Friday, July 11, 2008

The Image Vault

I have a vivid memory of a short film about a mouth and a goldfish.

I'm sure I saw this film twice, in two different art museums, years apart. Although I can't remember specifics of the first viewing, other than the twinge of recognition I had during the second, I'm fairly certain the second museum was New York MOMA. This means I likely saw the movie for the second time before 1995. I remember the MOMA showing. It was in a dark room with open doorways at the end of a row of galleries; a room designed for walking into, taking a thoughtful, unhurried look at the work displayed, then meandering to other exhibits while the movie runs on in a continuous loop.

This particular film has no dialogue. In fact, I don't recall any sound at all. The action is simple: a person's open mouth fills to overflowing with water, which starts to trickle from the corners and down the chin. Then a single, live goldfish appears in the water, as though it was there all the time and has just swum out from a shadow. The goldfish flicks its tail and fins, giving the impression of swimming in this limited space, this shallow mouth-pond.

Why I remember this movie, simple plot and all, is a mystery. In retrospect, the images that play in my memory seem funny, even absurd. But I think the recollection's longevity has roots in a different, more immediate effect tied up in the viewing. Somehow, when I saw this -- perhaps only the first time reinforced by the second or perhaps both times -- I believe I found it vaguely disturbing. Although I don't know whether this is true, I find myself believing in hindsight that I was disturbed because I expected (and perhaps feared) something other than a goldfish as I watched that mouth. I must have been a teenager at the first viewing; as daunted as I was preoccupied by all things sensual.

Since I recall seeing this snippet twice in art museums (at least one of which is decidedly world class) I thought it reasonable I'd find at least a reference to it on the internet. It's truly amazing what you can find when you try to search for something like this. The depth of feeling for pet goldfish is staggering. Literally hundreds of questions have been posted, pleading for help with sick fish presenting mouth symptoms. Not to mention the magic tricks, party videos, etc. Go ahead, try it. Plug in +goldfish +mouth and maybe +film or +art and see what you get. But not what I was looking for.

I'd love to know the name of this film, the artist, the year it was made. Maybe in a few years it will turn up, as the reference to "Oh, To Be a Gypsy" finally did.


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