Frances Hegarty - Auto Portrait #2  - 1999

Installation with:
Single-screen (portrait) video projection.
Video cycle: 4m 08s

Frances Hegarty - Autop Portrait #2 - animation of first frames

Auto Portrait #2 - animation of opening frames (no sound)

Auto Portrait #2 is a video self-portrait in which image and light, voice and noise, are digitally compacted to suggest a whole life being gathered up and re-lived in a few intense minutes.

In the quietest part of the video cycle, clicking left and right strobe lights fire alternately at a regular, sedate pace. They illuminate opposite sides of a female subject (the artist), seated for a formal portrait. Some distance from the screen is a bare loudspeaker suspended in the beam of a spotlight.

With a single intake of breath, the sitter's voice is heard from the loudspeaker. It is at once disembodied (apart from the on-screen image, and not lip-synced) and embodied (the loudspeaker is at head-height, on vertical steel cables, in a space analogous to Hegarty's body were she addressing the listener in person). The voice begins the recitation of a life, given as a mixture of personal memories and remembered world events.

As the frequency of the clicking strobe lights increases, it drives an increase in the rate of speech. The sitter becomes agitated: demonstrating both a resistance to the process underway, and a synchronicity with its constraints. Eventually the voice becomes implausibly fast and breathless, and the flailing on-screen figure is subsumed into white light and high-pitched noise.

Frances Hegarty - Auto Portrait #2 - video still 1999
Frances Hegarty - Auto Portrait #2 - video still 1999
Frances Hegarty - Auto Portrait #2 - video still 1999

Auto Portrait #2 - video stills

After a crescendo, the pace of activity slows down, and the on-screen image darkens again. The sitter reappears, poised as before between sedately-paced strobes. The accompanying recitation ends with the declaration "... and making this work" and a long exhalation. After a few moments of calm, the cycle begins again.

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Frances Hegarty - Auto Portrait#2 - installation view, Peri Gallery, Turku 2002
Auto Portrait #2 - installation view, Peri Gallery, Turku 2002
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Frances Hegarty - Auto Portrait#2 - installation view, Peri Gallery, Turku 2002
Auto Portrait #2 - installation view, Peri Gallery, Turku 2002
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Frances Hegarty - Auto Portrait#2 - installation view, Turun Taidemuseo (collection), Turku 2005
Auto Portrait #2 - installation view, Turun Taidemuseo (collection), Turku 2005

Comment on the earlier, voiceless Auto Portrait #1:

"(at P.S. 1 ) Peter Murray, curator of the Crawford Municipal Art Gallery in Cork, has brought together the work of 20 Irish artists who live and work in London [sic] and whose efforts sometimes address Irish themes [...] The show's most impressive moments are supplied by women. In Frances Hegarty's haunting video "Auto Portrait," flickering (strobed) images show the artist in a state of rising and ebbing distress as if she were suffering a fit of paranoia, grief or a near-death experience..."

Roberta Smith The Irish Struggle for Visual Poetry to Call Their Own Review, New York Times, June 25 1999