QUEER FEAST. Slip the CD into your computer. It slides into the tray ever so effortlessly. After a whir of mechanical transactions and mouse clicks, the image fills your 12- or 15-inch screen.
The CD-ROM art of Michelle Citron takes off from there. Intimate, personal and private, it's as clandestine as anything you might do in front of your PC.
"When people sit at their computers, what they tend to be viewing is pornography. I was aware of that when I started making work in this format. It's not overtly sexual, but it has erotic, lush images. I was trying to play off that idea," says the filmmaker and artist from her home near Chicago, where she's a professor at Northwestern University's department of radio, TV and film.
"I have to pay attention to the aesthetics of the computer. It can't handle wide shots," she adds.
Citron's been making films since the mid-'70s about such topics as mother/daughter relationships, AIDS, high-tech medicine and women and work. But she's not one to make a conventional narrative or documentary. Instead, she plays with boundaries between these genres, between the fragments of how we remember. Since 1999, Citron's been developing a new series--a five-part CD-ROM exploration titled Queer Feast--where she investigates contemporary lesbian culture. Each of the installments is an exploration of interactive narrative and fragmentation--something that functions well in the CD-ROM format. Each is named for a course of a meal.
"I started with dessert first," she remarks about As American As Apple Pie. Close-up images of pie-making alternate with another close-up of two women kissing--a braiding of sensuality and hominess. The folding of apples into a piecrust or sifting of flour or crumbling of batter with one's fingers are as intimate as that of the women's lips silently plowing upon each other. The "action" takes place inside the miniature screen, privately, lusciously unfolding on your monitor.
Citron followed with Cocktails and Appetizers. Scattered conversations about lesbians and their butch or femme habits are audible. What you see as you click on the names of various cocktails are close-ups of conventionally or uncharacteristically female activities: a woman clasps cufflinks on her stiffly starched shirt; there's another of a woman with a scarf around her head, '50s-style, lighting a cigarette.
Citron is now knee-deep in production on Mixed Greens, the third installment of Queer Feast. "It's a meditation on two themes: sexual orientation and ethnic identity. It's massive, told over four decades, with six scenes apiece. The lesbian one is all fiction, while the one about being Jewish is documentary," explains Citron.
"I was the bridge connection between pre-Stonewall lesbian experiences and more contemporary ones. And as the only Jew in a working class neighborhood, going to a public school with mostly middle-class Jews, I also never fit in. When you move in lots of different circles like that, you're always aware of borders," she adds.
Citron's focus on those edges and fragments stems from her odd academic background. She got her doctorate in cognitive psychology.
"I walked away and became an artist, but I do in art what I studied as a scientist," she explains.
"We always make narrative out of fragments. When we remember, for example, from dreams, we're doing it with these nonlinear bits of material. Not to get essentialist here, but I think we're just hard-wired. It's how memory functions. New media allows me to explore this way of remembering."
So why not just put it online?
"It could go on the Web, but as a filmmaker, as an artist, I like holding the CD in my hands."
Citron says she's always fallen between the cracks as a filmmaker, working the hybrid between documentary and fiction. The same thing is happening in new media.
"People really like what they're seeing, but the critique from computer artists is that I'm not writing new software to create my CD-ROMs. They think the work isn't advanced enough technologically."
But she adds, "I operate in the world in a contradictory way--lots of paradoxes and border-crossings."
Who's seeing Citron's work, then?
"I'd like Queer Feast to be seen by a queer audience, for the content, of course. But I also send it out to festivals both film and new media. I want to talk to audiences on two levels--content and form."
As far back as Daughter Rite, an experimental narrative film Citron made in 1978 about mother/daughter relationships, she's screened her work in both church basements and in academic venues.
"I hope to sneak ideas into each audience, to force people in one to look at issues of the other."
She adds, "Content, like what I'm exploring in Queer Feast is important and risky, but if it's just a conventional narrative, the content doesn't make it experimental. You have to play with form as an artist."
Michelle Citron talks about stories, narrative structure and her own work from 1 to 3 p.m. Friday, Nov. 7, at the Center for Creative Photography, located in the UA fine arts complex at Speedway Boulevard and Park Avenue. Her lecture is free. Sponsors include the College of Fine Arts, Jack and Vivian Hanson Film Institute, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences visiting filmmakers program, the Committee on LGBT Studies, Lesbian Looks and the Treistman Center for New Media.
For details, call Daniel Peltz at 621-8977.