Aïda Ruilova b. 1974
Dreams and nightmares often leave a vivid impression in our memory, but describing them can be very difficult. Although we know exactly what the feeling was, the plot is fuzzy, and the details fade into one another. Imagination supplements their daylight reconstruction. Such is the nature of Aïda Ruilova’s short films and videos.
Most of Ruilova’s earlier videos are less than a minute long. Like haiku, they aren’t narrative, but they concisely illuminate a situation. Shots of lone young women or men gesturing obsessively or keening idiosyncratic sounds or words in corridors, basements, stairs, or cellars are broken down into short sequences of a second or less. The editing—cognizant of the teachings of structuralist cinema and earlier experimental filmmakers such as Sergei Eisenstein— employs jump cuts, repetition, and loops. As a result, the characters seem trapped in an evil spell. Although infused with irony, they are in distress, possessed by paranoia, tics, and erratic behavior. For their condition there is no epiphany. In the videos Let’s Go (2004), Uh Oh (2004), Um (2004), Ok (2005), and Alright (2005), each character mutters the work’s titular syllables. The shots are taken from extreme angles, and the camera swings obliquely, abruptly zooming in on details like a chin or a hand or using a simple architectural element to mask part of a subject’s body and obtain an almost abstract composition. Sound is treated as image: short segments—for example, the ringing of a bell or overheard voices—are intercut in syncopated rhythms. So fast is the editing that memory is reduced to single frames and fragments.
For Ruilova—a former member of a noise punk band—music, and especially punk rock and noise metal, is also an iconographic source. You’re pretty (1999) takes place in a cavelike basement in which a frantic young man alternately scratches a vinyl record on the floor and emphatically embraces an amplifier while repeating the title phrase. The détournement of punk-rock icons to objects of sexual desire is humorous, but the scene is nightmarish and conveys a palpable sense of torture and aggression. Black metal music evokes associations with horror stories, secret rituals, zombiism, and esoteric Blakean visions. In It had no feelings (2003), two diaphanous girls recite an enigmatic litany standing in the dark water of a pool in the moonlight. (The dark, impenetrable surface of water is a recurring motif in Ruilova’s work, implying the unseen and the unknown. In Two-Timers (2008), a woman recites poetry to a rat she holds in her hands while immersed in a moonlit pond.) The themes in Ruilova’s lexicon—esotericism, suspense, the macabre, eroticism—are also paradigmatic of gore, vampire, X-rated, and B movies. French filmmaker Jean Rollin, master of soft-core horror, is literally the artist’s mentor. An homage to his persona, life like (2006) combines footage from his movies and shots of an actress (impersonating the artist) either cuddling the supine body of Rollin (who plays himself, dead) or forcing him to perform an endless series of autographs. Parts of the video were shot in Rollin’s Paris apartment, a setting that in some sense represents Ruilova’s cultural origins.