The Broad MSU presents the world premiere museum showing of Irma Vep, the last breath, a multichannel video installation by the artist Michelle Handelman. Based on the silent film character Irma Vep from the film Les Vampires (dir. Louis Feuillade 1915) and the life of the actress who portrayed her, Musidora, Handelman’s work explores the shadow side of society—examining themes of criminal anxiety and the relationship between the artist and her creation (both fictional and real).
Irma Vep and Musidora are played by Zackary Drucker and Jack Doroshow (aka Mother Flawless Sabrina), two artists whose personal relationship documents a trans-generational evolution of gender. By mirroring Drucker and Doroshow’s relationship with that of Irma Vep and Musidora’s, Handelman’s film interweaves the biographies of its characters with those of it performers, as well as Handelman’s own experience of living life undercover. In this conflation of past and present lives, Handelman creates a visually stunning and multilayered narrative.
In Feuillade’s film, Irma Vep is not really a vampire, but a member of an underground gang of jewel thieves. She spends much of her screen time in a black catsuit, scaling rooftops as she robs upper class Parisians. Vep is a trickster—cunning and vulnerable—a woman alone among men. Mirroring her character’s strength of conviction, Musidora was an early 20th century artistic force and feminist who took control of all aspects of her career by acting as well producing and directing films and theater. After financing dried up for her projects, Musidora lived in relative obscurity until her death in Paris, 1957. In her later years she worked the ticket booth of the Cinematheque Francaise, where few knew that she was France’s beloved vamp of the silver screen.
Handelman’s project imagines the fictional character Irma Vep in conversation with her therapist while surrounded on multiple screens by her doppelgangers. Featuring costumes by the renowned fashion collective threeASFOUR and couture corset designer Garo Sparo, Irma Vep, the last breath allows space for anxious projections of desire on the void that is Irma Vep—a space between genders, between vamps of the silent era and the contemporary queer.
About the artist
In a far-reaching practice that encompasses video, performance, photography and public art, Michelle Handelman creates provocative works that are both confrontational and visually seductive, examining themes of sexuality, gender, desire and loss. She is a John Simon Guggenheim Fellow in Film/Video and has received numerous grants and awards including New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship, Creative Capital MAP Fund, and the Experimental Television Center Finishing Fund. Her cinematic installations (Dorian, a cinematic perfume, This Delicate Monster) have been exhibited at MIT List Visual Arts Center; Guangzhou 53 Art Museum, China; Participant, Inc., NYC and Art-Claims-Impulse, Berlin. Her live performances (The Laughing Lounge, Ghost Sites, The Adventures of Lucky M) have been presented at Performa 05, 3LD Art & Technology Center, NYC, Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art and her single-channel videos have screened internationally including Georges Pompidou Centre, Paris; Krannert Art Museum, New York and London Film Festivals; American Film Institute, SFMOMA, and Anthology Film Archives. In the mid-90s Handelman directed the feature documentary Bloodsisters (Bravo Award 1999). She is a Guggenheim Fellow and Her writing appears in many publications including n. Paradoxa; A Feminist Journal (KT Press, London 2010); Inappropriate Behaviour (Serpents Tail, London 2001); and Apocalypse Culture 2, (Feral House Press, LA 1992). Her work is in the collection of Moscow Museum of Contemporary Art; Kadist Art Foundation SF/Paris; di Rosa Foundation and Preserve, Napa, California; and Zabludowicz Art Trust, London. She lives in Brooklyn and is currently developing a new Film and Media program at Fashion Institute of Technology, NYC.
Curated by Broad MSU Founding Director Michael Rush.