Named for Ardis Vinklers, a Latvian artist, and his three lightboxes, which Simmons discovered at an antique fair, the new series continues the artist’s ongoing project of staging scenes for her camera with various figures inside constructed environments. Simmons was immediately attracted to these assemblage compositions and the opportunities they presented in terms of space and light. Combining Vinklers’ original tableaus of a ballroom, a library, and an art gallery with her own aesthetic, Simmons placed figures inside the furnished rooms, using various magazine cut-outs of glamorous women and one male doll to create imaginary narratives. The scenes are simultaneously seductive and disturbing, evocative and unknown, as the figures do not interact with one another and the result is a deep sense of dislocation and isolation. She also photographed the boxes on their own, empty of her characters, creating silent and austere architectural portraits, studies in light and shadow.
In Magnum Opus, the finale of her series Walking and Lying Objects (1987-1991), Simmons lined up several of the objects on legs in a row on a mirrored surface. Symbols of domesticity (a toilet, a house), temporality (a clock, an hourglass), and perception (a camera, microscope, and globe) appear to be taking a bow as their reflections loom large, lending a sinister quality to these everyday objects. This image, along with the individual objects from the series, was the inspiration for Act III of the film, in which dancers bring the parts of the cake, house, book, gun, and pocket watch to life and perform for an unseen director in the ultimate audition. According to Kate Linker, Magnum Opus can be read as an allegory for photography itself as an “art of illusory surfaces that calls into question our carefully constructed categories—fact and fiction, reality and illusion, subject and object.”
A large-scale photograph entitled The Music of Regret, is the culmination of the artist’s work with ventriloquist dummies. A female dummy, created to resemble Simmons herself, sits surrounded by six male dummies who gaze at her with admiration. The artist identifies this series as the first pictures she ever made about love and notes that their “cornball musical theater ambience” made it easier for her to deal with the subject matter. This photograph inspired Act II of the movie; as the male dummies sing to her and she basks in the glow of their undivided attention, the female dummy slowly becomes a real woman (played by Meryl Streep). Three dummy portraits will also be on view, black and white photographs of Simmons’ male dummy at the beach that blur the line between human and inhuman with their traditional portraiture technique and natural landscape setting.
The Music of Regret will premiere at The Museum of Modern Art on 24 May 2006 with two screenings. A third screening will take place on 29 May 2006.