of prayer and the highs of addiction, the fear and anger and consumptive titillation of sexual desire, amidst an undercurrent of aggressive apprehension. Anna makes no apologies for her own identity. The effect is one of high-realism: Anna is neither the melodramatic victim of slasher films nor the doomed heroine of romanticized tragedies. Cooper animates Anna as all too real for us, presenting the unpresentable experience of being the woman as prey who refuses to be preyed upon. Andrea Cooper’s Anna is stark, haunting and raw. Like all great art, it preys upon the viewer’s desire to look, but only in order to make us think and feel in unprecedented ways about the world we live in.

Woods experiment

Andrea Cooper is an international media artist with a Masters in Visual Studies from the University of Toronto and a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Concordia. Her most recent work Honey premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival’s Forum Expanded in February 2010. Strange Things premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival’s Forum Expanded in 2007 and won the National Film Board of Canada’s Emerging Filmmaker/Video artist award at the Images Festival. Cooper’s work has been exhibited in galleries across Canada, including the solo exhibition Fickle As Poison at Grunt Gallery in Vancouver. Anna is her first solo show with the Red Head Gallery. Her video work is distributed by V-Tape in Toronto.

Dr. Jennifer Dyer is the Assistant Professor of Communication Studies and Director of the Graduate Program in Humanities at Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada. She is author of the book Serial Images: The Modern Art of Iteration.


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