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Features / August 21, 2008

Althea Thauberger: Warhol Redux

Althea Thauberger Chelsea Girls 2008 Film still

Guardian art critic Jonathan Jones complained last week—and reasonably so—that he was tired of seeing terrible, oversimplified adaptations of Andy Warhol’s life in contemporary film. “I think Warhol was a great artist,” Jones writes. “But at this point I’d rather gaze at the Empire State building for eight hours than see another biopic or documentary that claims to recreate the strange and mysterious world of his New York studio.” It’s hopeful, then, to consider Chelsea Girls, the artist Althea Thauberger’s recent reworking of Warhol’s eponymous film. Commissioned especially to run concurrently with the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria’s “Andy Warhol: Larger than Life” exhibition, the work promises to tap into—and critique—the spirit of Warhol’s production rather than copy it wholesale.

Thauberger’s project here uses Warhol’s Chelsea Girls film, made in New York’s Chelsea Hotel in 1966, as a jumping-off point for a collaboration with the residents of Victoria’s Chelsea Apartments in 2008. As Thauberger explains in her artist statement, she wanted to use Warhol’s original in-situ, scene-specific approach to shed light on issues of housing in the Victoria area. “The Chelsea Apartments were built in downtown Victoria in 1977 as social housing, but were sold to a private owner (who has retained the property to the present) within three years,” the artist writes. “Many homeless people live in the vicinity and use the Chelsea’s parking lot as shelter and/or as a place to use drugs.”

While living in the apartments for two months and talking to people about their experiences and opinions, Thauberger filmed her Chelsea Girls, which features residents and guests of the building and attempts to represent a cross-section of their lives and views. Though the pensioners, students, ESL learners, construction workers, hair stylists, accountants and other residents of Thauberger’s Chelsea hotel differ considerably from the young, NYC-glam, underground-starlet-wannabes of Warhol’s Chelsea on the surface, they also articulate a somewhat different relationship to their reality. “None of the participants in Chelsea Girls (2008) were particularly interested in self-exposure for its own sake,” Thauberger writes. “In fact, many were outspokenly critical of such tendencies.” The result seems as much a critique of Warhol, in a way, as a tribute. And we’ll take that over a slavering, sunglassed, silver-wigged simulacrum anytime. (1040 Moss St, Victoria BC)