Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Eva Majlata 1968

Eva Majlata 1968, originally uploaded by deanv41.

Yoko Ono and John Lennon issued a film in 1969 called "Rape (with a Camera)" which played briefly and then disappeared into the rarified world of occasional gallery exhibitions.
It is featured currently in the SF MoMA show entitled "Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera since 1870." [click post title for link] Running 77 minutes, it depicts a woman who first appears in Highgate Cemetery, London, and is stalked relentlessly by the filmmakers. She is Hungarian, in the country without papers, and apparently speaks no English. She moves from shy, inquisitive to worried, then angry and finally when she is followed home and into her apartment, distraught and despondent.

The audience is complicit in the sense that one follows the story believing the young woman actually would rather be left alone. I was riveted by the incidental capture of its era. Her fashion, make-up, the people in the background, the walk through Swinging London in November of 1968 all flow in nearly real-time. As a documentary it flattens the action of a time that is otherwise portrayed as strobing with colors set to an ultra-groovy soundtrack. Here, though, the sound is either Eva's Magyar, German or Italian questions left unanswered or the very brief film clapboard numbering expressed by the crew. No skin touches skin, despite the title, yet it feels intrusive, insidious and over the line. As a fully-realized piece of performance art it is also a chilling future shock for both its makers and a preview of a post-celebrity surveillance society.

A sad coda to the story: Eva, who went on to model as Eva Rhodes, moved back to Hungary eventually to open an animal sanctuary. She fought an uphill battle for animal rights that put her on the wrong end of local interests. In the midst of things there, she was brutally murdered by a worker at her sanctuary. When I watch the piece at MoMA i see it with different eyes and find it a terrifying psychological work that exudes the experimentalism and revolutionary spirit of the times and people that produced it.


leslie said...

This is a chilling and beautiful post...I'm linking it to my blog, I absolutely love this story. Very Hungarian in content and scale. Thanks.x

DbV said...

Thanks, Leslie.
Like a glass onion, i keep peeling the layers of this story myself only to find more shattered glass.
Eva's family had fled Hungary in Invasion of 1956, so the idea of the camera also represents the eyes of The State she already once escaped. She's an 'illegal' immigrant being surveilled in a 'free' society after fleeing a totalitarian regime. There is another layer of fear there.
Also, the love of animals she expressed in her life and the truly brutal way she was murdered (the man tried to burn her body, but it wouldn't ignite) is yet another shard that makes this piece such dramatic viewing.
It solidifies my feeling that Ono is a towering 20th century cultural figure, not just Ms. Lennon.