In the 21st century, comedy is something we associate with sound, so how do you tell a joke without saying anything? Shannon Plumb has mastered the art in her silent film clips inspired by the muted magic of screen legends Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.
A picture speaks a thousand words, so imagine (or recall) the communicative possibilities of a silent movie. Beginning her career modelling for Mario Sorrenti, Plumb developed a penchant for performance. Now a one-woman-show, New York-based Plumb plays every character in her lo-fi, Super-8 films and has exhibited in solo and group shows in museums and at film festivals all over the world. Depicting anecdotes from everyday life through expression and mime, Plumb’s subject matter has ranged from applying suntan lotion on a hot summer’s day to sitting in the park reading; shown here are ‘Shampoo’ from the ‘Commercials’ series, 2001 (top) and an excerpt from ‘Paper Collection’, 2007 (below). Her latest body of work, funded by kickstarter, involves projecting twelve films in the windows of New York City buildings. We asked the performer for verbal answers (fighting urges to correspond in mime) on her inspirations, her new works and her creative identity.
Your new work is a public exhibition that most people will chance upon as opposed to see in a gallery/ museum. Why have you done it this way? I want to catch people by surprise, excite them and make them laugh. I tell you, I’m inspired by Banksy! He has the public as his audience. Policemen will see his work, the queen will see it when she drives by, or is driven by. I have always been discouraged by audiences in the art world; it’s as if you are a fool for their special play. When artists painted on the ceilings they were giving it to everyone. I try to make a moving picture that will make people laugh. And the things we laugh about are the things we all go through – a runny nose, fear of death, the heat, waiting in line, trying to get a child out of the house (not forever, just for a walk). I don’t mind being a fool, but I’ll have to be a fool for everyone, not just for visitors to a gallery wall.
Who are your inspirations? I like Lee Evans, Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett. I love the silence in Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin’s performances. My grandfather and I would watch Benny Hill late at night.
What’s your background? I started by modelling for Mario Sorrenti. I discovered a way to perform from working with him and started sitting in front of my own Super-8 camera. I always wanted to be in the movies and this was the way to do it. I made three-minute movies and started showing them in video lounges in New York. A gallery saw them and that was my entrance to the art world.
You play so many different roles; do you ever play yourself? I have played myself and it’s a disaster. I prefer a wig and a mustache.
What is it about people that you find interesting? Every person has their own dance. They have to. No one body and experience is the same. People are incredible.
Do you consider yourself a comedian or an artist? Hmm… I don’t know. Not sure about comedian, I don’t think I can make people laugh the way comedians can, they use words so well. I’m quiet. Even around friends it would take a long time for me to say anything funny. And then it would be just once. One good one the whole night. I couldn’t be cool about it either. I’d crack myself up and be the last one laughing.