Madsen Minax, a video artist who makes work about violence and intimacy and power, is currently an adjunct professor of art at the University of Memphis and a recent transplant from a small and close-knit queer Chicago art scene. In the spring, Minax will begin production on a feature film set in Memphis that uses themes of power and power play. This will be the artist's most ambitious project to date, following recent works such as My Most Handsome Monster, a 13-minute ambient video portrait of two BDSM sexual encounters that Minax developed collaboratively with the subjects of the work, and The Year I Broke My Voice, an hour of disjointed reenactments of '80s coming-of-age films by a cast of gender-indeterminate millennials. Both My Most Handsome Monster and The Year I Broke My Voice screened over Thanksgiving weekend at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.
Minax is also a musician whose folk pop duo, Actor Slash Model, toured through Memphis years before Minax moved to town. The artist uses music as a key element in hiz work, both in longer pieces and in shorter works such as The Separation of Earth (By Fire), a three-part choral arrangement and video collage assembled from the language scraps of artist David Wojnarowicz's One Day This Kid Will Get Larger.
Much of Minax's visual work is musical in that its beauty is inextricable from its tempo. In My Most Handsome Monster, clips of a fireworks show are interspersed with footage of a rural landscape and an archival film of meat butchering. The sky clouds and a thunderstorm rolls in while a narrator speaks: "Waiting is an enchantment." The text used in the video, which Minax drew partially from a 1973 novel by Monique Wittig called The Lesbian Body, is a sometimes poetic, sometimes graphic meditation on violence and intimacy and catharsis. The subjects of the film are "endlessly lacerated, tainted, crushed, fresh, whole, rested, reborn as if nothing had occurred."
Minax's work is concerned with how we, as individuals and as people in communities, "reenact" violence. This conversation perhaps begins with intimate scenarios (how sex is about power) but ends on a much broader note. In Minax's words, "How do BDSM practices stage, reinscribe, and/or open out historical narratives around race, bodies, power, and subjugation? ... How, where, and when does the transformation of self happen?"
It has been a week in which these questions of race, bodies, power, and subjugation have made headlines. People have taken to the streets protesting the grand jury decision in Ferguson, Missouri, and the country has watched from our desktops and televisions. We watched an empty courtroom and waited for the decision; we watched protesters stand head-to-head with riot police; we watched Michael Brown's mother cry while standing above a crowd; we watched cop cars burning. At a distance, the decision and the protests had an almost cinematic feel — tension, explosion, the particular catharsis of watching a city in flames while countless people yelled "shut it down."
Minax's videos are not exactly concerned with violence, if real violence is found in swift and meaningless and all-too-quiet acts. Rather, the artist is concerned with how we, as humans, attempt to give that violence meaning and weight in our lives. Whether we engage in power play in our intimate relationships or whether we protest in the streets to seek something so elusive as justice in the wake of despair, Minax's point is that these reenactments are a kind of will-to-power. They are how we become ourselves.