Harry Dodge, Masked-Unmasked


I’m at the Harry Dodge screening at The Kitchen. The first video starts. Onscreen, someone wears a mask with a cube affixed to its forehead. There’s no telling if it’s a man or a woman, but the mask suggests the ugliness of a dude, and the perverse, uncouth way this person speaks also seems masculine. It’s probably Harry. The person describes a film to the camera, walking us through it like a director would with his cinematographer. There’s a lot of talk about a “super nice carpet” and a description of a photo of a woman with a “sperm-covered head,” and the way it would look when her “perfect pink tongue” pops out. Film talk, like “POV” and “cut!” is thrown around. Lots of elements of the imaginary film are described as “beautiful” and “lovely” and “fuckable” but all you see is a person in a drab room in a hideous mask, its lips removed to reveal the narrator’s lips moving. The video, called Unkillable (2011) goes on like this for about 15 minutes.

In the audience, people are constantly tittering. I am, too. It’s funny, and not in a particularly subtle or refined way. The monologue is funny because the delivery is strong and smart, like a good comedian’s, and because most of the jokes are about sex (“he has a boner the size of Tennessee”) or violence (a man is described as having a “ball of viscera” instead of a head).

A new video starts: “Do you know how the world dies?” asks the text on a screen, and then the response: “It gets all its trees and animals off the hill and lies down on its side and it dies. That’s how the world ends.” This repeats. The piece ends.

Another begins: the definition of the word “latent” appears on screen; a scientist describes the concept of continuum; a guy at the beach is trying, with difficulty, to wear a pair of pants as a shirt; teenagers engage in some pyromania and set themselves aflame; an elephant falls over; fireworks are set off on people’s heads; Alan Watts is heard speaking about the duality of mind and body; a defanged king cobra attacks a child; tornado chasers wait in their car as the cyclone approaches: “It’s coming right at us!” The word “analog” is defined, a guy is pissing and shitting in his underwear for the camera, a firework goes off, another one, another one, a terrible accident occurs in which a man attempts to do a back-flip off a vending machine but falls flat-faced onto the pavement. The scene is repeated at an agonizingly slow pace. Audience members wince. I’m writing as fast as I can, but the clips are quick and I’m missing half of it. All sorts of definitions pop up—for words like “digital,” “pixel,” “transitive”—with none of them seeming to be correct. The sound is strangely out of synch with the video. Teenagers are suffocating and strangling themselves until they pass out. The screen goes solid blue. An astonishing eclipse of the sun appears. A person weeps beside a deathbed. The third video ends.

People applaud. Someone at the back stands and offers to answer questions (“if anyone has any”). It’s apparent that this is the same person who wore the mask in the first film–same voice and face shape. Harry appears masculine, and the filmmaker’s name, “Harry,” suggests a man. He descends the bleachers and stands in front of everyone, wearing a tight black shirt and tight black pants, sailor tattoos, medium-length hair slicked behind his ears. No questions come at first, and then they pour in. “Could you explain the purpose of the rubber mask?” A woman asks. “I’m interested in faces,” Harry says, gesturing in the same way as the masked character. He wipes his nose. “My background is performance . . . What would performatively be revealed without a face?”

“How much of that first film was scripted?” a man asks. “All scripted. The script was in my lap. I was looking down at it.” “Is that what all the edits were about?” “Yes, I looked down every two lines.”

“I like the way you changed dictionary definitions,” a low-voiced woman says. Harry’s eyebrows arch. He stands with his arms behind his back for a while. “Is something lost in change?” he says, “Or does everything change in change? Analog and digital, alive and dead.”

No one has any more questions. “Thanks so much everybody,” Harry says. “I really appreciate it.”

Red and white wine are served in the lobby and Harry talks to audience members. I tell Harry the films were “great” and I give him a thumbs up.

Later, at home, I click around on some Harry Dodge links. I learn that Harry is short for Harriet. Harry is a woman—a “radical queer” woman, as several sites declare. She has previously collaborated with the artist Stanya Kahn. I go to YouTube and type in their names and watch a video called Masters of None (2006). It looks like a family running around with pink bags on their heads. I laugh with the same titter inspred by Dodge’s twisted monologue in Unkillable. The masks and use of sound also give me a similarly disoriented feeling. Other than that, I don’t make any big connections among the works. I type “liminal” and “transitive” into the search bar but I find none of the perverted, blooper-ish clips Dodge seemed to find. I consider going to Harry’s exhibition at Wallspace gallery tomorrow, but instead, I go to the gallery’s site and look at the little drawings and sculptures for a while.