Facing Medusa
Video installation 2003-04
(single screen version)

Installation image 1Installation image 2Installation image 3

Assembled from sources including broadcast TV, the web and specially shot video footage, the piece explores the links between fashion and death.

It follows a trail through time and place from a skull and crossbones painted on a GI’s T-shirt in the jungles of Vietnam to the catwalk glamour of Gianni Versace, gunned down outside his home in Miami.

It asks the question did Versace’s use of Medusa’s head as a logo on all his clothes tempt fate and lead to his untimely and violent death? For as the Greek myth tells it, all who looked on the face of the Medusa were turned to stone.

The soldier in the Vietnam jungle knew that he was facing death. Did it comfort him to paint its symbol, a skull and cross bones in an ace of spades, on his T-shirt? Was his bravado rewarded with survival, or was he too gunned down by a stranger?

The jungle, so dark and hostile to the soldier, becomes a motif of beauty in Versace’s designs, such as the palm frond printed dress worn by Jennifer Lopez. An extreme close up of its fabric is shown blurring into the dark patterns of the black and white images of the soldier’s camouflage shirt and the jungle foliage itself. On summer T-shirts, Versace printed Medusa’s head beside an ace of spades motif, just like the one the GI painted onto his T-shirt in the jungle so many years before.

The images loop endlessly, juxtaposing darkness and light, luxury and horror, catwalk glamour and the tramping feet of young men in army gear, marching as they “model” army trousers that have been in actual combat.

Versace’s face melds into the face of the Medusa, his chosen symbol, and then into the face of the young soldier, their eyes becoming one. Was the nature of their deaths inevitable, woven into the very fabric of their lives?

The images shift and reform in time to the pulsing soundtrack (a dense collage of specially selected early nineties Europop tracks and sound effects including helicopters and exploding flashbulbs).

As the sound builds to a crescendo, the sixteen images, which have taken the viewer from the colour of the catwalk to the heart of darkness, each transform into the skull and cross bones, before the sound track finally falls silent as the symbol of death fills the screen completely. Then a roll of drums signals the reappearance of the parading catwalk models and the cycle begins all over again.

Digital manipulation, video editing: Michael Cheetham, Wizden Wow Works
Still photography: Janine Rook
Photographic processing: Michael Dyer Associates
Video camera: courtesy Roger Karshan
Music: courtesy J-P Martinon
Set design and construction: Walid Siti
Models: Daniel, Robbie, Pierre Luigi
Location: courtesy London Borough of Camden
Screening: courtesy the Showroom Gallery, London

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