Rebel Love: A Woman Scorned | two channel video | 2007

 

Turn, finally, to Rebel Love: A Woman Scorned, in which Lowther deconstructs Nicholas Ray’s classic film Rebel Without a Cause. Widely regarded as having the most overtly homosexual subtext of any of James Dean’s films, Rebel Love: A Woman Scorned recuts and recontextualizes the work to make this more apparent.

For those unfamiliar with Rebel Without a Cause, James Dean, in his final film, plays the young Jim Stark, who has just moved to a new town. There he encounters the attention of both Plato, played by Sal Mineo, and Judy, played by Natalie Wood. Although perhaps not overt at the time, Mineo’s character is gay, suggested often, but subtly, as Roger Ebert has noted:

at the planetarium, he touches his shoulder caressingly. After Buzz dies when his car hurtles over the cliff, the students all seem curiously -- well, composed. Jim gives Plato a lift home and Plato asks him, "Hey, you want to come home with me? I mean, there's nobody home at my house, and heck, I'm not tired. Are you?" But Jim glances in the direction of Judy's house, and then so does Plato, ruefully.

To highlight these instances, Lowther has created a two channel installation in which all the scenes with Jim Stark and Plato are played on one monitor, and the scenes of Judy, alone, are on another. What we encounter is a double longing, one in which James Dean is unable to direct his desires towards the expected object of his affection. By removing Judy, Lowther brings to the fore the issues inherent in the histories of gay representation, grounded in the belief that these images should tell the stories that had previously been denied.

Cinematically, this repressed desire and the fact that it is thwarted, what we might describe as Plato’s inability to consummate his relationship with Jim is signified, in part, by the fact that he has a gun that should, but can’t, fire. Near the climax of the film, when Plato is shot, but apparently not killed by the police (leaving us to infer that homosexual desire is dangerous, perhaps, but not deadly) Jim shouts:

“But I’ve got the bullets! The gun was empty!”

and later asks the officers,

“What did you have to do that for?”

Plato is carried away on a stretcher, wounded, but not dead, and the film itself can climax in a swirl of acceptable heterosexuality, with Jim saying, “Mom, Dad, this is my friend Judy.”

As a creative artist, Christopher Lowther is not afraid to take risks. His is an ongoing interrogation of the creative practices that serve to hide issues of sexuality and desire. Whether through the deconstructions of unspoken narratives and subtexts, as found in works such as Cowboy Cruising or Rebel Love: A Woman Scorned, or through creative constructions of duplicitous desires, Lowther brings the questions of identity to the fore. His works are not based in repression or shame, but are, instead, challenges to admit and allow that these narratives exist and that their stories are both valid and valued. One might think finally of Rope Reconstructed, where Lowther seeks to unpack the travel chest of revulsion and bring a more understandable, more human face to questions of desire.

I am reminded here of an essay by the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. While discussing Sigmund Freud’s interpretation of dreams, he suggested that censorship is not resistance. What he meant by that phrase was that the mere exclusion of something did nothing to alter its basic structure. Although he was writing about the interpretation of dreams, what he said I will modify only slightly here:

To say that identity is placed in a psychic locality is to say that it isn’t simply inscribed as the parenthesis of self. It is placed and defines itself in another locality, governed by different local laws, the place of the symbolic exchange, which is not to be confused, although it is embodied in it, with the spatio-temporal dimension in which we can locate all human behaviour. The structural laws of the dream, like those of language, are to be found elsewhere, in another locality, whether we call it psychic or not.

In Christopher Lowther’s works, then, we see the emergence of a subtext, an excavation, and interrogation of meanings. We see the subtleties of gesture and language made evident and manifest. We see desire, unspoken and unrequited. Each brings us towards a deeper understanding of the issues of queer identity, and each asks as many questions as it answers.

 

excerpt taken from, "The Pick Up Artist" by Brett Levine

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