Halfway through “Gimme Fever,” Renata Espinosa shows us her guns. She takes aim with her index fingers, thrusting imaginary bullets to the left, then right, and after each shot, she turns to us, the love object, gauging our approval. “Is this ‘hot’ enough for you?” her eyes seem to say as she initiates Exhibit B of her masculine gun showcase, her biceps. Concealed beneath her western-tinged blazer, she pokes at said guns to authenticate their firmness, raises them high then low, preening for our admiration, her body suspended in the redness of unfettered emotion. Each eyebrow lift indicates how impressed we should feel, and though she can’t see us, she knows we like it. Her intention, to light our fire, to give us ‘fever,’ is, like, totally working.
Video & performance artist Erica Magrey’s latest work takes its title from “Fever,” originally written by Eddie Cooley and Otis Blackwell, and first recorded by Little Willie John in 1956. The tune, about an uptick in body temperature caused by one’s lover, includes verses about the historical steaminess of “Romeo and Juliet,” “Captain Smith and Pocahontas.” Singers have resurrected the song in the genre that seemed most sensual at the time: Peggy Lee chose minimal drum and bass, Madonna dancehall, Beyoncé R&B, each interpreting the love object’s advances as positive, “what a lovely way to burn,” bypassing fever’s other connotation, full body sickness. Magrey’s video taps into the ‘fever’ caused by miscommunication, and considers what happens when only one side of the love equation brings the heat.
In the video’s second shot, Magrey casts the camera, the audience, in the role of the male gaze. We scan Aurelie Barbier’s body, costumed in an asymmetric leather hat and black dress, but as our gaze approaches her nylon-encased knees, we dart back to her eyes and a fed-up head shake, and the fever breaks. Though the song considers the fever universal and timeless (“Everybody’s got the fever… Fever started long ago”), such passion rarely occurs between two people at the same time, and even when it does, desire never causes a singular ‘hot’ emotion, but encapsulates the full gamut of feeling. For every time Peggy Lee’s temperature rises “when you hold me tight,” there’s incalculable moments when the fever’s symptoms include fear, doubt, anger, worry, and disappointment, especially when the exchange is unspoken.
According to psychologist Albert Mehrabian’s famous rule about nonverbal communication, a potential lover understands our “feelings and attitudes” based 7% upon words, 38% by tone of voice, and 55% on body language. Magrey’s world of bodies adrift in flat reds, peaches, and pinks slices out vocality and background context to isolate what’s already most important: the disapproving eyes, the pouting lips, the trying-too-hand, and the speed at which the fever, when rejected, slides into violence. Is Magrey, in her countdown shirt, the orchestrator of all these missed connections, or is she an equal player in the game? At moments, she seems shaken, stifled, but at others she appears to be conjuring this well of feelings, arms extended, mid-spell. She asserts control just as the ‘real world’ creeps back into frame with its pixelated surfaces of words and clouds, where fevers remain, but burn beneath.
We will return next month with a video premiere from Becca Blackwell. Read our mission statement below.
Off Brand Video is interested in pieces that trouble, queer, and speak back to mainstream cultural production. OBV provides access to non-narrative video normally reserved for private collections, gallery spaces, one-off screenings, or personal Vimeo accounts. In a gallery or on YouTube, you may watch for a minute and move on. Off Brand Video is the place to take the time. Send recommendations for artists, videos, or archives to [email protected].