Stories behind Dara Friedman’s most provocative video works


Dara Friedman, 49, is not afraid to break rules. In fact, she often breaks many time-honored filmmaking ones in a single video. The German-born, Miami-based artist has produced many thought-provoking and subversive video works in her career and 11 of them will be showcased in her first career survey, Perfect Stranger, opening November 2nd at the Perez Art Museum in Miami.

Friedman’s works create tension by presenting normal concepts in abnormal ways and playing with elements like form, structure, and composition. In the worlds she creates, intimate moments are exposed, and a focus is given to moments that we often ignore or look away from. Friedman confronts the “What if?” What if people actually broke out in song on the subway, or what if you danced down the street in lieu of walking?

Friedman describes Perfect Stranger as a picture of the universe, where each work is a different planet you can travel to. The multi-disciplinary artist reveals stories behind the making of five of her defining works and the scenes she creates in them, from clearing out gritty studio spaces to zooming in on two people making out.

BIM BAM (1999)

FRIEDMAN: At the time, it was $100 to process one roll of film, so I had two hundred bucks and two rolls of film. We found a studio in an alley and the landlord said that we could have it if we cleaned it out. And then when we were in the studio, we discovered this door, and it was a big metal door and it was just kind of mysterious, like, “Where does this door lead to?” Somehow we got it open and it led to this enormous interior space that was covered, but the ceiling had fallen in and so it was open to the sky in parts. So two rolls of film and a mysterious door. The film format is landscape, horizontal, but the door is portrait format, vertical. I wanted to use the available film frame as economically as possible— the economy of everything was in play at that point. So I turned the frame on its side and then you know in 60mm film, sound and picture are not married, they run on independent tracks. Unless you choose to marry them, you don’t have to.

ROMANCE (2001)

FRIEDMAN: I had just had a baby, Violet, who was six weeks old, and we were living in Rome at the American Academy. I would stroll her every day in her big pram up on the [Colle del] Gianicolo and I was really struck by all these couples, making out, intensely. And so it was like a nature documentary where I would pretend to film my baby but I was actually filming the couples, and this went on for a couple of months and then finally the guys who keep their kiosks up there selling balloons and ice cream and everything, one of them approached me and said, “Okay, you know this porno that you’re making, we’re all on to you. We’ve been watching you. We know what you’re doing,” and I was like, “Okay, I think I’m done here.” I had initially asked one of the couples to come into the studio and I tried to film it that way and it didn’t work. It’s like bird watching.

DANCER (2011)

FRIEDMAN: Dancer was a piece that I had wanted to make for 20 years and I had this note in my notebook that said, “Make film with dancers,” [laughs] and that was about it. So yeah, how do you do that? I did a big open call and I was really careful about having the call happen at the Miami Art Museum because I didn’t want people to be confused that I was casting for exotic dancers. Because you know, “Dancers wanted” would normally mean go-go or strippers or whatever, so I wanted to contextualize it. [laughs] The working title for the piece was What Moves You, and I conducted interviews with the dancers about what moved them, which I actually never listened to, but it put them in the frame of mind to fulfill themselves and think about what they really cared about. [There is this] thing of dancers thinking with the body, not just the head. The dancers have thoughts and feelings with their entire body. Some people use words, but that’s only from the neck up—you’re missing seven eighths of the rest of you. I think that’s what it’s getting at.

MUSICAL (2007-2008)

FRIEDMAN: This was the first group project I did. About 20 years before it I saw a woman in Grand Central Station, out of the blue, shuffle up to the middle of the dome and let her voice rip with amazing grace. For some reason my eye had followed her, and I didn’t expect her to turn her face up into the dome and let rip, so I watched the whole process. It felt like no one else but me was watching, because everybody was shuffling along and moving and purposeful and catching their train. It really stayed with me. Another time, I was 13 and was spending the summer with my girlfriend in Graz, Austria. We were watching a James Bond film marathon and we went out into the daylight after one of these long sort of Bond sessions, to find a woman standing in an enormous chalk circle in a huge white ball gown, singing opera. People threw bills at her, not change. So I came from the dark theater into the daylight and I was just like, “Wow.” The whole thing was a real vision. I think that we all have these things that happen to us that you experience and what are you gonna do with that? It’s so extraordinary. So you put those in your pocket and carry them around, and I had been carrying them around for a long time.

RITE (2014)

FRIEDMAN: Rite was made during a workshop for dancers who were interested in dance on film. The Stravinsky piece, “Rite of Spring,” was my dance around the living room naked music when I was a tiny kid, like three, so it’s my song. And then I remember, when I was big enough to read the liner notes, reading how the story of “Rite of Spring” is a sacrifice of a young virgin by these elder men, and I freaked. “My favorite song was about killing a young woman? You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. I love this music, this is horrible!” I did a listening session with the workshop members and I had them do active listening. I think most of them didn’t really know what the story was about, and so I had them write their own story through verbs, stream of consciousness, what came to mind when they heard the music. And then they danced their own stories to that music.