VIDEO MEMOIR: SHADOWS IN EVERYDAY LIFE
Trained as a sociologist and in interdisciplinary arts, Britta Wheeler synthesizes performative embodiments with a dynamic social critique. Combining photography, video, and a deep theoretical engagement with the practices of everyday life, Wheeler examines social values through cultural iconography of the past, present, and future. Wheeler’s work utilizes the personal and the everyday to illustrate and critique social frameworks that determine the human experience and lead to unintended consequences. By performing iconic characters, she seeks to reveal the contradictions in social assumptions, and the ways that individuals conform to or confront stereotypical roles. Her work asks us to question how we define ourselves and our world.
As one component of a larger project on the past, present, and future, Wheeler addresses the mid-20th century (what she still considers the present). In “Blonde/Modernism,” Wheeler performs the blonde in her everyday life, writing on the changes in her experiences as she transforms into blonde. Then, dressing in the style and fashion of the mid-20th century, Wheeler performs on the ukelele (Belinda on Ukelele) and uses her image to contrast against modernist architecture (Le Corbusier’s Dream) and mid-century idealisms (Everything will be Alright.) The images are ambiguous and call out a strange juxtaposition of word and picture, asking the viewer to question the definition of freedom, the role of “woman,” the meaning of “blonde” and the “rational” plans of the Modernist project.
In another aspect of her work, Wheeler writes a memoir about her progressive intellectual, bohemian parents, who lived their lives in conservative Nebraska. Her father, a sociologist, and her mother, an artist, Wheeler seeks to understand her parents within the context of their times. She asks: how did her mother and father come to take a stand against the dominant norms of their time and place? And, what led them to believe in the power of art and ideas in spite of social pressures to conform to the conservative values of their context? By asking these questions, Wheeler discovers a complex history of Nebraska, Populism, racial relations in the Midwest, and the power of art and ideas as salvation from the pain of life as an outsider. She reveals a tradition of resistance to normative American values, and a history of the artist in America.
As part of this memoir project, “The Edict” is a short video in which Wheeler shows how the social construction of masculinity seeks to shape her young son. While contrasting images of her son in everyday life with those of Nebraska football, she recounts interactions with men who impose a football ideal, in contrast with the last wishes of her father. Wheeler is struck by the continual and dominant efforts to define young people in ways that are unhealthy and inappropriate.