Kaja Levy de la Vie: Euthymia
The Main Gallery: January 8 – February 20, 2021
Harcourt House Artist Run Centre, 3rd floor, 10215 – 112 St, Edmonton
Kaja Levy de la Vie’s moving image work, Euthymia, explores the theatrics of conveying emotion and the spectacle of sensitivity. Three channels playing simultaneously depict a businesswoman’s crisis. She is barely capable of functioning while experiencing the throes of dysthymia—a numb, chronic lowness. Her delusions are supported by imagined workers. The black and white slow-motion video triptych depicts the inability to discern between imagined perspective and reality in an allegorical representation of mental illness, accompanied by an ominous multi-channel soundscape by Charlie Twitch.
Euthymia was shot in a high-vaulted chapel while Kaja was undergoing the first of many treatments for bipolar disorder. Conceived in the throes of a manic episode, the project recounts a depressive episode. Kaja had been wrongly diagnosed as depressive and, as is common with bipolarity, the use of SSRIs thrust her into one of many hypomanic episodes. In the time leading up to the Euthymia shoot, her medication was adjusted to match the new diagnosis which did not prove to be a smooth transition. Between fits of emotional distress and sleepless nights, choice fatigue, and the weight of having to lead a crew of 20, the weeks of pre-production and the two-day shoot came together against all (or some) odds (it can always be worse).
In the first scene the lead female, donning a power suit, runs atop a stack of newspapers representing ruminations about relevance: what does it mean to keep up with the world? How does one stay on top of the news? She runs without moving forward being spotted by two workers, each supporting an outstretched arm, evoking crucifixion.
The second scene features a dark, empty landscape that becomes a tangible object. This image, invoked by a psychologist who had asked Kaja to close her eyes and describe what nothing looked like, was conjured up in the midst of a depressive episode while reporting week after week that she had felt nothing, referring to the emptiness that accompanies depression. The doctor shot back: “That’s not nothing.” Crying ensued, et cetera.
The final scene has the businesswoman, hair let out, sitting before an infinite banquet table replete with plates of toast. Overwhelmed by notions of appetite, Kaja considered questions such as, “How can I eat when each meal is a repetition of the last? To chew, to masticate, to swallow, to live. But why and what for?” These are examples of depressive queries stemming from anhedonia, the loss of pleasure, to challenge the usefulness or necessity of existence, of sustenance, of meaning, of control. Later, an ominous figure who has been watching her, the personification of anxiety, approaches as she lays capitulated in a wheelbarrow, an ode to Arthur Tress’s photograph Mother in a Wheelbarrow. He never reaches the wheelbarrow, it cuts away as he moves toward her. He emerges in the final shot, walking across the infinite banquet table with the wheelbarrow until he meets her sitting where she has always sat, and begins to dump the collected toast, met by her hard stare.
Low frequency pulses and drones simulate the internal sounds of the body set against the squealing chirps of cicadas. As the body sounds fade and crackle a meditation bell and faint music settle in. The cicadas pan across the room and in between low drawn-out tones, there is jittery high-pitched rattling and a stunted meditation bell. The cicadas rise again, at first quietly from behind, swelling with the low murmurs into a deafening cacophony before abruptly cutting. Then a steady ring as the bell sounds dully in the distance. The bell chimes a final time, cut short as the piece begins again.
The three scenes play simultaneously and loop over each other—the first two being shorter than the third and alternating between the first and second channels—in a frenzied yet slow-moving mockery of euthymia.
Kaja Levy de la Vie is a well-known film/video maker, performer, and writer based in Montréal. Born in Poland, raised in Calgary, Alberta, she looks to film and video as a means to understand the passage of time. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Religion Studies from Concordia University and a BFA degree in Film Production from Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema of the University of Concordia in Montréal. Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema is the oldest film school in Canada and the largest university-based centre for the study of film animation, film production, and the history of cinematography.
Kaja Levy de la Vie’s film and video work explores the theatrics of expressing emotions and sensitivity. She is inspired by such greats as Agnes Varda, Luis Buñuel, and Chantal Akerman. In her prose, Levy de la Vie writers of the tensions between real and imagined realities. Between 2008 and 2010, she was the co-editor of Fatigue Magazine. Kaja Levy de la Vie is also a recipient of numerous awards and commendations for her films. Her impressive short films and experimental videos have been presented at several fringe and mainstream film festivals across Canada, including: the Objet Sonore lecture series, the Academy of Art Video Art, the Winnipeg Underground Film Festival, Film Pop Montréal, and the $100 Film Festival, among others. Levy de la Vie’s video triptych Euthymia was nominated for Best Production, Direction, and Cinematography at the Concordia Film Festival in Montréal.
Image: Still from Euthymia, (detail) scene three, 2015, HD Video
Courtesy of the Artist