Purgatory

Is Purgatory an actual place or a state of existence, a means of punishment or purification? Catholics, who believe in it, speak of it as the site of fire. Some believe the fire is real and causes intolerable pain. Others disagree. The opinion that the fire isn’t at all real. Located within the individual, it is the soul alone that burns.

Internment is said to be temporary.  Those relegated to purgatory will eventually be welcomed into heaven. It is said that they are in the process of paying back a debt.

Artists have depicted its occupants as gaunt figures clustered together in the bleakest surroundings, as victims subjected to fantastical and grotesque acts or as flame ensconced bodies engaged in desperate appeals for help.

In her video Purgatory (2008) Pirjetta Brander takes a decidedly alternate approach. Her work echoes the characteristics of  her predecessors, but her detainees are housed in a more dreamy kind of setting; one that seems contradictory as well as absurd.

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Pirjetta Brander. Paused still image from Purgatory (2008).

In this environment wisps of pale blue and green flames gently wave to and fro in what seems to be a deep red fluid substance. That movement, which recalls the action of plants immersed in water, raises a possibility: Are we looking into a pool of blood?

Intermittent and diverse phenomena further accentuate the atmosphere’s weirdness. While robust clouds drift calmly through this environment, the place is also subject to abrupt rock showers, rain that cascades in strings of bright pink drops and jagged bolts of lightening. sudden and unexpected actions that effectively disrupt the place’s otherwise hushed presence.

To wit, stiff, pallid female bodies periodically float upwards through the milieu. But for the arbitrary and occasionally apparent twitching of digits, they seem lifeless – no matter whether they appear singly and en masse. Brander has represented the latter, in fact, as a thick network of intertwined body parts – a human log jam – the scale and seeming impenetrability of which is horrifying.

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Pirjetta Brander. Paused still image from Purgatory (2008).

While people might interpret the video in different ways, it is difficult not to see it as a metaphor for the menstrual cycle. Though the process – which like purgatory – is temporary, it also binds the female body.  Its effects on health (pain, mood swings, the flow of menstrual fluid) interfere with day-to-day life on a regular basis. From this there is no escape.

In my opinion the video is visually rich and excels at alluding to the cycle’s aspects without being obvious, preachy or excessively droll. Another important feature is that it can be enjoyed by members of either sex.

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