The Extra, 2007
The Extra, 2007

The Extra, 2007

Catalogue essay for:
Alexandra Navratil, The Extra. Step In / Step Out, Rome, 2007

What would it mean to write a history of cinema from what never happened? What instruction manual would it require? It could start with movement and weight, waiting and desire.

Alexandra Navratil's videos focus on the rehearsing and repeating of gestures. A weight of potential is amassed through movement, through and across figures. Movement in the videos is sticky. The camera collects expectation like dust caught in a beam of light and it stockpiles desire like a broker.

Side to Side

Each piece establishes its own tight formal procedure, in order to see what is produced by these constraints. In I'm Thinking Its a Sign (2005), it is the language of the pan.

The camera starts still, a figure enters the frame from the right, dressed for basketball, aware of himself and the camera, he establishes a posture against the wall and the camera starts to move, slowly, from left to right. The piece is a single take, one smooth slow single track. A series of people cross the frame from right to left. The video focuses on action as preparation. Sports players are getting ready, stretching muscles, dressing up, bouncing balls, learning moves; waiting, in other words, for something to happen, waiting to be agents in some future sporting drama. As the camera moves past, the figures fall out of the frame, condemned to repeat their warm-ups out of shot. Their gestures are all self-contained, dribbling back and forth, on the spot, feet rooted, or playing out repeated movements like dance steps. Whether getting ready to play an official role or just waiting around, movements are equally as studied, methodical and styled. The moment of waiting is pushed and expanded like a bundle of nerves.
Back and Across

In The Extra (2007), shot in a single static take, a man dressed in shirt and suit jacket, his face tired and worn, sits facing his own reflection in a mirror split four-ways. His image is repeated four times creating the illusion of four identical figures, each staring at their own reflection, caught in a game of appearances, trying to catch the image out. He nods, shakes his head. He looks left, looks right, laughs and then stops.

As 'the extra', his gestures can be read as rehearsal for some future indeterminate and insignificant role. The actor is destined to repeat a history of well-worn facial expressions, confined to his role without the space for freedom of 'the star performer'. Destined to repeat, his repetitions come across as desperate attempts to search for gaps. What space for personal expression could there be in the confined role of the extra? Staring into the four-way mirror, trying to catch himself off guard, he hopes for some tic or spasm, which could offer a potentially different reiteration.

The Face

The face, in The Extra, contracts into expression, it stiffens into grimace, suggests a character, yet is driven on by constant disappointment. All available expressions seem used, repeated, there is nothing left. On the other hand, the face is always on the brink of collapse, as if it might suddenly decompose at any minute, break down, give up, fall apart. Caught between expression and decomposition, the face is left suspended. It communicates nothing, forms into no character.

Or sometimes, as in I'm Thinking Its a Sign, the face looks back, returning the camera's gaze. This act of falsehood only serves to make the performance seem more real. The image appears more convincing by openly shows its own artifice. The face uncovers only as much as it hides.

Navratil's videos show their artifice in different ways. This stylised self-awareness is played out, paradoxically, within a tight framework of realism, a language of unedited single takes, static shots or continuous tracks. It is this contradiction that produces the real insubstantiality of the work. Despite the weight of history repeated by her performers, masks slip and the videos suggest a capacity for escaping the learnt. Rehearsing and repeating the known becomes a mode for accessing the unknown. While movement slows down, it can also accelerate to escape velocity.

Andy Weir