“Smile for the camera…”
Myrid Carten is a filmmaker and moving image artist originally from Donegali, who is equally ‘at home’ in the gallery or cinema. In this instance, Carten is exhibiting a triptych of intersecting films, that explore personal narratives, family, legacy, subjectivity and truth, repetition, inheritance and the potential (or otherwise) of escape from all of the above, beautifully crafted through the forms of interview format and hard-hitting factual documentary.
Daughter: “Mammy, do you know I’m making a film about you?”
Mother: “Slight pause – Aye, you told me about that once.”
Mother: sings to herself (quietly, tunefully):
all my troubles seemed so far away,
I believe in Yesterday…” ii
The issues that inherently complicate what could otherwise be a relatively straightforward narrative about a mother and daughter relationship, are that the documented conversations and situations navigate, with almost unbelievable frankness, honesty and incisive intelligence, through personal minefields and legacy issues of addiction, mental health and related trauma. Part real-life, part filmic character, MOTHER*, almost casually, introduces a central dialectic; “There’s two schools of thought, in my own head, and two schools of thought out there”: (1.) That “mad” people do see, or somehow have privileged access, to things that others do not, or, (2.) “That they are just mad fucking bastards and they see nothing.”
Mother: “Addiction is addiction. Every human suffers from one type or another…”
Daughter: “ Why are you telling me this?”
Mother: “In case I pass it on to you…” iii
Time shifts from present to past and back again, unpicking connections that, bit-by-bit, reveal themselves through passage of the three films. In the manner of mise en scene, the entrance gallery hosts a looped projected, non-linear movie; Home (2022) unfurling wet, misted landscapes, dilapidated interiors, childhood, light and dark, cold… but mostly, a moody, brooding sense of immanent explosivity.
In bright, clear daylight, the main larger exhibition space fronts a sparse reality of two monitors and connected audio system – everything deliberately on show – that alternates discrete, but inextricably linked, short films; Sorrow had a Baby (17 mins – 2021) and Miriam (7.25 mins – 2013). Throughout all three films, vintage ‘home movie’ footage is intercut, revealing Carten to be a compulsive camera-pointer from an early age. With friends, she films ‘playacting’, mimicked fragments of lives of the (received perception of) ‘beautiful people’. A young Carten casts herself as ‘Pamela Anderson’, while her childhood girlfriends pose as Miss California, Miss New York and Miss Antrim,iv respectively:
What’s your favourite food, and why?
Salad, I suppose. Largely because it doesn’t have any fat. I don’t like fat.v
The penny drops that just one of the understated issues at hand, and perhaps the most light-footedly-tread in dialogue, is the relationship of beauty, itself, to addiction; to a compulsion, the contemporary mythology of what we look like being a primacy above how we feel. Being ‘beautiful’ is equated to being ‘loved’. Intimacy struggles and families suffer as a consequence. Obsession equals rupture. As the conversation drifts dangerously close, but still tenderly, to confrontation.
Daughter: “I think your version of well-being, or caring, is caring about how somebody looks”. vi
In a remarkable and compelling shift from the docudrama form, ‘Daughter’ (*ME) suddenly appears brightly illuminated and with striking eye-makeup, before a theatrically darkened studio background and over-voices ‘MOTHER*’. The lip-sync surrogacy is so uncannily precise, that playacting takes an unnerving turn into an expression of indivisibility of mother to daughter and vice versa.
The field further blurs in Miriam. As a new interviewee appears in Danny, uncle to ‘Daughter’, brother to ‘Mother’. Carten, off-camera says; “you should have done acting…”. Danny talks of ‘Miriam’, someone, we understand to be from his past, but still present in delusion. Cut back to the unnerving *ME, lip-syncing MOTHER* (Carten should have “done acting” ):
*ME/MOTHER*: Danny has a fixed hallucination… The difference with mine is that as soon as I get well, I know they are all hallucinations, all delusions… Is there a Miriam? There was a Miriam, but maybe he just maintains her to annoy us…”
Carten’s collective title for the triptych, Preta (hungry ghost)vii, as she notes in an email text below, refers to a perpetuation of guilt, regret, concurrent to simultaneous anticipation of redemption. The proliferation of Virgin Mary iconography, scattered around the interior of the obviously freezing, near-derelict home in the Donegal wilds, contrast with the ‘pure’ simplicity of both the virgin myth – comfort/beauty/transcendance – and that of the collective consciousness of our contemporary beauty obsessions. There is nothing glamorous about the wet coal pile outside the house, and the recycled plastic adhesive tub as transporting scuttle – the coal is so damp that little heat is possible, It recalls Danny’s parable-like riddle from Miriam; “How can you burn something that is 4/5th sea water and 1/5th stone? Wrapped in a blanket, with merely hot tea and the ineffectual fire in the grate for warmth and comfort, ‘Mother’ reminisces; “The first years were good… The first years weren’t too bad…”(?) [‘Mother’ in a decreasing cycle of certainty]…”We were so close, we used to watch all those stupid shows together, America’s Top Model…” Hand-held focus pulls to a tighter shot of ‘Mother’. Daughter: (said without expectation) “Smile for the camera”.
Myrid Carten, originally from Donegal, was awarded a BA and MA, First Class Honours from Goldsmiths College, University of London. Carten has been commissioned and broadcast by the BBC, funded by BFI and NI Screen, and selected for Galway and Belfast Film Fleadhs. Recent exhibitions include; My Body is an Exhibition, Sadler’s Wells, London (2021), The Yalta Game, RCC, Donegal (2020), Urgencies (selected by Willie Doherty), CCA, Derry (2019). Residencies include; ISCP, New York (2020-21), Hospitalfield (2020-2021), Artlink, Dunree (2020), and British Council and ACNI International artist residency, India (2017-2018).
Awards include; TBG&S Project Studio Award (2018-19), Fire Station Artist’s Studio, Digital Media Award (2018), Arts Council of Ireland, Next Generation Artist Award (2018-19). Myrid Carten’s work is in the collection of the Arts Council of Ireland.
i What are the chances of two consecutive exhibitions at mother’s tankstation, Dublin being by women artists from Ireland’s wildest, remote county with a sparse population? Okay, Ireland is Ireland but we do have 32+6 counties to choose from, so I think the answer is ‘slim’.
ii Sorrow had a Baby. Originally made as an aemi film commission, co-written with Sabine Groenewegen. Even the film credits appear to conflate reality and fiction: “Mother: Nuala Carten / Daughter: Myrid Carten” / Yesterday: Lennon–McCartney, 1965.
iv Players are end-credited in ‘Sorrow had a baby’ as: Megan Law, Morgan McIntyre and Máirín De Buitlér, respectively.
v ibid. no.ii
vi ibid. no.ii
vii Myrid Carten notes: “Preta also known as a hungry ghost, is the Sanskrit name for a type of supernatural being, common to Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Chinese folk and Vietnamese folk religion. The mythical figure undergoes suffering greater than that of humans, particularly an extreme level of hunger and thirst. Preta, often translated into English as “hungry ghost” from the Chinese and Vietnamese adaptations, developed from an initial concept that it was the soul/ghost of a deceased person, but later complicated into a transient state between death and obtaining karmic reincarnation in accordance to the person’s ‘fate’. In order to pass into the cycle of karmic reincarnation, the deceased’s family must engage in a variety of rituals and offerings, often for more than a year, to guide the suffering spirit into its next life. If the family does not engage… the soul could remain suffering as a preta for eternity.
For further research see Gabor Mate, Realm of Hungry Ghosts. Mate uses the concept in reference to his work with addicts and addiction. I am particularly drawn to the description of rituals that need to be performed by the family.
Also choose it because my work is very grounded in material gritty reality but also has this spiritual dimension (Danny’s talk of Jesus and delusion in Miriam, the Virgin Mary iconography in Sorrow had a baby)”.