BY Pablo Larios in Reviews | 16 MAY 12
Featured in
Issue 5

Emily Wardill

Badischer Kunstverein

BY Pablo Larios in Reviews | 16 MAY 12

Emily Wardill, Imelda Doesn’t Believe in You, 2012

In Flann O’Brien’s novel At Swim-Two-Birds (1939), a writer is visited, taunted and drugged by the characters in his own stories. For her film Fulll Firearms (2011), Emily Wardill loosely adapted the real-life case of Sarah Winchester, the Connecticut heiress who, in the 1880s, built a manor to house the ‘spirits’ haunting her: the victims of her father-in-law’s arms empire.

The film – screened alongside related objects, costumes and prints – is a throwback to the Hollywood melodrama. Taking up themes of guilt, delusion and performance, Wardill revamps the genre against modern settings: the architecture studio, an urban beach, a hack therapist’s office, a luxury home-in-progress. It’s the story of an ageing millionaire, Imelda, and a fretting architect, Laslo. Imelda descends on the scene abstractly, as a willowy outline on glass. She commissions a house that, somewhat like her character, should remain unfinished. ‘It’s very hard to design a house without a specific idea of who the potential occupants are.’ Laslo replies, but Imelda also seems uncertain about who will live there. As the property is built, sneaker-wearing street actors come to squat it, eating and copulating on the grounds. Believing they’re spirits, Imelda defends them, housing them in order to alleviate her guilt.

‘[G]uilt is one way of being close to your father,’ Imelda’s analyst tells her. In the film, Wardill takes psychoanalytical tropes and turns them into parodic paper cut-outs; Jacques Lacan’s ‘mirror’ makes a real appearance (‘Are you a mirror?’ asks one of the actors); Freud’s clichés about guns and penises are taken literally (the title is a play on the word ‘firearm’, that is, an arm that actually does catch on fire).

A house, Laslo tells us, like a story, has a beginning, middle and end. But what if a house is deliberately incomplete? Imelda’s clothing – a hodgepodge of the burlesque and the baroque – was exhibited along with the ornate architectural models used in the film, as the project extended past the screen (the extra letter ‘l’ at the end of the ‘full’ in the title might stand for excess). To the film, Wardill added metaphorical renderings of Imelda: illumined, wooden, book-like sculptures, such as The Imelda in White (2011). Prints, such as Cameo (2012), show Imelda cut up into disfigured collages, like self-portraits of instability.

Emily Wardill, Fulll Firearms, 2011, film still

A melodrama – as practiced, say, from directors Douglas Sirk to Todd Haynes – involves a friction between personalities. Fulll Firearms’s characters neither connect, nor do battle, but fire at each other and miss, bathetically, their targets. Lines of dialogue are unanswered; plot leads, dropped. Wardill is interested in the charades we play – with ourselves, with others – when we desire to relate and, likewise, when we bungle our attempts at intimacy. In one scene, a din of crumpled paper renders inaudible an important talk between Imelda and Laslo. Dialogue is lucid, almost ornate, yet sometimes crassly delivered, as if a Henrik Ibsen play were being dubbed on foreign television. With the rigour of a morality tale, the film often feels dragged down by its own metaphors; then again, over-reading is a symptom of the psychoses that are the works’ theme. ‘We tell stories to ourselves which we either believe or we don’t believe – and that is psychoanalysis’, says the therapist. ‘Fiction’, answers Imelda. ‘Exactly.’

Pablo Larios is an editor and writer. He lives in Berlin, Germany.