“The funniest thing…”
By Carine Zaayman

“I actually gave birth to a goat.” This is a line spoken by Tina, the main character in Jackie the Kid, a short animated film forming the centrepiece of Theresa-Anne Mackintosh’s latest solo exhibition. Tina’s statement is a response to the question posed by her pharmacist: “is your little one allergic to breast milk?” Through this exchange, we discover that the purpose of the rather bleak journey we have watched Tina undertake, has been to collect the goat’s milk for the baby we hear coming into the world at the start of the film.

The conversation between Tina and the pharmacist not only forms the climax of the narrative, but also indicates a number of crucial emotive strands in the film. His suggestion that there might be a problem with the baby (its allergy) immediately suggests a schism in the most primary relationship for any human being, namely that with its mother. If the baby was indeed “allergic” to breast milk, then the intimate nourishment of breastfeeding, the ultimate in tangible care giving, is rendered impossible. However, the problem, we learn, is far more serious. The child is a kid, a young goat. Here is more than an inter-species transgression. As it is a goat, the kid cannot grow up to be a mature adult human, but faces a life in which alienation from its family and peer group is lurking below the surface.

As emotional thread, the sense of alienation is present throughout the film. This is especially apparent in the daydreams of Tina and the various characters that cross her path, which punctuate the larger narrative. Each time the entry into daydreaming is signalled by the appearance of a scratchy texture that covers the face of the dreamer, and which subsequently reveals the scene of the dream. The dreams all have similar atmospheres and concerns. For one, they all share a grey, seemingly burnt wasteland as backdrop. In addition, they are all presented from a frontal angle, as if there is implicit knowledge of the presence of onlookers.

Apart from the visual similarities, the characters all express feelings of desertedness in their dreams. An emblematic case is a character that she encounters on the bus. In the dream, the wasteland appears first, this time with the legend “in need of care” superimposed on it. When the character appears on this plane, her T-shirt reads, “I am a girl”, finishing the construction of the sentence “I am a girl in need of care”. The dreams are all surreal and emanate an atmosphere of sadness. Upon encountering a character in a lift, Tina imagines an enormous tongue reaching down and licking him. On her return journey, a single figure accompanies her on the bus: he daydreams that he is alone with Tina, and he, being much smaller than her, moves to hide behind her dress. Another character (that she encounters on the journey to the pharmacy) dreams of himself alone in dark surroundings. In his hand, a little red flag bears the symbol of a smiling face – in strong contrast to his own gloomy expression.

It is significant that as viewers, we have access to these intensely private thoughts, as though we have been granted special insight into their minds. What is more, even though the dreams are presented to us, the other characters do not seem to share our ability to understand the fantasies of their companions. In fact, they hardly communicate, but are inert passengers of the film itself. That all these dreams signify a desire for intimacy, fulfilment and contact implies that the desires are born from the alienation depicted through the larger narrative. In a sense, one can imagine that the characters are substituting their prosaic everyday sense of loneliness for somewhat sad fantasies of wholeness.

The consistency with which the dream state is figured for every character (the scratchy texture) is complemented by the surreal nature of the overarching narrative. This suggests that perhaps this story is itself born of a dream. One can speculate whether this dream is Tina’s or some other person’s, but that is not really the issue. The persistent impression that the characters are all residents of one emotional plane could be seen as indication that their dreams all refer to the mind of one person. Perhaps together they indicate different manifestations of rupture and incompleteness, or in psychoanalytic terms, wounding, lack and loss.

Of course, everyone has experience of some of the anxieties associated with loneliness. It would be glib to try and fix the alienation to some specific event in either the artist’s life or any implied subjectivity. After all, we are given no clues as to what caused these feelings. The irresolute stasis of the narrative leaves us simply with a sketch, rather than a portrait, of a particular psyche, and it is one with which we can identify.

The exchange between Tina and her pharmacist is not only significant in the sense that it points to the darker psychological issues at play in the film. Tina’s response is dry, casual and somewhat flippant – an almost comical attitude: “The funniest thing…” Obviously, aside from all the seriousness, there is something funny about having given birth to a goat, particularly as regards the incongruence of such an event. Importantly, it is this same instance that signifies the grave sorrow in the film that also functions to alert us to its lightness.

This lightness is perhaps most evident in the visual style Mackintosh employs. Moreover, the inhabitants of this film space are mostly young and even funky, one can argue by looking at their attire. The large heads, simplified features and bright flat colours are reminiscent of children’s drawings, or illustrations for children’s books. Even so, the unique details of each drawing implies that it is in their individual characterisation that the meaning resides: an absence of a mouth could suggest a fear of engaging with others, far apart eyes a deep experience of vacuous existence, and so on. These elements subtly but deliberately reference children’s images to signify the fantastical and yet primal experiences the characters are undergoing.

In this sense, Mackintosh’s work alludes to, among other things, popular contemporary Japanese art, with which she has expressed an affinity. Like Mackintosh, Takashi Murakami, Aya Takano and Yoshitomo Nara, employ naïve, fantasy-like images to communicate primal conflicts in the human psyche, such as feelings of abandonment, loneliness and the anxieties that accompany emergent sexuality. This combination of melancholy and frivolity characterises not only the film, but the digital prints, paintings and sculptures. It is thus not only in the film that the sense of an encompassing narrative is created, but this is something suggested throughout the entire exhibition.

As a central figure in the exhibition (being both the protagonist of the film, and the subject of all the sculptures on show) it is fitting that Tina functions so strongly as a nexus of the seemingly oppositional motifs of dark psychological concerns and accessible, if bizarre playfulness. On the one hand, she is the sad, frail girl, her thin arms tightly pressed against her stiff body. Her eyes double vertical slits, incapable of any emotional expression apart from the disturbing effect they inherently possess. But she is also the subject of an absurd adventure, and she has a “funny” tale to tell. The congruence of the playful with the depressed seems to me to indicate a regressive momentum operative throughout the exhibition. Mackintosh gets us to suspend our disbelief by using these seductive visual qualities, and then confronts us with those aspects of ourselves that cannot be resolved.