Vladmaster: Actaeon at Home
The Works, Saturday evening last
–posted by Lisa Radon
photo credit: serenadavidson.com
The couple hundred audience members at The Works who were lucky enough to get their hands on Viewmasters distributed by the antlered attendants were holding them to their eyes, heads pointed toward the light. But they weren’t looking at pictures of zoo animals or Dumbo the Elephant. They were clicking through the four Vladmaster reels that make up Vladimir’s “Actaeon at Home.” Making a performance that strikes new ground somewhere between a movie, a performance art piece, and an exquisite work of visual art, each Vladmaster reel set looks deceptively like the Viewmaster reels they imitate. But Viewmaster never presented reels based on the work of Franz Kafka, Italo Calvino, and stories of cockroaches named Stanley.

But these are the narratives that Vladimir, a local artist, tackles in her Vladmasters. Vladimir constructs the dioramas for each scene of the saga (each diorama itself is clever, perfectly executed, and just lo-fi enough to be a bit tongue-in-cheek), shoots them on sixteen millimeter film, hand cuts the frames, and inserts them into die-cut Vladmaster reels. Not long ago, she cut each little window in each Vladmaster reel by hand.

The stories are far funnier and more clever than their heavy-weight subjects would suggest. And hurray for the anti-hero, be he man or roach.
Previous Vladmasters had been accompanied by narration. “Actaeon”–the Vladmaster that won Vladimir her second World Championship of Experimental Film at Peripheral Produce’s 2005 PDX Fest Invitationals–plays out more like a silent film accompanied as it is by romping soundtrack created live, on-the-fly by the terrific Apt Ensemble.
When one of the Apt rings the service bell, we’re instructed to click the Viewmaster (or “depress the lever”) to a new scene; the sound of the toy piano means remove the current reel and insert the next. The whole thing moves along at a fast pitch making juggling a Viewmaster, drink, clutch, and envelope of Vladmaster reels a sport.
Actaeon the hunter got his stag, but now he’s having terrible dreams. “There’s a train. It’s coming toward me. But I can’t move…”
The piece builds to a pitch, the train at high speed, service bell dinging faster and faster and audience members with Pavlovian precision clicking the Viewmasters like mad.
If you missed the performance, not to worry. Reading Frenzy carries Vladimir’s reel sets with miniCD soundtracks in packaging that is it’s own work of art.