Rena Thomas’s enticing promise of an evening of Super 8 films and lemon meringue pies drew an enthusiastic crowd at Struts Gallery for a screening of her film project, “Faces and Feet.” The event was held on September 11, as part of Struts’s ongoing series of members’ projects entitled “The Living is Easy.”
The screening featured five films respectively titled “Papillion de Nuit,” “Faces and Feet,” “Longing,” “Pink,” and “Water Girls.” As audience members enjoyed slices of pie, they were transported into the artist’s dreamlike world of whimsy and romance. Her films feature recurring themes of sisterhood, women’s bodies, and the paradoxical emotions associated with leaving home.
“Papillion de Nuit,” (French for butterfly, or moth, of the night) demonstrated the complementary nature of the Super 8 film medium with Thomas’s playful themes. The slow reel and jerky quality of the film lend a thematically appropriate contrast to Thomas’s dynamic and fluid subjects.
In this piece, Alisa Haugen-Strand performs an improvisational dance in the dimly lit Sackville Music Hall. Haugen-Strand’s flowing and impassioned movements provide an interesting visual contrast to the film’s choppy quality, creating a building sense of tension and relief within the film.
The visual contradictions inherent in the work mirror the emotions Thomas and Haugen-Strand felt the picture conveyed.
“It became about the internal struggle between haven and home versus escaping and being independent,” Thomas explained.
She related it to her own experiences of graduating and moving away from Sackville for the first time, experiences Haugen-Strand also shares.
“We’re in sort of a transitional period, and so ‘Papillion de Nuit’ sort of took on the meaning of new beginnings. We were thinking about a cocoon, and how escaping the cocoon is also a kind of transitional zone and a transformation at the same time.”
Because Super 8 cameras are relatively outdated, the black and white film and muted colours lend a nostalgic, yet otherworldly aesthetic quality to Thomas’s work. “Water Girls,” in particular, feels like it was filmed decades before Thomas actually produced it in 2012 before moving to New Zealand. In this piece, shot by her brother Justin, Rena is joined by three girls as they remove their clothing with a devil-may-care attitude and jump into a lake in a youthful, romantic act of freedom.
“‘Water Girls’ is about a sisterhood who are free and strong, and there is also this kind of innocence and playfulness to it,” Thomas reflects.
The notion of sisterhood and women embracing their bodies are both recurring themes in Thomas’s work.
“I really feel strongly about sisterhoods. I feel like there is a missing gap… a disconnect between women and the way they pass down their history and their stories.”
By using a vintage method of film production to comment on modern society—specifically the media pressure on women to maintain an ideal body—and by featuring close-knit, empowered female figures in her art, Thomas manages to close this gap through her film narratives. Her imaginative settings, in a way, mirror Thomas’s own vision of how women should interact with each other, as well as with themselves.