Author: Michael Rush
Art in America, Issue: Nov, 2000
Sue de Beer and Laura Parnes at Deitch Projects
The current craze among media artists for foraging among old films, new films and television shows for inspiration (masters of the form include Turner Prize winners Steve McQueen and Douglas Gordon) enters a new and gruesome phase with Sue de Beer and Laura Parnes's Heidi 2. Neither a critique nor an homage, the video projection is billed by the artists as the "unauthorized sequel" to Paul McCarthy and Mike Kelley's 1992 Heidi (it takes a team, it seems, to manufacture chic gore). De Beer and Parnes have reshaped the already ghoulish original to suit their own gender interests. The McCarthy/Kelley version was clearly a boy story, and this is very much a girl's. Neither will be screened soon on Nickelodeon.
First, a bit of history, When Chris Burden was shooting himself in the arm, Gina Pane cutting open her toes and Valle Export lacerating her cuticles in early '70s performances, Paul McCarthy was ingesting and vomiting raw hamburger and stuffing sausages through the manufactured anal cavities of naked dolls (an image he revisits in Heidi). All of these extreme body rituals emanated from an international preoccupation with shock art that was aimed at awakening the art masses from their modernist naps. McCarthy, and occasionally Kelley, have kept at it, while others, like Burden, have "matured" into making boats and miniature replicas of Los Angeles.
Both Heidis take the famous coming-of-age story and turn it into a blood-bathed paean to the dysfunctional family, featuring Grandpa as a sex-starved child abuser and Heidi as a willing accomplice. Poor brother Peter gets the worst of it in both versions, what with his head being beaten against every available surface. The tearing open of Heidi's stomach at the end of Heidi 2 so Mom can insert a television monitor atop the girl's intestines is a none-too-pleasant sight. Heidi, however, doesn't seem to mind.
De Beer and Parnes turned the back gallery at Deitch into a romper-room setting where viewers could sit on painted foam chairs to watch the two-channel, full-wall projections. Though filmed very low-tech with a hi-8 video camera, the large projections provide a filmic graininess that adds to the cinematic experience. Heidi 2 follows the earlier formula of fragmenting the narrative of abuse and counter-abuse into segments with titles like "Unsatisfied Want" and "Dissociation." Plastic mannequins, masks and repetitive actions create a sense of madhouse frenzy. Both Heidis make me think of Duchamp's Etant donnes, with the bride lying motionless and naked, spread-eagled on a bed of leaves. She's been resurrected in these Heidi chronicles. She's now defecating and vomiting her way into media history.