Hollis Frampton & Kerry Tribe

For Conjuring a Narrative*


In the first lifetime, a beautiful heiress is born with an immense fortune, and a loving but eccentric father who arranges for her every conscious moment to be filmed, starting with her birth. He establishes a trust for his daughter, with one stipulation that she allow every moment of her life to be documented. She leads a long, varied and passionate life. She travels to the moon where she gives birth to a child, is awarded a Nobel prize for pioneering science research, and is married three times—the third and final being to the cameraman who follows her everywhere. She so saturates her waking hours with lived experiences of every kind that she never once pauses to screen the films of her own expanding past. In extreme old age she writes a will, leaving her fortune to the first child born at the instant of her own death, in the same city, with the single condition that they spend the entirety of their life watching the accumulated films of her own.


Kerry Tribe, "Critical Mass." Courtesy of the artist.

Kerry Tribe, “Critical Mass.” Courtesy of the artist.


Following a brief intermission, the second lifetime starts when the heiress (to her astonishment) is reincarnated as the male child who inherits her own fortune. He emerges from the womb to the projected film of her own, previous, birth. The fortune comes with the condition that each and every moment be spent as a sedentary spectator. Through the accumulated films he receives a quaintly obsolete education from her school days, and watches along as young men court her during adolescence. As the watcher ages he becomes morbidly obese and reclusive, no longer speaking except to occasionally shout “FOCUS!” He relies entirely on the films, and intravenous food and medication to survive. He dies quietly in his sleep the night after he’s watched the final film.



Rumors about the bizarre arrangements of these two lifetimes spread through academic channels and a tenacious film historian, after some digging, reveals that during the second lifetime, the obese watcher had hired a team of writers to produce a text. The writers had transcribed each word, listed each movement, and described each location captured in the films of the heiress in extreme detail. The granddaughter of the heiress (the daughter of the child born on the moon) learns of this document and after some legal battles gains control of the rest of the fortune. With it she retains a large and growing pool of actors to perform each character, and hires an army of costume fabricators to remake fashions gone out of style. There are no tickets sold to the living theater, only a schedule of futures dates and locations posted. The anachronistic styles and defunct idioms of two generations ago charm a growing audience of loyal fans. Celebrated as a monumental artwork, it is discussed and written on widely. Video documents of the performance are screened around the world. Just before the heiress reaches middle age it is briefly forgotten, and then celebrated again by the following generation before its conclusion.


* Hollis Frampton opens his essay “A Pentagram for Conjuring the Narrative,” with a thought experiment involving two lifetimes. I’ve embellished and edited, and then added a third part. This text is intended as an allegory for Kerry Tribe’s performance Critical Mass, a live performance of a iconic experimental film by Hollis Frampton.

This artist highlight was pulled from SFAQ Issue 15.