Kathleen C. Rogers’ thirteen-minute art film Vignette is on exhibition at the Ryerson Artspace at the Gladstone Hotel from November 1 – 16, 2018. Kathleen, who is in the final year of her BFA at Ryerson, is there herself when I visit the film’s opening reception on the evening of November 1st. She greets me with a warm smile and offers me tea, before gesturing for me to sit and watch her film. “Try to make sense of it,” she jokes.
I watch Vignette three times. Partly because as I talk to Kathleen the film plays on loop, projected on the far wall of the long, rectangular room that is the Artspace. But mostly because I’m transfixed by the film itself. In her artist’s statement, Kathleen defines a vignette as a “short, impressionistic scene” that “concerns itself more with evoking meaning through imagery than through plot.” The vignettes that make up her film blink on screen one after the other: a little girl holding a dog; a father and son; a man and a woman. Each scene is unique in its narrative, but together they possess similar uses of compelling colour and unique actor choreography which create an atmosphere that is both dreamlike but rooted in reality. Aside from music, the film is completely silent. Through the speakers, a soft piano piece plays, a melody Kathleen tells me that she improvised. At a certain point in the film, the piano is interrupted by an aria sung by Kathleen’s mother: “Et Misericordia,” or “His Mercy Endures.”
After I finish watching Vignette for the first time, I ask Kathleen about her intentions behind the film. I notice that her replies always circle back to a specific theme: warmth. The warmth of the brilliantly coloured costumes against their stark backgrounds. The warmth of expression and movement. The warmth of human connection, and our desire for it. “It’s all about connection,” she tells me. And sure enough, this longing for shared warmth is conveyed in almost every beat of her film. In many scenes, the characters mirror each other in dance-like movements, a physical manifestation of that desire to connect. One specific scene shows two people reaching out their hands to each other, only to be stopped with an inch of space between them. It’s a message that can be interpreted two ways, either despairingly or with optimism: reaching out but never making contact, or continuing to reach out despite never touching. Though Kathleen mostly allows her work to be interpreted freely, I do get the sense after speaking with her that she herself leans towards the more optimistic message.
Before I leave, I ask Kathleen if I can take her picture. She smiles graciously, posing by the wall and inclining her face towards the single spotlight on the ceiling, and as she tilts her neck back and waits for me to snap the photo, I see reflected in the artist the very same truth she conveys in her art: that human instinct to turn towards warmth.