In her photography and film show “Neither Here Nor There,” Laura Horak ’03 gives viewers a chance to look not only at the greatest artistic achievements of her Yale career, but also at the artistic development her works document. Her show includes three films and two collections of photographs, spanning from her first Sudler grant as a freshman to her final senior thesis made on 16 mm film.
The first of the movies, “Eivom” (movie spelled backwards), is a short that Horak made on video as a Sudler Project her freshman year. At that point she was preparing to be a Physics major and the video — though it has a great deal of cinematic energy and aesthetic control — is concerned with the basic question of backwards and forwards, why one makes sense and the other doesn’t. The movie is good, but it is simple. We remain aware that what we are watching is the product of a learning process, a work made by someone who is still trying to get her bearing with the medium as a form of story-telling.
The second of the three movies, “Departure Time” is much more sophisticated. Horak wrote and directed it last year with Kate Reiner, a student at the University of Arizona, when the two were studying at the American division of a film school in Prague. “Departure Time,” like “Eivom,” has no dialogue, but unlike “Eivom,” it does have a definite plot. The main character is an elderly woman who needs to go to the train station and urges her husband, to no avail, to hurry up and take her there. With her switch to film, Horak achieves a much heightened sense of reality. She knows how to edit in order to make her films flow and she manages to communicate a great deal about the lives of this woman and her husband through purely visual means (there are a few gasps on the soundtrack, but those, which Horak added afterwards, are more distracting than explicative).
The climax of the film is effective and gratifying thanks to a series of quick, expertly done cuts among charged objects in the room (including the woman’s eyes, rolling around in her head). This film, however, despite its technical assurance and unusual subject matter, has an uneasy pace, as though Horak and Reiner could not decide whether they wanted it to be funny or not. There is something oddly repellent about the woman that keeps us from fully appreciating her triumph in the end. Horak has conquered the technical aspects of film, but in “Departure Time,” she has not yet made a film that knows how to integrate those skills into a situation with plot and characters that make the audience feel what she wants.
She achieves this level of narrative consistency and technical authority in “Main Station” (Hlavni Nadrazi), her senior thesis for the film studies major. In this subtle comedy about a businessman and a little girl sparring silently over a seat in a Czech train station, Horak achieves the difficult task of allowing her viewers to forget that Horak is there, but still enjoy the clever and artistic camera work. In “Main Station,” we are in the hands of an astute filmmaker who knows how and what to make us feel.
The last component of the show is two series of photographs, “The Gay Gaze” and “Empty? Cruising at Yale.” In both of these projects, Horak concerns herself with gay men. “The Gay Gaze” is a series of portraits of young gay men, some of whom are looking in the mirror and others of whom are simply looking at the camera. Horak said the series began as an exploration of the portrait as a form, but it became a study of self-image and physical awareness in gay students. Her interest, she said, is in looking at these men of college age as they prepare to enter the gay world and deal with the expectations of a society stereotypically known for being very image-conscious.
But this does not come across. Instead, there is something stale about these pictures of young men at mirrors, smoking cigarettes, fixing their hair. The “Gay Gaze” is aesthetically pleasing, but in this age where homosexuality is so much a part of the common context, there is nothing inherently interesting about a group of young gay men. Horak offers us no reason why this group of students is more noteworthy than any other and we can’t help wishing that there were pictures of straight men and women to offer some kind of contrast.
“Empty? Cruising at Yale,” also has a slightly antiquated attitude towards male homosexuality, but it is really juicy and that makes up for it. In Horak’s photographic and audio installation, viewers look at photographs of traditional cruising spots at Yale and in New Haven. On an audio tape that plays in the background, anonymous male voices, all of which Horak says belong to Yale students, tell stories about their own and their friends’ experiences with anonymous sex. Horak contrasts the pristine images of men’s locker rooms and showers and bathroom stalls with simple labels such as “Men’s Bathroom, Woolsey Hall, Peak Hours 9-10.” Horak describes this aspect of the show as a sort of sociological historical look into the hidden history of male homosexuality at Yale, encouraging students to think about the hidden stories within the mundane architectural features that they pass every day.
Horak is obviously aware of the lack of women in the show. The last photograph in “Empty? Cruising at Yale” is a photograph of two women. One stands at a urinal with a dildo between her legs. Another girl, standing a few feet away, glances at her suggestively as if to pick her up. Horak called this picture her comment on the lack of an equivalent sexual outlet for women.
“That picture is always a conversation starter,” she said.
And even forgetting the quality of the movie and the quality of the photographs, it is worth going to Horak’s show to have that conversation.