Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Laura Parnes - County Down

Laura Parnes is an artist whose work engages strategies of narrative film and video art to blur the lines between storytelling conventions and experimentation. Parnes combines elements such as continuity and dialogue with highly stylized sets and performances to present non-linear narratives as installations that utilize the architectural space of a gallery or museum. By deploying cinematic citation as an element of site-specific installation, the staging of her own productions reverberates in an exhibition setting, often requiring the audience to physically enter a scripted environment or re-creation of the production set. Parnes’ installations operate at a symbolic and sculptural level, while maintaining a narrative coherence that points to a future in which reality is tightly nested in layers of art, popular culture, and experience.

Parnes’ video installation, titled County Down, takes from the aesthetics of traditional horror movies to tell the story of two young girls in a gated suburban community who trigger an epidemic of psychosis among the adults through the invention of a designer drug with potentially apocalyptic side effects. The video is episodic and highly reminiscent of both the optimism and style of the early 1990′s. In addition to the video, on display are photos and other arranged objects, such as like-size cardboard cut outs of the characters that directly relate to the narrative. County Down presents a strong critique on American consumerism as a means of destruction.
Robin Newman

A few minutes into Laura Parnes’s 70-minute horror movie, “County Down,” I thought, “This is bad.” The acting is wooden, the sets amateurish, the writing banal, the pace erratic. Moreover, Ms. Parnes used a digital program that turns photographic reality into a hallucinogenic cartoon, as Richard Linklater did in his brilliant films “Waking Life” and “A Scanner Darkly.” But in Ms. Parnes’s case, the trippy effect comes off as crude and garish. The whole thing looks like it was made by an enterprising but not exceptionally talented high school student. Knowing it to be actually a sophisticated spoof made no difference. I wondered how I was going to get through an hour of it. After a while, however, it began to seem interestingly bad. Then it became mysteriously fascinating. I couldn’t stop watching.

The plot of what Ms. Parnes’s Web site describes as a “web-based episodic digital film” is complicated. Set in a wealthy, gated community, “County Down” revolves around the invention and distribution of a psychedelic drug — delivered and consumed in nippled baby bottles — by a teenage girl named Angel. For unclear reasons, her parents and those of her friends are going insane. There are zombies, cannibalism and murder, including a matricidal decapitation. It’s a blatantly ridiculous and yet weirdly compelling soap opera; “Night of the Living Dead” meets “Pretty Little Liars.”

Serious-minded viewers might find in Ms. Parnes’s film social commentary on addiction, consumerism, the media, adolescent angst, suburban ennui and so forth. Whatever. Mainly, it’s a hoot.
Ken Johnson

"These people don't have friends, Angel. They have interests, and don't you forget it," Tanya tells her co-conspirator in the opening sequence of artist Laura Parnes' new film County Down. Angel, the precocious rebel-genius played by Stephanie Vella, has just designed a pink hallucinogenic called Quix, packaged in baby bottles and distributed to other teens in their posh gated community. Her popularity has skyrocketed, especially since all the adults in the neighborhood seem to be going slowly mad and anxiety among teens is at a high point. "Right now, it's in their interests to respect us," Tanya adds.

The whole thing is very '90s -- it looks like a video game informed by rave culture, anime, McMansions and Clinton-era oblivion. Its protagonist, Angel, could be a composite of a slightly snazzed-up Daria from MTV and Christina Ricci's Wendy from The Ice Storm -- she's different, dark, sassy, smart and maybe dangerous. She has heavy blue eye makeup and a vintage schoolgirl wardrobe, and she's in over her head.

"Destruction is the one principle in the world we can count on," Angel says, two-thirds of the way through Parnes' film. "That and Quix." Parnes initially called the drug Triple X, but then xXx the movie came out. She tried calling it Tsunami instead, but then the devastating tsunami hit Japan. Quix had none of that baggage. "It's like instant sweetness or something," Angel gushes in County Down. "It sounds like immediate gratification," says Parnes.

The film ends when most adults have died or lost their minds completely -- one woman tries to devour her son's leg -- and even Angel's friends have begun to crawl around delusionally, due to the dwindling supply of Quix. In the last scene, men in white jumpsuits and face masks lead Angel and Tanya from their gated enclave into the wider world. We hear Angel's voice, coming at us from the future, nostalgic for her moment of disastrous, youthful free reign: "Everything's different now and I know that's a good thing, but sometimes I wish I could go back to that time, when I was really a part of something."
Catherine Wagley

COUNTY DOWN TRAILER 2011 from Laura Parnes on Vimeo.


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