• IDOL: Becoming the Ritual Shrine: Video Works of Sam Clagnaz

    Date posted: June 30, 2011 Author: jolanta

    Hatshrine (2008), a 7-minute video piece by Sam Clagnaz, watches the faceless artist slowly and methodically assemble a shrine in his home. He places a plastic soda bottle on a straw seat, exits the frame, and returns to place wigs and hats on top of the bottle—the idol is emerging—one by one. The artist then exits and returns to adorn the floor with cloth and votive objects. Again he exits and returns, masked, to remove the hats from the idol, to place them on his own head, and steadily to reform his own body into the idol that he constructed. The cloth from the floor becomes a mantle for his shoulders. Finally, he is himself seated in the straw chair.

    “The video is absurdist: the R&B soundtrack croons “I belong to you” and “Everytime I see your face,” while the face is built and the soda bottle “cyclone” is literally idolized. And yet the video equally communicates an intensely private and sacred interiority.”

    Sam Clagnaz. Hatshrine, 2008. Video still. Courtesy of the artist.

    Sam Clagnaz. Hatshrine, 2008. Video still. Courtesy of the artist.

    IDOL: Becoming the Ritual Shrine: Video Works of Sam Clagnaz


    Kate Meng Brassel

    Hatshrine (2008), a 7-minute video piece by Sam Clagnaz, watches the faceless artist slowly and methodically assemble a shrine in his home. He places a plastic soda bottle on a straw seat, exits the frame, and returns to place wigs and hats on top of the bottle—the idol is emerging—one by one. The artist then exits and returns to adorn the floor with cloth and votive objects. Again he exits and returns, masked, to remove the hats from the idol, to place them on his own head, and steadily to reform his own body into the idol that he constructed. The cloth from the floor becomes a mantle for his shoulders. Finally, he is himself seated in the straw chair.

    The work is an amalgam of contradictions. The ritual is highly formalized and yet domestic— Clagnaz wears sweatpants and uses old hats from various members of his family. The site is familiar—a home—yet sacralized. The video is absurdist: the R&B soundtrack croons “I belong to you” and “Everytime I see your face,” while the face is built and the soda bottle “cyclone” is literally idolized. And yet the video equally communicates an intensely private and sacred interiority. Clagnaz himself happily relinquishes interpretive control over his work, content to find that his Hatshrine elicits both seriousness and laughter.

    While I find it easy to analyze and discuss at length artwork other than my own, it is increasingly difficult to discuss my own output intelligibly. I used to speak and write about my own work poetically and directly. I used to work with a calculated degree of critical distance. But the work I have been making for the past three years is personal to an uncomfortable degree—and that critical distance has all but disappeared.

    Hatshrine consists of video, sculptural work, photography, and drawing—all connected by themes of worship, magic, my personal faith, and spirituality, memory, and fantasy. At my most lucidly critical, I suppose that the work revolves around the degree of fantasy that a person allows into his or her cognitive life. When I speak about allowing fantasy into a rational schema, that fantasy covers a broad and varied spectrum. Whether religion, internet dating, gossip, video gaming, politics, or—perhaps more on the nose— dragons, angels, magic, and others, there are innumerable modes of fancy and whim that we allow into our everyday patterns of thought. The threshold between fantasy and reality is utterly mutable and capricious, and the alloy of the two has no regulating organ.

    I can articulate these ideas in between bouts of working. But when I prepare and create my work, my thoughts abdicate this critical stance. In video works such as Hatshrine (2008), Pieshrine (2008), Wanting a Child (2009), or Mercy Seat (2010), I am concerned with capturing, possessing, and absorbing the characters, materials, and story. Much of this work is built around rituals from traditional religion, folk beliefs, and heroic literature, and a big part of me wants these routines to be truly legitimate. Then again, the desire for a ritual, idol, or talisman to have qualitative power, meaning, or effect is unnecessary; the boundary between fidelity and fiction becomes erased.

    – Sam Clagnaz

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