Neither Beginning Nor Ending by Catherine Connolly
Originally published as an exhibition catalogue essay for Neither Beginning Nor Ending at Firstdraft Gallery
Roman Polanski’s Repulsion is scary. Like Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story The Yellow Wallpaper before it, Polanski’s film is an anxiety-riddled portrait of one woman’s mental deterioration within the bounds of her living space. From it’s opening sequence that focuses on protagonist Carol’s (Catherine Deneuve) delicate eye (eerily recalling Bunuel’s infamous eye-slicing sequence in Un chien Andalou), the audience are made aware of the particular importance of visual perception and emotional reaction to this film.
Through the use of optical illusions, claustrophobic composition and visual trickery, Polanski plays with paranoia—both the viewer’s and his character’s—to intensify an emotional response in Repulsion. Polanski at once displays Carol’s fragile beauty and evokes the beast within her, and as the tension increases, fear and dread are induced from all around. Walls literally and metaphorically close in on Carol, and the audience are made aware of the importance of both seeing and feeling to film spectatorship.
It is therefore apt that Catherine Connolly uses a moment from Repulsion in her looped video installation. Evoking and expanding upon the fear-filled mood of the movie itself, Connolly’s video loops Carol’s sister as she hesitates to open a door to their apartment, briefly peering out of a peephole before returning to her hesitation to start the cycle once more. By extrapolating the moment from the film’s narrative and reappropriating it outside of a cinematic context, through repetition and space, Connolly emphasises the importance of emotional response to film.
As Carol’s sister hovers upon this threshold, external forces potentially threaten their existence – external forces that, much like the eerie unknown blob presence crawling beneath the floor of Connolly’s installation, are already inside waiting to surface. In an otherwise overlooked moment of the film, the monomaniacal melodrama created through Connolly’s slowing down of the visual allows the viewer to focus solely on the raven haired beauty, to feel her struggle with the unseen. Is she trying to escape? What is she trying to escape? Here the hyperbole of repetition only intensifies the notion of horror and claustrophobia; the unseen threat that permeates Polanski’s original. The more times this loop is experienced, the more uncanny and iconic it becomes as the character remains forever trapped in a cycle of uncertainty and instability. Try as she may, there is no escape from the evil lurking within – within the bounds of the apartment as well as her sister’s mind.