Nun and Deviant

Date: Mon, 11 May 1998 21:29:42 -0400 (EDT)
From: (Kyna Jones)
Subject: Nancy Angelo

Notes on Nun and Deviant, 1976. Nancy Angelo and Candace Compton.

For various reasons, video art was just coming into its own in the 1970s, which is to say that its particular relevencies were as yet unestablished. As such, it became a medium associated with experiment, vision, and often confusion. Nancy Angelo, Candace Compton, and any number of other women artists often employed it as a means of voicing their feminist statements. This being said, it should be clear that the film in question works beyond those confines. However, it would be absurd to ignore the relevance, not to mention prevalence of feminism in society and (therefore) art during that time period. Consider this a disclaimer and defense of a feminist perspective. The film can be broken down into four basic segments. They are 1) Introduction; 2) Monologues; 3) Background; 4) Conclusion. The introduction served to establish certain roles and the definitions of those roles. Nancy Angelo was placed in the role of a nun, and the characteristics associated with that role were safety, purity, and humility. Candace Compton was placed in the role of a deviant, and the characteristics associated with that role were ugliness and dirtiness. They prepare themselves physically and mentally for their respective roles. The monologues consisted of six individual speeches directed at the camera, which is to say the audience. The deviant approaches first and immediately affirms our perceptions of deviancy. "I AM A DEVIANT." She then proceeds to proclaim her suitability to that role, listing any number of "bad" things she may have done. She assures us that she meets our expectations of her. She is followed by the nun who begs our forgiveness - appropriately playing her role. She does not affirm her role with a list of specific acts, but with her behavior. That is, she epitomizes humility. "FORGIVE ME. I'M BAD." Her final words, though, begin to question. "ARE YOU THERE? CAN YOU HEAR ME?" The deviant returns (rather stealthily), and becomes defensive. She seems to feel that her authenticity is being questioned and so she assures us repeatedly, "I'M NOT SINCERE. I'M NOT SO GOOD." She begins to recognize positive qualities in herself and suffers from obvious confusion about her adequacy as a deviant. "I'M SINCERE. HONEST," is followed by "I'M NOT THAT SINCERE. REALLY."

The nun approaches the camera aggressively this time and renews her questions, "ARE YOU THERE?" demanding "LISTEN TO ME!" She becomes angry and begins to assert her own rights and needs. "I'M NOT THE NUN YOU WANT ME TO BE!" She is asserting herself and her right to define her own nunness. The deviant's final speech is delivered in an "Aw shucks" manner after a VERY slow approach. She admits to her inadequacy as a deviant and recognizes her inherent goodness. She seems disappointed, but assures us "I'M ALL RIGHT. I'M NOT SO BAD."

The nun skips to the camera and announces herself with pride. She asserts herself repeatedly, "I'M STRONG,... I'VE SURVIVED." "I AM A NUN OF MY OWN DESIGN, FOLLOWING MY OWN DEFINITIONS." The women are telling us to be careful how we choose to perceive them, as women, as artists, etc. - "Don't foist your expectations of nunness on me!" In other words, don't tell me what it is to be a woman. If I choose to define myself as a woman (or as a nun), then in so doing, I will define what a woman is. Nancy Angelo establishes - defines - herself as a nun, but rather than allow us to let our preconceptions or expectations of what a nun is dictate her behavior, she tells us who she is and therefore, what a nun is. "Nun," here, is interchangeable with "Woman." If Nancy Angelo is a woman, then a woman is whatever Nancy Angelo is.

The deviant approaches the situation from a different angle. She begins by asserting herself as a deviant, assuring herself and us that she does qualify as "deviant" according to our ideas of what that is. As the film progresses, she becomes less and less certain of her status, and ultimately concedes that she is not a deviant, that she is actually an essentially good person. Rather than asserting herself as deviant and demanding to define that role herself, she shrinks slowly away from a role that was thrust upon her. That is, having been defined as deviant, she initially attempted to fulfill the role, but rather than redefining the role, she sheds it altogether, and redefines herself.

Both women are empowering themselves through self-definition, and although the approaches are slightly different, both are valid feminist perspectives, and not entirely disparate. A woman first sheds the role thrust upon her - whatever that role may be - and in so doing redefines popular conceptions of women and establishes new ideas and roles.

Throughout the film, as the women alternate monologues, there is an almost ritual act of breaking dishes occurring in the background. At first, it appears to be an act of rebellion by the nun, or, because we have not yet met her, it may be a revelation of her true nature. (I half expected the deviant to go back and start cleaning up the dishes in a reciprocal renunciation of her role.) The deviant's destructive act, although identical to the former, seems to belie her character as much as it did the nun's. It seemed such petulant, amateurish behavior from a self-proclaimed social deviant, and the contradiction was just as obvious. As the film continues and the women deconstruct and re-establish themselves, the act serves as a unifier, a gesture shared by two people regardless of their established roles. The behavior remains the same, just as the women remain essentially the same, in spite of their changing definitions. It is also an act of rebellion, according to Chris Straayer, "...reminding the viewer that to define oneself, i.e., to act as a speaking subject, is, for women, a rebellion against their traditional role ("I Say I Am." Chris Straayer, AfterImage, 11/85)." He equates the act of breaking dishes to the act of making the film itself. Video proved to be a medium which was, he says, a long awaited voice for feminism, offering women artists the opportunity to speak uninterrupted; to establish themselves as subject in a society that automatically relegated them to the position of object.

Finally, in the closing portion of the video, the women discuss the film and clean up the broken dishes. This self-affirmation indicates an independence from exterior approval and is almost comforting in its sense of closure.

--Kyna Jones

Nancy Angelo Work