Virtual Remains, part of the 2021 Atlanta Biennial, is currently on display at the Atlanta Contemporary. Part of this exhibition includes Shane Dedman’s Physical Body of Work, a film and installation project occupying the basement space of the Contemporary. In this quiet cove lives a work that moves the viewer through the mind of a queer artist through trauma, darkness, introspection and rebirth.
Shane Dedman’s work comprises three short films. The individual films are connected through original poetry, mostly read through voice-over. Dedman takes advantage of the storytelling potential of a subtitle, cleverly pairing the image on-screen with phrases that both describe the sound and sway the mood of the scene. Each frame becomes its own poetic composition.
The first film is called Amnesia. There is the grassy sound of cicadas and crickets. On-screen are close-ups of pages faded in black mold and violet ink spread out like an autopsy on a blanket. What was once legible becomes blotched abstractions of itself. “I can no longer look back on the document”, the voice-over reads. “An archive exists, not as truth.” As the poem continues and the notebooks bleed one into the other, we can see how our past selves are not our current selves, but mere testaments of where and who we’ve been. The poem repeats “An archive exists, not as truth, but as proof.”
Next, Aporia begins. It is a black night. Silence, then a match strike. Fire burns the notebooks. “I destroyed it all”, the voice says. Fire burns, the notebook’s ashes make grim faces between the flames, the flames dance like golden-white ghosts on the wilting paper. How very Atlanta, for Dedman’s journals to be set on fire, the evidence of a former self burned away in the darkness, artistic traces gone up in smoke.
The burning feels like a reckoning, a ritual of healing. Dedman cuts ties with the past, a choice to be alive in the present. With this gesture, Dedman seems to step into themselves empty and unburdened. There is something meaningful, too, how the destruction of an archive on paper is being archived on film. The books transform, no longer useful in its original bound form, but given new crackling life. “It’s all gone”, the voice says. Behind the poem is the sound of rain, a far-off storm. We live out our painful catharsis, and then, who are we?
The final and longest film, Folly, plays on a neighboring screen. The viewer must reorient themselves in space for the end of the trilogy. In this chapter, we see the first body, a hand in white lace, red wavy hair, clown paint, Artemis eats berries off the branch. Artemis, our protagonist, is in a state of earthly delights, a loud chewing and burping femme wandering the dream-like landscape.
Artemis is invited to the Dedman Circus, where Dedman embodies various distinct personas interacting with each other. There is an almost vaudeville sense of humor throughout these moments. These characters perform, serve each other, irritate and bore each other. One persona charms another in a cabaret set to house music. Another reads a gloomy poem. These are the capabilities of our minds. Artemis runs through the holographic and glitching woods, toying with a stream, putting bits of the field in their hair, laying their hands over every living surface.
These films have a great deal to do with psyche, how the self deals with the self. Who are we, how do we treat ourselves, during idle thought, trauma and memory? We are contradictory and complementary, disjointed and perfectly whole. We find answers through play, through action, by fire, by air. Through a queer lens, the film is about what it feels like to make sense of these different performances of gender and identity in conjunction with performances of style and artistry.