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O Magazine
2015-2017

Grimes goes
Pre-Raphaelite

By Henry J. Darger

There’s a lot to say about people who love dressing up: they’re usually the same kind of people who enjoy rainy days and medievalism. A couple of months ago, Claire Boucher leaked a visual album with her colleague HANA entitled The AC!D Reign Chronicles that was ignored by critics but right now, when list mania and yearly top tens make us scroll like crazy, I need to vindicate this work.

The pack of hounds chasing Lemonade, Beyoncé’s #game-changing #thinkpiece will probably have forgotten the format already at this stage, and Grimes, in general, is usually typecast as an extravagant pop artist with a vast inner world. 🙂 It isn’t enough to declare yourself a feminist before the market and the pop industry gobbled up the term and turned #feminism into a random tag. It wasn’t much use the fact that each video directed or co-directed by her since Oblivion showed emancipatory images before a decadent hyper masculinity. But maybe by noticing the DIY means of production disguised as excess and paying close attention to the shots you might find it, like me, much more interesting than Lemonade itself.

These forty minutes of video are to me the possible remake of a post-mortem friendship between Mina Murray and Lucy Westenra, Victorian protagonists of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Few earthly references or feminine characters are cooler than that. The video was leaked accompanied by a bubble gum pink avant-garde manifesto written on the Mac Notes app, where they specify that everything was done without using make up, costumes, cameras or a script, but exclusively shot with mobile phones during Claire’s European tour. If you have ever asked yourself what would Polanski’s Tess or Peter Weir’s women in Picnic at Hanging Rock be like shot and revisited by a woman, this is your visual album.

Grimes goes Pre-Raphaelite – O Production Company

While today’s pop divas tend to sit their backsides in baroque churches (Lana del Rey), orientalised temples (Katy Perry, FKA twigs) or fuse with the tradition of past queens and goddesses (Beyoncé), Grimes has always opted for roaming a much more dreamlike side in the shape of an angel, a warrior or, in this case, a spectre haunting Europe with sunglasses on over Goethe’s tomb.

The first minutes of video make us mistake a neoclassical Frankfurt with the Roman ruins of the Forum and the Colisseum. From the Victorian era to the Renaissance, over Neoclassicism and so forth, without respecting any kind of chronological order or style. Should Ruskin rise from the dead, he might come to defend Claire Boucher’s utopian shots as much as Pre-Raphaelite paintings: HANA, during the fragment of Underwater, fearlessly embodies a creature that is half Millais’ Ophelia, half Rosetti’s Persephone. The counter shots of these chronicles, on the contrary, don’t dwell on characters’ faces. They are post-teenage women, but have ceased to be misunderstood objects of desire. And even though the metaphorical woman-swan association appears at the beginning of the film, there are no memories of a poetic past, no falling in love along the way. The fantastic feel doesn’t follow the plot, but it’s made obvious through the use of slow motion, fast panoramic views or low angle shots.

In my mind appear the images of Lorena McKennit’s video The Bonny Swans. Already in 1994, the fixed shot was avoided to allegorically refer to Pre-Raphaelitism. Mckennit, as predecessor, must love all this compositional stuff in which the hair of our protagonists appears as a parodic textual mark, far from making its eroticism and abundance a fetish; it’s all part of the mascarade.

Claire appears as medieval princess, possessed by an improved Kate Bush choreography, in some English castle, machine-gunning with an umbrella any possible prince charming. Her hand doesn’t ever try to avoid pedestrians, tourists or cars in the oneiric recreation of the piece. This guerrilla shooting tries to recreate a state of incorruptible motion and turn it into ephimeral sensations, footprints of a putrefactive artistic memory. HANA, on her behalf, in her following appearances walks maidenly with a synthetic animal print coat between rows of Thatcher era semi-detached houses with pathetic front gardens, now hit by unemployment, as though Poe was script-writer for Geordie Shore.

The nature they appear immersed in might try to de-mystify a male gaze that has constructed women as sublimated in hermeticism, defenceless before sinister natural and overwhelming forces, shy in their bastion of intimacy. All along the fragment, there’s no masculine presence except for the marble statues observed without symbolic remission in all their nakedness.

That Grimes’ video is a millennial hymn to the future was already declared by Marinetti when he pronounced that a Greek statue wasn’t more beautiful than a car or a plane. After this, Claire contrasts the precise images of neoclassic sculpture with dancers twisting on what seems the take-off track of a London airport. This isn’t the initiation trip or chronicle we’re used to watching in contemporary music videos. In this poetic fragment, the woman doesn’t advance, or fall, doesn’t learn any lesson, doesn’t discover her sexuality, the sensual hues of her discourse aren’t fostered; she is neither a heroine nor a goddess. The Grimes woman moves forward, shoots, dances, rows, and smiles and always manages to escape.

The last video in our visual album abandons Romantic mythology to go back to an ancestral landscape: a mountain of dazzling green in which different women dressed in red “dance like angels.” To me, this Burne-Jones garden of the Hesperides is where Claire manages to create a film chapter that is an heir of Italian neo-realism and cyberpunk. Grimes shoots, dances and dresses up on the kerb, or sideline, of history, an on the other hand always fertile ground from which to tell a story.