Borrowed from the London subway directive, “Mind the Gap,” the title of Javier Téllez’s exhibition, was too simple a warning for his complicated videos. His latest, Caligari and the Sleepwalker (2008), takes its cue from Robert Wiene’s classic silent film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920). In place of the murderous designs Wiene’s doctor has on his patient, Cesare, Téllez’s Caligari engages his client—a space alien—in psychiatric sessions that verge on the poetic. Inter-titles written in chalk on a handheld blackboard relay the dialogue and narrate the proceedings when Caligari presents Cesare as a freakish spectacle to a crowd of inquisitive spectators. As he often has done, Téllez recruited the actors, with whom he workshopped the script, from among patients in a mental health facility, in this case a clinic in Berlin.
La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (Rozelle Hospital), 2004, resulted from a workshop Téllez conducted with a dozen women in treatment at the eponymous psychiatric hospital in Sydney, Australia. The script, here also developed in collaboration with the patients, is based on their responses to Carl Theodor Dreyer’s La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (1928); inter-titles again written on a handheld blackboard explain the action. In this version of the martyr’s story, Joan has schizophrenia, and is on trial for her delusions of grandeur. Téllez combined the Rozelle footage with scenes from Dreyer’s film, highlighting passages in which the priests and doctors—all male—render judgments on the heroine’s mental and physical state. La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (Rozelle Hospital) was shown with Twelve and a Marionette (2004), which consists of brief interviews with the Rozelle women, who identify themselves silently on handwritten blackboards and then describe themselves aloud using their doctors’ clinical terminology.
One Flew Over the Void (2005) was made with patients at the State Psychiatric Hospital in Mexicali. There, Téllez enlisted actors wearing animal masks and signboards to participate in a carnival on a Mexicali beach. At the carnival’s climax, a human cannonball is shot over the international demarcation line between Mexico and the United States. It is one of many boundaries breached in Téllez’s rich and complex work.