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Off Brand Video #7: Wayne Koestenbaum’s “Folie à Trois”

by Patty Gone
June 13th, 2019

YouTube heads are my oracles. Like Dante, I type “How to…” into the search bar, asking a bodiless Virgil to take the lead. A bro-y Dutch twenty-something teaches me Photoshop. I condition my hair more effectively thanks to a middle-schooler’s pro tips. These floating faces guide me through hell, to technological mastery, to a life sans frizz. We connect, but how deeply? How do I reciprocate? What if I want to aid my mentors in achieving their longings, to turn our single color transaction into full spectrum intimacy? What if I want to love?

Wayne Koestenbaum feels in color. He not only smears it on canvas, but types poems on construction paper. The Pink Trance Notebooks and Camp Marmalade, parts one and two of his hue-centric trilogy, place pink and orange centerstage. And in his latest video, “Folie à Trois,” he dunks his head in abstract paint to consider what it means to merge: oil paint with other oil paint, man with man, YouTuber with viewer, person with pigment, all the while knowing that a single marriage is never enough. “Folie à trois” translates to a psychosis shared amongst three, a hallucination split three ways. Pink, orange, and blue walk into a bar. Can they crack open each other’s solipsism?  

“I’m tired of dissembling,” Koestenbaum says in the opening gambit, of containing his personal longings in “a clutch purse” all to himself. He wants to merge with others, be plural, embarking upon possibly the world’s most circuitous YouTube tutorial, “How to… Desire.” In a decidedly anti-talking head move, Koestenbaum employs Henrique Romoff and Pat Abatiell as lovers and co-articulators, who repeat his poem in their own vocal styles, leading to “a revelation” that “lands with a thud:” maybe desire is the hallucination that unites us.

“Folie à Trois” stems from Koestenbaum’s Instagram presence. He began his talking head career last year in videos integrating poetry and piano, notes with words, a marriage of two. In “Summer of Love,” he plinks at his keyboard’s vibraphone preset while wishing, in half speech half song, that we “stop separating the world into what we like and don’t like.” In “Gender Consultant for the Stars,” he lists the contents of his magically fluid carry-on while his paintings sit normally on the back wall. Koestenbaum’s musings are ever-charming, but it wasn’t until his words married music and painting, encasing his oracular head within flickering rectangles of color, that his essay film triple threat reached consummation.

Color connoisseur Josef Albers would say that if I add a blue to the right of orange and a pink to its left, the orange has changed. My eyes see it differently. Koestenbaum might say the orange feels differently, maybe more like itself. In a recent interview with Bookforum, he says, “Oil paints are never really dry—they’re always in a state of melding. Each movement of the top layer disturbs the bottom layer.” Desire can’t sit still. At one point, Henrique Romoff dances shirtless amongst abstract paintings, blending with them, chest red then magenta, his torso like a mood ring, revealing its wearer’s emotions through color, orange for unsettled, pink for cheerful, longings no longer secret. Melding with another shifts Romoff from nonchalant purple to nervous yellow, or as Koestenbaum says, “The pink fearful of the blue it might become.” As Pat Abatiell repeats this phrase, his shirt, once a nondescript blue, embraces the full spectrum and flattens into oil paint. The psychosis is mutual. No one stays one shade forever, not if you allow others inside.

Off Brand Video will return next month with a video premiere from Rebecca Shapass. 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] 

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