Aretha Videos

Her obsession started out innocently enough, as all obsessions do. She had, from the outset, been one of those children who would constantly stare at others without abashment or shame. There was no “getting caught” for her because if someone looked over at her studying them, she would simply continue to appraise them as though she hadn’t noticed them noticing her. She was unbothered by how bothered they would become as a result of falling prey to her ceaseless gaze. When she was a child, of course, she had the luxury of getting away with it because society, for whatever reason, indoctrinates us to believe that children are innocent when they know exactly what it is they’re doing. Exploiting her child’s power up until its maximum limit, age twelve, Isadora (who would soon go by the more tomboyish Izzy) could no longer get away with her voyeuristic antics.

At the dawn of 2000, she was both fortunate and unfortunate enough to be bequeathed with a Canon IXY camcorder for her birthday in late November. It was a consolation gift from her father, Aaron, who had left her and her mother, Jane, for a woman ten years his junior just months before. Her name was Ashley-Ann and she had been a recent competitor in the Miss Georgia Peach Pageant. Izzy supposed that was the one reason Aaron was so enthusiastic about his business trips to Atlanta when he could have just as easily sent a minion in his place from the New York office to “liaise.” But no, he wanted to do all the liaising himself. Fucking disgusting, thought Izzy, as she ripped open the wrapping on her new camcorder. But if Daddy having an affair meant expensive trinkets as emotional recompense, so be it. She would just have to endure.

Jane, in contrast, was cheap and impersonal in her gift-giving, offering a scant twenty-five dollar gift certificate to Old Navy. At least, she supposed, she could get like one pair of jeans or two pairs of shitty t-shirts. As she mused on the video-making potential that had been placed into her hands, Aaron interrupted her reverie by asking, “Do you know how to use it?” She simpered at him, “Yeah, I think I can figure it out.” What Aaron couldn’t have known is that she’d already been having sex with their college-age neighbor who was taking a film class at the community college specifically because she found out he had access to some hi-tech equipment. She would pretend to have a fetish for fucking in the editing room at the school just so she could find ways to “happen” to ask insightful questions about how to work the different types of cameras. Jake would then make a gross quip about how he’d rather give her tips on how to work his own equipment. Ah the foulness of men at every age. But it was a small price to pay to gain the understanding she needed to begin creating her masterpieces. Her video collages of a population clearly on the verge of extinction. For such behavioral patterns certainly didn’t indicate further progress so much as devolution.

At first, in compiling her footage, she wanted to give humanity the benefit of the doubt. Assumed it must be that her sampling of subjects was only coincidentally so knavish and base. Maybe it was the parts of New York she was focusing on–the Lower East Side, East Village and Union Square–that made her final results come out this way. But when she attempted to branch out into more “polished” neighborhoods like FiDi and the Upper East Side, she came to find that the outcome was actually even worse, with the scourge upon the earth that was the rich showcasing themselves to be even more uncouth than the have-nots. A five-minute video of a businessman berating a cashier at a Starbucks on 87th and Broadway was just one of many evidences that the more importance with which a person viewed himself, the more cartoonish he came across on video.

When Izzy initially began her unfocused project, she at least tried to bother being clandestine about it: hiding behind corners, concealing the camera underneath her jacket, et cetera. But the longer she did it, the less careful she became. For she grew increasingly fascinated with the “evidence” she was gathering. Evidence that proved all humans were a blight on the earth. Because it was still a time in the personal camera’s history that was new, some people thought Izzy was actually a legitimate reporter, working for a small news station or something. She would go along with their assumption as a means to keep filming them. Many enjoyed the thought that they might make it on TV, while others were mistrustful, asking where the paper was they needed to sign to give their consent. When this sort of thing happened, Izzy would typically bolt into the nearest subway station, hopping the turnstile for dramatic effect.

With the rush of adrenaline came even more of a lack of regard for whipping her camera out on the train to film the many sources for her sociological study there as well. The grotesquerie on full display was unbridled as men scratched their balls and picked their cracks before placing their hands on the railings or Chinese women would freely eat what appeared to be a fried rat on a stick as they smacked their lips totally unmoved by Izzy’s overt filming. It was on one particularly humid, therefore fetid, day that Izzy turned her lens onto the wrong person. Someone who wouldn’t just shrug it off or avoid her periphery so as to evade her unexplained monitoring. He was a strung out thirtysomething who must have just been released from the methadone clinic near 2nd Avenue. Maybe he didn’t get his fix after waiting all that time–who knows? Whatever the case, he was belligerent, and looking to take that rage out on the first person who provoked him. That first person being none other than Izzy, standing on the corner with her camera at the ready. She spotted him from a block away and proceeded to aim her Canon.

It wasn’t until the thirtysomething got closer that he noticed what she was doing and flew into a rage that resulted in her assault, sending the camera–filled with footage that comprised her life’s work–to its demise as it slammed and cracked against the sidewalk. The thirtysomething didn’t stop there as he proceeded to punch her face until no point of return to consciousness was possible.

Some years later, this video of Izzy being assaulted to the point of death would appear at an exhibition for The Whitney called “The Life and Death of Isadora Voyeur.” The museum was filled with video installations from various points throughout Izzy’s life that the artist had filmed from afar, noticing her long ago when he happened to be walking past the gate of P.S. 87. Ever the loner, even in grade five, the artist could discern that she had an air of superiority as she observed the other children with a judgmental look from the corner. He kept his eye on her through the years and took an especial interest in filming her once she herself couldn’t stop filming everyone else. To watch her death was the greatest artistic moral quandary of his life, but he obviously had to do it for the integrity of the project.

At a Q&A for the opening of the exhibition, a rogue reporter, who the artist surmised to be trans, demanded, “Can you please comment on the meta nature of this exhibition, and do you feel that in emulating the very thing Isadora was doing throughout her whole life, you yourself have effectively stolen her art?”

The journalist was silenced and politely escorted away as the artist glossed over most of the question, simply saying, “Life itself is unavoidably meta. To avoid it in art would be impossible.”


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