FINDING ONES PLACE : The retelling of myth in the work of Jamie Callum Ross

By Stephanie Fielding

Sight, Jamie Callum Ross 2010, Still image

Stephanie Fielding

Our thirst for the exotic and fantastic remains unquenched, humanity has created an amazing array of unseen or rarely seen creatures, forces and entities to populate the world and describe animate its mysteries. Taping into this thirst, weaving tales of myth and punk-rock absurdity, artist and writer Jamie Callum Ross presents a stream of videos that enter into our unconscious and conscious desires. Curated by Xenia Benovoski, Cold Cold Water: A Screening of Complete Works by Jamie Ross, gives us a view of the artist’s video work from the last five years.

Ross has a particular interest in the personal and psychological geography of land and place. The ways in which people establish connections and meaningful relationships with location, their link to landscape and topography, and to specific spirits who inhabit such landscape drive his art practice. There is a clear sense in his work of someone claiming their identity through their history and personal mythology.  Ross asks who has written his history, his identity? In Ross’ videos the supernatural is expressed in the vernacular of the everyday, recognizable locations and members of his social network link the work to actual people and events. His sequences, edited together rapidly and layered with streams of dialogue and imagery present striking but obscured narratives. Vivid, visually textured dreamscapes, shot primarily in super-8, are layered with sharp DV sequences, lending the videos an elusive poetry, especially to their most debaucherous scenes.

Ross’ films place great stress on sexuality, each film is punctuated with at least one cum-shot. The more perverse the sexuality, the more it strays from the norms of society, the more potent it is liable to be, and more disruptive of though patterns inhibiting the non-conformist. Sex and violence are used as forms of access to the spirits of chaos. As sex can, humour has the power to unlock the unconscious and release spiritual forces through its sudden associations of what the rational mind keeps separate; through its wild, anarchic amateurism and tongue-and-cheek, a certain sacredness is induced.

This body of work echoes the punky-transgressions of historically underground Queer filmmakers such as Kenneth Anger and Gregory Markopolous; each sharing a rebellious appropriation of ritualistic and humour-filled symbolism. Much like many of Anger’s films, Ross’ works are heavily influenced by esoteric systems of belief and the sacramental, although here there is a strong sense of a unified and affirmative self that isn’t necessarily present in his predecessors’ work. These rituals invoke vital forces that are sometimes symbolized and sometimes embodied in gods and goddesses; in this case, the figures are drawn from the artist’s Ojibwa and Scottish heritage as well as Nigerian and Greek folklore. As film historian Richard Dyer remarks, ‘Queer cinema often co-ops narratives involving supernatural forces of chaos and disruption, joyously celebrated but also actively employed to cause change in conformity.’ In The Bakkhai, 2008, Ross adapts the gruesome Euripides tragedy describing the vengeful return of the God Dionysus to the kingdom of Thebes. Like all of his work, the actors in the film are friends and the setting is specific and recognizable- in this case the Leslie Spit in Toronto’s east end. The video, part gruesome bloodbath, part hedonistic love-fest, retells the mythic story but also gives a mischievous real portrait of Toronto punk-subculture.

More recent work explores Jamie Ross’ personal genealogy, tracing his own connections to the myth and paths of his ancestors. Biboon Geamhradh, 2010, presents an earnest search for ones place in the lineage of oral storytelling. Cras Valde Facessite, 2009, created in collaboration with Derek Muehlgassner, combines myths of both filmmakers’ cultures, creating a hybrid tales of two fathers. By deconstructing the two myths, Muehlgassner and Ross re-claim their heritage and place their own visions within its rich history. Ross’ work is a cry for us to engage with our storytelling pasts and develop our own personalized sense of our heritages.

Cold cold water: a screening of complete works by Jamie Ross is tonight, at The Whitehouse. 277.5 Augusta Avenue, at 8 pm.

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One response to “FINDING ONES PLACE : The retelling of myth in the work of Jamie Callum Ross

  1. Pingback: Cold cold water: a screening of complete works by Jamie Ross « Paradise Now