Born in Fresno and raised in Oakhurst, Shana Moulton isn’t an artist you normally associate with the central San Joaquin Valley.
But you should. Artists around the world know her.
I got a rare local chance to see an example of the 39-year-old video and performance artist’s work at last weekend’s “The Hatchery: Fortress” exhibition in the cavernous former Synanon cult compound near the entrance to Kings Canyon National Park. Twenty-three artists from around the world took part in the curated show, which was affiliated this year for the first time with a worldwide art event – held nearly simultaneously in 10 alternative art venues – sponsored by the Urban Arts and Media Organization, based in Munich, Germany.
It was a strong show, and one of my favorite works was Moulton’s.
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Big chunks of the dilapidated Hatchery space are off limits because of decay, including almost all of the second floor. The exception was the viewing space for Moulton’s 2013 video “Swisspering.” The dramatic setting added to the impact as I climbed the stairs and settled in for the 9-minute video, an example of the loosely autobiographical videos in her ongoing “Whispering Pines” series (named for the trailer park she grew up in) that feature her “agoraphobic, hypochondriac alter ego, Cynthia.”
In the video, Cynthia sits in her bathroom looking in the mirror as she removes her makeup. A simple act, but the viewer is surprised when more than just the “makeup” is removed. By using purposefully low-tech editing and special effects, I’d describe Moulton’s effect as nostalgic-idyllic, amiable and perhaps with just a touch of New Age creepiness. The surrealism of the video in a narrow sense is a commentary on the way that beauty products can be used can be relied upon to construct a “self” fit for public consumption, but in larger terms it seems to comment on the way identity can be used as a shield – a defensive measure to retain self-worth.
I was entranced.
Moulton “made video art the minute we bought a movie camera – I think she was 10 or 11,” recalls her mother, Vivian. She graduated from Yosemite High School, UC Berkeley and received a master of fine arts degree MFA from Carnegie Mellon University. She exhibits and teaches around the world – she was in Germany teaching a performance art class – and has had shows in a host of international cities. (“Swisspering” had its premiere at Fondazione Morra Greco in Naples, and Moulton just had a show in Paris.)
If her last name sounds familiar, she’s the niece of Chuck Moulton, who founded the Fresno Poets’ Association.
In recent years she’s made her home in New York when not traveling, but she’s moved back in temporarily with her mother and father, Mike, who still live in Oakhurst, to help her ill mother.
Here’s hoping we’ll get a chance to see more of the work of this local artist made good. Perhaps a performance-art piece in a museum setting?