SXSW 2018: Narcissister Organ Player
Narcissister Organ Player, an autobiographical piece directed by the artist and performer Narcissister herself, is described by the director as an attempt to demonstrate how her family history impacted her life, and propelled her to create the performance persona of Narcissister for her art.
In practice, the film is so chock full of that performance and artistry as to muddle whether this is really a story being told, or another performance itself. The actual story of her home life, with her mother, a Moroccan Jew, and her father, an African American academic originally from Los Angeles, hints at how she could grow up feeling so ‘other’ from her surroundings in southern California. And Narcissister Organ Player does dive into that aspect of her life, somewhat.
But every photo from that time period obscures her younger face, and the focus is almost solely on the parents with whom she, by her own admission, had difficult relationships with. The result is an incomplete picture of the artist being sold as full revelation. While the effect is such that it did impart an appreciation for her performance art and how the artist relates to her own body, Narcissister both as filmmaker and artist, muddles the message for the sake of the details.
That’s not to say there aren’t glimpses of the proverbial walls coming down between performer and audience in Narcissister Organ Player. She narrates the film in such a way that the story of her parents’ romance, breakup, and reconnection is truly engaging, and there are moments in her performances and narration that play well together to connect her choices in the art with her motivation for creating, same for her own life. But overall the film still presents such an arm’s length view of the artist herself that it makes her moniker rather ironic in the literal sense.
What makes that so frustrating is that, to hear her narration, Narcissister’s performance pieces are an outlet through which she allows herself to analyze her own life and person, but to an outsider (like an audience) that revelation is obscured; her performances are provocative and involve heavy use of bodily imagery both in set decoration, along with use of Narcissister’s own body, orifices, and nudity. But as she describes Narcissister as a character, or a costume she puts on for the purpose of this art, engagement with the artist and her intention becomes more difficult.
In essence, what Narcissister Organ Player leaves the audience with is an idea of where this artist comes from, but not much of an idea of who the artist herself really is. By leaving that last wall between herself and the audience, Narcissister Organ Player ’s a road map with no destination and feels just as aimless when you reach the end.