October 14 – December 23, 2000
Collaborative artists SUE DE BEER and LAURA PARNES offered their 2-channel video portraying the coming of age of Heidi, a character introduced by Los Angeles-based artists Paul McCarthy and Mike Kelley in a video installation of the same name. The videos are part of a larger installation environment featuring sob-provoking Christmas trees, Nerf furniture, and life-size action figures. No confusion — this is not a spoof, parody or homage: this is a sequel. And like all truly inspired sequels Heidi 2 is more shocking, more glamorous and bloodier than the original!
Part abject epistemology, part pop saturation, Heidi 2 is a multimedia collaboration between De Beer and Parnes in which the disciplines of performance, sculpture, and video coalesce amid primal gore. Heidi 2 is a macabre comedy in which birth, family, sex and gender roles are deformed and filtered through popular culture and narrative tropes. A place where transgression and telecommunication are one, Heidi 2 picks up one generation ahead of where the original video left off. Heidi, performed by Parnes, is now a mother whose persona is defined by her relation to her daughter Heidi 2, performed by De Beer. In contrast to the McCarthy/Kelly original, however, the locus of power in Heidi 2 is reassigned. By revoking Grandfather’s tyrannical status, De Beer and Parnes empower Heidi as the head of the household and cast her character somewhere between feminist discourse and the horror-film genre.
The installation plays off of and manipulates the three existing accounts of the Heidi story: the Johanna Spyri 1880 original; the 1950s Disney film adaptation; and its subsequent interpretation by McCarthy and Kelly. The resulting hybrid by De Beer and Parnes is a bent combination of pop and pain. The artists confront the viewer with an environment that is both stage and set, populated by sob-provoking Christmas trees, Nerf furniture, life-size action figures, and paper masks of teen idol Leonardo Di Caprio. Amid the confusion of kitsch viewers must decide if they want merely to observe or engage complicitly in the activity.
Contemporary art has put itself in the philosophical position of re-writing, re-presenting, and re-reading all areas of culture. We loosely refer to these doings as a postmodern condition. But what happens when it exacts that tradition upon itself? Paul McCarthy and Mike Kelly co-opted the Heidi story, sanitized and sanctified once already by Disney, to up-end notions of man’s aspiration’s to idyllic perfection. Their version utilized the original characters — Heidi, Grandpa, and Peter — and cast them in a grotesque type of [im]morality play that took up the ongoing exploration of the conflict and, often hypocritical schism, between nature and culture.
In Heidi 2 De Beer and Parnes suggest a dissolution of this question. The true discomfort and squeamishness in the sequel rests not in the “cheap theatrics” of fake blood and Hitchcockian score, but in the lack of anxiety with which these acts are presented. Both De Beer and Parnes, a generation removed from McCarthy and Kelley, have the benefit and baggage of an audience aware of Freudian Revisionism and Jerry Springer. In one vignette, we see Heidi offering bulimia lessons to Heidi 2 with the continued criticism, “No. That’s too subconscious.” De Beer’s and Parnes’ psychoanalytic gesture looks at the mother-daughter relationship not as a mapping over of the Oedipal conflict, but as a unique situation affected by issues more poignant than subconscious desire — by the hyper-consciousness of self-identity through media.
In another vignette, we see Heidi 2 trippily levitate towards the horizon. Below her we see herself reflected as her mother, Heidi, in the negligee she was last seen wearing with Peter/Di Caprio, the lust of Heidi 2’s life, who may, or may not, be Heidi 2’s father. (Or was it Heidi 2 last seen with Peter?) This segment, entitled “Dissociation”, could be read to have a multiple meanings — Heidi 2 separating her self-image from that of her mother, the previous generation; Heidi 2 detaching herself from her role as a child who “loves mom,” and identifying herself as a sexual being who will bear the next generation; and/or Heidi 2 cultivating a dis-social, and un-natural, entirely mediated relationship with world around her. The final image of Heidi 2 “bearing” herself via broadcast “in vitro” brings the viewer to the end of the nature-culture debate — Media has triumphed, at least in this version. But, there’s always room for Heidi 3: The Unauthorized Sitcom.
Sue De Beer has received the Franklin Furnace Fund for Performance Art and the Joan Sovern Award for Excellence in Sculpture, both in 1998. A New York state native whose education includes a B.F.A. from Parsons School of Design and an M.F.A. from Columbia University, De Beer has been exhibiting and performing since 1995. Her work is also part of the Brooklyn Museum’s collection of Photographs, Drawings, and Works on Paper. She lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.
Laura Parnes is a multimedia artist who lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. The recipient of several residencies, most recently with the Wexner Center in Columbus, Ohio, Parnes has produced some twelve-videos since 1992 as a writer/director and her works have been exhibited and screened most prominently in New York, including in the 1997 Whitney Biennial, though also in Canada, South Africa and Britain.