In a blog series we present four video works from the exhibition "Brainwashed" in more detail. In short interviews we talked to the four artists about the background and current references of the work shown in the exhibition. In addition to these exciting answers and the video work itself, for the first time they have also provided us with additional material that has inspired their work and which tells us more about the artists' very different ways of working.

Shana Moulton's performances and videos are built around her alter ego Cynthia, a figure the artist developed during her studies. The American artist grew up in a trailer park for senior citizens owned by her parents. Her videos, although in bubblegum tones, but with something dark lurking beneath the surface, are influenced by her childhood experiences.

Shana Moulton Whispering Pines 9 2009 1-Kanal-Video (Projektion oder Monitor) (Farbe, Ton) © the artist Courtesy Sammlung Goetz, Medienkunst, München
Shana Moulton Whispering Pines 9 2009 1-Kanal-Video (Projektion oder Monitor) (Farbe, Ton) © the artist Courtesy Sammlung Goetz, Medienkunst, München
Shana Moulton Whispering Pines 9 2009 1-Kanal-Video (Projektion oder Monitor) (Farbe, Ton) © the artist Courtesy Sammlung Goetz, Medienkunst, München
Shana Moulton Whispering Pines 9 2009 1-Kanal-Video (Projektion oder Monitor) (Farbe, Ton) © the artist Courtesy Sammlung Goetz, Medienkunst, München

In the work group Whispering Pines, which has been continuously developed further since 2002, Cynthia, Shana Moulton’s alter ego, is the protagonist. The title refers to the location: a trailer park in California, where the artist herself grew up. Cynthia also lives there in a low-rise building, where she watches a reality show on her television: On the show, alleged bits of rummage are declared valuable rarities. Cynthia now hopes to make a profit from a vase and a walking stick. After a long journey through various landscapes, her hopes are disappointed. The ostensibly unique vase and walking stick surreptitiously turn out to be a modern footbath and massage device. Cynthia’s striving for the virtual opportunities presented in the media thus ends in a return to the body and its improvement.

Moulton interweaves fiction and fact, which is made clear by the always visible digital, collage-like editing techniques. Walking in the footsteps of the ‘New Age’ movement rooted in spiritualism, which had its origins in California in the 1950s, Cynthia embodies a seeker of meaning. The urge for self-improvement in a society dominated by capitalism had a central starting point there.

Questions to the artist Shana Moulton

Photo: Say Who
Photo: Say Who

Haus der Kunst: In which context was this work developed? What did motivate you to realize the work?

Shana Moulton: I filmed most of the footage for this video during the summer of 2009, on a trip to New Mexico and Arizona with my parents. They had visited Taos in 2002 and really wanted to bring me there. Without knowing what the video was about yet, I took a lot of footage of myself walking around sites like the San Francisco de Asís Mission Church in Taos(that was painted by Georgia O'Keeffe and photographed by Andel Adams and Paul Strand), The Mabel Luhan Dodge House in Taos, and other locations around the spiritual mecca; Sedona, Arizona. I later realized I wanted the video to relate to my parent's obsession with The Antiques Roadshow, a TV show where people have antiques appraised for their cultural and monetary value. It was one of the few shows that my parents would watch together. After seeing an episode where a piece of pottery from the North Dakota School of Mines was appraised for several thousand dollars my Mom realized that she had a piece of pottery from the same school(as a pen holder, which her father scored it at a garage sale for 25 cents). She then sold the piece on eBay for $2500. I used all of the walking footage to represent my Alter-ego's pilgrimage to the site of the Antique Roadshow.

Haus der Kunst: What does this work mean to you?

Shana Moulton: The video is about how we value external objects and bodily matters; health and beauty. It's also about the transformative, spiritual and commercial aspects of the pilgrimage.

Haus der Kunst: What meaning implies Brainwashed in our media age nowadays?

Shana Moulton: For me it's about having the resources to know you are being brainwashed, but still allowing yourself to be brainwashed (to varying degrees). I am experiencing this right now in a lot of the "new age/spiritual" responses to the COVID crisis that are on a spectrum ranging from useful/comforting/empowering to counter-productive/dangerous.

Curator Jana Baumann explains:

Shana Moulton's artistic practice has influenced a generation of younger artists. On the one hand, she refers to biographical experiences such as her childhood in a California which was influenced by the New Age movement, whereby spiritual techniques and used occult objects serve as her inspiration for a desired expansion of consciousness. On the other hand, her way of working is rooted in the use of everyday media such as television or the Internet to reflect the mainstream ideas of happiness and mental as well as physical perfection conveyed therein. She takes up the interplay of spirituality and consumption, of wellness and esotericism, of beauty mania and its commercialization. In many cases Shana Moulton creates different levels of reality through her installations, in which her films are embedded, but also her performances take place.

Shana Moulton lets us participate directly in her artistic practice when she shares internet links with us. In doing so, we get to places that inspire her or serve as venues for her video works. Using live Google searches in her videos and performances, she creates superimposed and often contradictory realities in which we ourselves float every day.

The artist lost almost all materials for this project when her laptop was stolen in 2009, but she was able to send us some sources of inspiration for her work:

Whispering Pines 9 by Shana Moulton is currently part of the "Brainwashed" exhibition of the Sammlung Goetz at Haus der Kunst.