By Anne Knight Weber
For the first twenty minutes after I arrive to hear Elaine Sturtevant speak to the Contemporary Art Society at the Art Institute of Chicago, I view a series of the same very short film clips of around a minute each, over and over in a continuous loop.
While the films run, Sturtevant sits low in her chair on the very edge of the stage as far from the podium as possible, wearing a very short hair cut and trousers with a suit coat. Her appearance nearly disguises her gender, until I remember her first name is Elaine.
Funny things happen when I watch Elaine Sturtevant’s short film clips repeating over and over in a continuous loop. I am riveted to what appears to be a formless narrative. At first, I wonder if the films are slightly changed with each repetition, so each time I watch over and over, I am looking for some slight difference. That hand of the man thumbing the money, does he move his fingers differently each time I see the clip again? He doesn’t, so what does change, each successive time the film clip is repeated? When I see the same film clip over and over, what changes about how I view the film? When a film clip is repeated, is the piece different because I see it once again, in another version, which appears to be exactly the same? Will multiple viewings help me to find differences? How do I perceive a film clip that I thought I already viewed? Do I change how I see the piece? Does the piece change each time I see it again? Which time that I experience seeing a work of art will I value my experience the most and why? Do I change my perceptions and what I value about my experience each time I see the same film clip? How is each additional experience a repetition of what I thought I perceived in the first viewing?
If I get annoyed to be watching the same clip over again, why am I annoyed? In each successive viewing, am I having a different experience? If so, how is each experience different from the last?
The rest of the evening continues to be a zany exploration of how repeating an experience makes the original experience different. Sturtevant read from interviews printed in magazines that she had given previously. She selected an influential art critic from the audience to read the part of the influential art critic and Elaine Sturtevant read the part of Elaine Sturtevant, her own part. This both added to the original interview that had appeared in print and had merit standing alone as a current representation of a contemporary artist. Sturtevant seemed to enjoy herself, especially when a student asked a long rambling question and Sturtevant, barely containing her laughter, said, “Please repeat the question.”