Catalog essay by Tara Kohn:
“I have this urge to transform into other people,” Jill Pangallo answered after a thoughtful pause. “I am interested in what it’s like to spend time in other people’s skin--you know, like the way people try to fit in with different groups in high school.” I nodded, leaning against the back of a plastic chair in front of the blank television screen. As Pangallo spoke about her recent work in video and performance, and more specifically about her film Natia and the Art Outdoors, I began to think about the inevitable adolescent search for selfhood, the way we once sifted through personalities as readily as we changed our clothes. Preppies one day and punks the next, we tried on different behavioral patterns out of our pressing need to find a sense of comfort in our own skin, to find an identity that fit. I thought about all of those characters we once played, those simplified fragments that somehow merged in order to form the complex people we grew up to be. Pangallo’s work, in a sense, reverses this process. The natural healer Natia, among other personas, developed as exaggerated, magnified pieces of her own personality.
Pangallo began to craft Natia as a response to her own interest in purifying and cleansing diets and perhaps more immediately as a reaction to the shocking news that a friend had been diagnosed with cancer. She described both her process of coping with the personal hardship and her realization that feelings of helplessness in the face of illness could turn even the most adamant supporters of traditional Western medicine toward quasi-spiritual alternatives. She collected articles of clothing that Natia might wear such as ribbons and scarves inspired by the costumes of liturgical dancers. Pangallo then began to write and create images as the persona. This culminated in designing a website advertising Natia’s movement performance (www.natiascorner.com).
“Natia is a healer with…this edge,” Pangallo explained; “she’s easily irritated.” Pangallo’s film documents Natia’s dualistic personality during an experience at a local exposition. Dressed in layers of loose, flowing fabrics, Natia appears in some instances in the film as an embodiment of calming energy with a natural capacity to restore a sense of balance to our chaotic lives. During her moments of frustration, however, Natia’s pale skin darkens into a brilliant red, and her soft, patient voice gives way to loud, irrational tirades. Mirroring the dichotomy between Natia’s soothing presence and sharp temper, the tonal quality of the film is double sided, reflecting the artist’s conflicting attitudes toward alternative healing practices. “There is a part of me that wants to be open to the idea, that wants to believe,” Pangallo said, “but also a part that is judgmental.”
Both celebrating the possibilities of alternative healing and questioning the dangers of feigned or overstated spirituality, the video traces Natia’s conversations with fair-goers and her private reactions to the outdoor festival. “I began to create Natia before I knew what I was going to do with her,” Pangallo explained, “when I learned about the fair, I felt that she would be drawn to its diversity, its wide range of artists and performers.” The “Art Outside” festival, an annual gathering of local craftsmen in the space across from Office Depot on Lamar and Oltorf, became the opportunity for which Pangallo was hoping, a chance to record Natia’s unpredictable interaction with the public. The artist, however, was careful in her portrayal of the eclectic collection of visitors, who were drawn to Natia’s booth by the large poster that dangled off the branch of a tree and the strips of fabric and streamers that fluttered over her “cleansing river.” “I am very conscious in my efforts not to exploit people,” the artist said. “I keep the attention of my films on myself, and I try to make people aware of the camera. My intention is never to make fun of people for what they do honestly.” Despite her sensitivity and open-mindedness to new age culture, however, Pangallo’s film has a satirical edge, an honest skepticism.
Although her background is in graphic design rather than theater, Pangallo’s work, as a whole, is veering toward performance and persona development. “I always wanted to resist the one-woman-show shtick,” she confided, “but it seems to be something I can’t quite get away from. I just try to stay within an art context…you know, to avoid performance venues.” In her future work, Pangallo plans to continue to draw upon her past social and professional experiences to transform herself into different personas that although fictional, emerge from her own perspective, her personal inquiries into the nature of human interaction.