Protective Coloration


Dir. Morgan Fisher, Video Color Sound 00:13:00

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Fisher’s only video, the remarkable Protective Coloration (1979), can be seen to have attempted something like conveying the same information while relying on his own body as standard. Protective Coloration shows Fisher seated at a mottled table. He wears short-sleeved hospital garb, surgical green ‘scrubs’. Nose-clips block his nostrils while a mouth-guard that looks like fake lips covers his mouth. Over the course of 11 minutes he masks his face and covers his hands with bright gear in colours that accumulate to resemble those of the standard reference chart: he puts on orange eye-caps, then a yellow bathing cap; covering his nose and mouth and the gear already there, he dons a black gas mask; a silky black sleeping mask voids his already covered eyes, a cyan blue bathing cap caps the yellow; yellow rubber gloves snap on his hands and forearms; puts on cyan eye goggles, then struggles with yet another bathing cap, hazmat orange, over the other two. A silvery transparent shower cap tops the caps, itself topped by a plastic green helmet. Finally heavy-duty magenta gloves hide most of the yellow rubber. Perspiration darkens his scrubs. The only sound is his increasingly heavy breathing.

Protective Coloration is defined as the ‘colour pattern of an animal that affords it protection from observation either by its predators or by its prey. The most widespread form […] is called cryptic resemblance, in which various effects […] enable the creature to blend into the background of its habitat.’ Like a test subject in a sci-fi film about environmental disaster, Fisher sits in video black as an unseen assistant hands him each of the items he puts on. If in Standard Gauge the voice with which The China Lady speaks from the margins is Fisher’s, in Protective Coloration his cryptic resemblance is to The China Lady or to the standard reference chart that abstracts her and somehow stands in for her abstraction. Fisher’s skin tone is contrasted with ready-made colour inserted item by item, slowly occluding his identity, a disappearance paradoxically revealing not who Fisher is but how he’s established and maintained, protecting himself, the work and histories for which he stands. Using video to interrogate the filmic, he becomes a figure emblematic, almost, of film itself, a standard by which viewership, viewing, is gauged. It appears as a surgical operation and can be viewed as an allegory for how a certain kind of filmmaking has protected itself, to the point of invisibility, from various predations, while looking for other means to film. [Source: Bruce Hainley, Frieze Magazine, October 13, 2005]