In 2009, artist Nina Schwanse relocated from New York City/Philadelphia to New Orleans to continue her video practice at the University of New Orleans. Her work refreshes the typically didactic terrain of mediated female objectification with verbal and visual wit. With each video, she channels a fascination with notoriety into an ongoing exploration of self-representation—an ontological dilemma faced in social contexts of all scales, but especially the macro that is increasingly common in our technological age of instant and accidental celebrity.
In her words, she aims to “restructure the narrative and formal language of news media, advertising, and pornography to create disjunctive portraits that intend to disappoint the expected course of entertainment,” and while doing so, she evokes personas that are genuinely entertaining. She plays most of these characters herself, limiting the degree to which they are allowed to present themselves on camera. When they address the viewer in first person, their speech is matched with speechless modeling, a separation whose tension produces caricatures that resonate beyond superficiality.
k-a-t-e(s) (11 mins., 2010)
Schwanse becomes the pantheon of celebrity Kates who congeal as a somewhat multi-faceted contemporary definition of the name. Her Kates offer deadpan excerpts of their biographies, personal PR, and, of course, humility.
My Happy Family (13 mins., 2009)
Edited outtakes of the artist’s moderately tomboyish sister at about ten years old, in rehearsal for a 1990s pizza commercial directed by her father and co-starring Amanda Bynes (whose severity amidst giggles foreshadows her career as a Disney star). Prompts from off-screen steer the girl’s descriptions of a happy family and the perfect boyfriend away from her own values and towards comically preordained norms like a big white house, children, and pizza by candlelight.
Homegrown (1 min., 2009)
Following the weird tropes of TV call girl ads down to their promises of consummate availability and their scintillating syntax, Schwanse merchandises a female figure—whose head is occluded by a giant, gothic bonnet—in various pastoral flavors and settings.
If I Knew Then (3 mins., 2008)
With a self-proclaimed interest in women “from the pre-internet age of the tabloid 1990s,” Schwanse styles herself as Amy Fisher and monologues on the art of being Amy Fisher, or the work of being the artist Amy Fisher, depending on how you see it and her. “Artists work hard, you know? You have to work hard to be hot.”