Today, I present a second project representing the work of the spectacular students in the USC Media Arts and Practices Program. In this case, Noa P. Kaplan applied her media manipulation skills to do an imaginative critique/remix/compression of Westworld, last fall’s cult media phenomenon. Think of this as a contribution to the growing movement within media studies to produce video essays.
Rose is a Rose is a Rose is a Rose
by Noa P. Kaplan
In the first episode of Westworld, Dr. Ford attributes Peter Abernathy’s obscure and threatening language to “…Shakespeare, John Donne, Gertrude Stein. I admit the last one [Stein] is a bit of an anachronism, but I couldn’t resist.” Why not? Only vaguely familiar with Stein’s role as an art collector and tastemaker in early twentieth century Paris, and slightly less familiar with her hermetic writing practice, I took it upon myself to read up on the historical figure in parallel with the Westworld series. Each newly released episode seemed to play off of her literary tactics—reappropriation, repetition, the continuous present. Episode four, Dissonance Theory, underlines how central her discordant style is to the series: “Stein’s own compositional idiom is not different in principle from jazz polyrhythms, or two times going at once…Stein, of course, has long been associated with cognitive dissonance in literary circles…” If all of this was not enough to convince me that Stein is more than a fleeting reference, her professional and social rosters sealed my certainty.
Growing up in California, Stein was influenced by the Feminist thinker, Charlotte Perkins Gilman; at Radcliffe, she studied under William James. Stein received scathing reviews after she contributed artworks from her collection and accompanying criticism to the controversial 1913 Armory show in New York, but Teddy Roosevelt publicly defended the exhibition: “The exhibitors are quite right as to the need of showing to our people in this manner the art forces which of late have been at work in Europe, forces which cannot be ignored.” The editor, Ford Madox Ford, facilitated the serialization of Stein’s The Making of Americans for his publication, The Transatlantic Review: “Miss Stein’s work will better bear division than the story of Mr. Coppard and, fortunately, Miss Stein kindly allows us to divide her up, which is more than many authors will.” Four frequent attendees of her Parisian salon were Elsie de Wolfe, Thérèse Bonney, D.H. Lawrence, and Arnold Rönnebeck, a modernist sculptor, best known for his abstract figure, Grief. Finally, one of Stein’s dearest friends, Bernard Faÿ, was a Vichy official who offered her immunity during WWII so that she could live safely in France despite being Jewish and openly homosexual. Her mentors, publishers, interviewers and friends are the namesakes of other Westworld characters as well, with the exception of Dolores, Maeve, Clementine, and Armistice. I could not locate these four in Stein’s inner circle.
Why do the female cyborgs defy the pattern? To get a clearer picture of these four mysterious characters I began an obsessive process of de-interlacing their narratives. I captured and recut each character’s story arc so that I could watch each uninterrupted. But their names were still denied clear parentage, neither anchored in Stein’s biography nor explained within the science fiction series, just floating in a contextual void, as if arbitrary. All I had were their names, so I used them as starting points, queries to unearth their historical and cultural backstories.
The first installment focuses on Dolores. Of the ten hours that make up the first season, three are devoted to Dolores, more than any other character. In order to identify behavioral patterns and thematic trends, I sped up the aggregated footage, condensing it to ten minutes in length. Superimposed on this timelapse are my findings, two times going at once. The result is a polyrhythmic pseudo-cyborg perspective, evolved from the gunslinger’s reductive computer vision used in the original 1973 feature film. The resulting juxtapositions produce more explosive significance than I could possibly articulate in words.
Noa P. Kaplan is a visual artist based in Los Angeles, California. She received her BA from Yale University and her MFA from the Design Media Arts Department at UCLA. She is currently working towards a PhD in Media Arts + Practice at USC. Kaplan’s artwork examines the impact of technology on production processes, material structure, and scale. She also has a deep interest in collaborative curation and fabrication. She has worked on visual and scholarly projects with several museums including Yale University Art Gallery, MassMOCA, Getty Center, and the Hammer Museum.