PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art 27.1 (2005) 102-107
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The Disappearing Subject
Looking for Slater Bradley
Portraits of a Non-Existent Self
Accompanied by the mournful sound of Always and Forever, an eighties hit accidentally played backwards, Slater Bradley's Inside a Times Square Burger King Where The Soundtrack Is Being Played Backward (2000) begins with a close-up of a speaker in the ceiling. On the left of the screen, the top of a head appears. Arms reach for a burger, an onion ring, a napkin, a coke. An old man eats at the next table. The tape reverses, and we are suddenly trapped in time, on our way to the beginning of the loop. As the action goes backward, the music goes forward, mutating from an eerie babble into a faraway love song, saccharine and banal. Movements become choppy and images degrade. The restaurant seems to blacken and corrupt.
One of the few videos in which Bradley himself appears, Inside a Times Square Burger King Where The Soundtrack Is Being Played Backward is a paradoxically unidentifiable self-portrait. Shooting himself with a spy camera, Bradley allows only portions of his body to be seen. By adding a ghostly echo of his moving arms three frames behind the first, he creates a skeletal double image of the living, while objects remain inert. The loop acquires an almost Buddhist overtone, suggesting that we are transient, interchangeable beings enduring for an instant, flashing through a static material world. With continued viewing, the video becomes more and more disorienting. Differences between backward and forward blur. We remain in the middle of an unfinished meal, as if life consists only of meaningless eating in a dreary fast food restaurant where nothing changes and it's always the same time. [End Page 102]
By endlessly stretching out such insignificant moments, film seems almost capable of arresting time. It is also the closest we can get to preserving a living person after death. But a person on screen is always a double, an illusory copy of a previously unique human being. The intertwined dichotomy between filmic fiction and truth is the heart of Bradley's work. He plays on the paradoxical and sometimes nonexistent differences between authentic and staged emotions, and real and fabricated situations, distinctions that are quickly being swamped by reality TV.
Bradley most often expresses his skepticism about his own subjectivity by taping his "Doppelgänger," Benjamin Brock, a look-alike discovered by chance when mutual friends at a club mistook them for each other in 1999. By shooting his double, Bradley implies that his off-screen existence is as illusory as the on-screen life he portrays in Burger King. The Doppelgänger video series began in 2001 with Trompe le Monde ("Fool the World" in English), a sensuous study of daily routine that follows a young man as he wakes up, showers, and leaves his apartment. The apartment is clearly Bradley's; his possessions appear. But as an exercise in voyeuristic narcissism, the video is misleading—the young man is actually Brock. Digitally bleached to pearly black and white, with sparing touches of vivid color, fragmented shots of Brock's body are seen in a series of claustrophobic spaces. In the elevator, footage switches to a grainy surveillance-type image, shot directly from security tape. Passing through the lobby, with its multiple reflections in mirrors and doors, the double goes out to the street and disappears. The camera returns to the building for a spectacular shot of illuminated windows, then briefly moves in to reveal a woman eating dinner. The screen grows dark, and the...