Sue de Beer

02.03.11

Sue de Beer, The Ghost, 2009–2011, color video, 31 minutes 25 seconds.


Sue de Beer’s latest installation The Ghost is being presented in association with Art Production Fund at the Park Avenue Armory in New York. The work features a two-channel video projection concerning an occult hypnotist who utilizes “material recollection” to attain lost time. The Ghost is on view February 3–6.

ORIGINALLY I WANTED TO MAKE A GIALLO––a very classic version, with ghosts in it. During the course of the narrative development I began to undergo a series of hypnosis, and I also started going to a sensory deprivation tank in Berlin. So I began to wonder about intersections between the physiological and the psychological, or about ways to take your conscious mind to a place that is unconscious but still visible––a place that produces images. It was then that I began to conceive of a character that was very much in a giallo––an occult hypnotist. After I completed the basic outline for the script, I asked Alissa Bennett to write a text for the hypnotist, where the hypnotist talks about ghosts and the way ghosts inhabit a room––leaving traces of its former occupancy, clues for present and future residents. I also asked her to write a text for a character who repeatedly visits the hypnotist, to experience a more vivid sort of “recollection.” Alissa named this “the material recollection.”

It was difficult to find a person that could play this hypnotist character. Jutta Koether, who plays the hypnotist, has a strong presence as a person. She is also a musician and I find her voice to be beautiful and rhythmic. For the two characters in the film that are musicians, which are Jutta and John Spencer; they both have voices you could get lost in, voices that carry a lot of feeling with them.

For this video, in particular, the editing was quite physical. How do you make a ghost without it being something that is absurd? It’s especially hard on a small budget and shooting over a long period of time. I shot from end of October to December 2008, for two months straight, and then I re-shot five months later and did a lot of experiments to try to understand how to make a ghost. I think that in the editing of this piece, the hypnotism seems to be located in the physicality of video. The way that light can affect your eyes and in turn how that light can affect you physically was exciting to me. The optical effect of persistence of vision, and the way that could make segments of the video overlay.

The first part of this shoot took place in Fall 2009, after the October downturn had been digested, so my budget was quite small when I began to work. One of the characters in the film, Claire, was originally supposed to disappear and she was supposed to do it in a way that was a lot more filmic. But it became clear to me that I didn’t actually have the footage that I needed to make that happen, so I asked Alissa again to write a text for this character where she could make herself disappear. Claire describes how she will make herself into the perfect ghost, which echoes a theme for Jutta’s character––the nature of a haunting. How absence can be more powerful than presence. Claire’s character is new for me, in that she’s extremely unsympathetic. I find her to be a bit malicious, in the way that she can see the damage she is about to do, and is looking forward to its effects. She is secretive. But all of these things could make her absolutely fascinating for the right person who would love to be seduced by her. Please, come ruin me again.

— As told to John Arthur Peetz