Spending a dog day Sunday Afternoon

Review of Sunday Afternoon, a video work by Michelle Williams at RMIT Gallery.

Text for Haiku Review #2 (Eds. Ruark Lewis & Chris Chapman. note: unpublished

Okay so I’m sure I’m hardly going to be the first to make that joke but boy, is it funny. Michelle Williams video piece depicts a woman flopping about the floor pleading for attention from a large hound. Its intensity lies in the simplicity of its filming, our proximity to her, the obvious lack of camera operator placing us into that role by default, and it’s an intimate, intimate experience, the kind that makes you look around the brightly lit gallery the first time at everyone else and blush, the kind that has you dragging people there to place them within it too.

This woman is presented as wanting, needing something from this animal, her desire anthropomorphises it; paws looking more like little figures the longer you watch, its psychology and reaction become imbued with those of a person, its reluctance and rejection of her considered rather than instinctive. And yet a duality exists where you still can’t fully lose the feeling of inappropriateness. Okay, bestiality. There I’ve said it. And it is sexual, those who haven’t seen and heard it, oh yes.

With frilly shirt sleeves that recall another time, and skirt riding up, our protagonist writhes on floorboards, mostly faceless. Pulling this dog to her body, urging it to lie with her, her arms entwined around its proud legs, listless when it leaves her. This work is all about transference of power, and the role of sexuality in that transference. And through it all here is this hound. He/she can sense her desire; see her, smell her, hear her. He/she is set up in opposition to her; reluctant, whining, curious at times but detached. It is the brilliance of this piece that all this is suggested and played out. There is a moment when we are left alone with this woman, the sound of the dog’s claws on the floorboards tack-tacking their way into another room. It’s her and me, her and you and she sits up. She adjusts her clothes and her face falls into her hands. A devastating moment that’s all the time undercut with the nagging doubt of the ridiculousness of her plight, and made all the richer for it. Not this, not that, both and something else, but sexual, oh yes.

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