The Startled Faction // Catherine Sullivan // 5.17.19 – 6.16.19

Presented as an installation in its native anamorphic format, Sullivan’s 34-minute film The Startled Faction (a sensitivity training) proposes a social space of redress animated through historical and imagined modes of address.

Sullivan states: “The Startled Faction (a sensitivity training) is a propositional film concerned with ambiguous labor (uncompensated work outside one’s job description). The prevailing question for the nine characters in the film is whether to “lean in” to it or resist through strategies of withdrawal, redaction and retreat. With varying degrees of aptitude and motivation, the group rehearses symptoms of and methods for avoiding ambiguous labor including feigned surprise and incompetence, subtle displays of hostility and conspicuous demonstrations of fatigue. They participate in these exercises and in partially reconstructed scenes of resistance drawn from the 1954 film “Salt of the Earth”, a semi-fictional account of a strike at a New Mexico zinc mine. In this film, the lower status and invisibility of the women’s labor is set against the racial and economic urgency of the strike. The group is drawn into this contestation by the film’s soundtrack, and a woman attempting to escape from the task of recounting the experiences of its protagonist. The sensitivity training’s modulating mise en scène hosts a wide range of aesthetic treatments, modes of performance and narrative tangents. 

The nine men and women are prompted to find the boundaries of their demands on each other and to redact information when these boundaries are transgressed. Individual motives, awarenesses and psychological and emotional orientations are also implicated in exercises that ask members of the group to identify categorically with circumstances around their race, class and gender. The Startled Faction embodies not only my concern for and interest in social spaces of redress, but also in divergent artistic and discursive lineages such as left-wing dance from the 1930’s, social justice curricula, private testimony and academic sociology. The characters confront the instruments and methods for the expression complaint, anger and suffering in lived and imagined worlds.”

At roughly 34 minutes, the film features nine performers working primarily in Chicago, the film’s shooting location. In addition to cinematographer Raoul Germain, some are long-time collaborators in Sullivan’s film and theater works. Co-produced with Chicago Dancemakers Forum, work on the piece began in late 2016.

About the artist:

Born in 1968 in Los Angeles, Catherine Sullivan creates ensemble work in film, theater and visual art. She is concerned with the ways in which history is projected through the body, and questions of redress in American social life. Performers in her works cope with written texts, stylistic economies, re-enactments of historic performances, gestural and choreographic regimes, and conceptual orthodoxies. Solo exhibitions, collaborations, performances and films have been presented at venues such as Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Tate Monden, London; Secession, Vienna; Cricoteka, Krakow; Volksbühne, Berlin; Berlin International Film Festival and BFI London Film Festival. Gallery exhibitions include Metro Pictures, New York; Galerie Catherine Bastide, Brussels; Galerie Christian Nagel, Cologne and Galeria Gio Marconi, Milan. Her work is held in public and private collections including Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary, Vienna; Rubell Family Foundation, Miami and Geotz Collection, Munich. Notable awards include The Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation, Herb Alpert Award in the Arts, Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst, United States Artists Walker Fellowship and a Chicago Dancemakers Forum Lab Artist Award. She holds a BFA in acting from California Institute of the Arts and an MFA in post-studio art from Art Center College of Design. She is an associate professor in the Department of Visual Arts at the University of Chicago.