Shana Moulton and Nick Hallett, The Oregonian
Shana Moulton and Nick Hallett at PICA: TBA 2011, Portland, Oregon
Originally published in The Oregonian.

Poor Cynthia. The pathetic heroine of video artist Shana Moulton's ongoing "Whispering Pines" serial doesn't talk, or leave the house really; instead, she spends her time trying to fill the vacuum of her soul. In previous episodes, she has worn Bioré strips on her nose, rubbed crystals, and danced to Enya's "Orinoco Flow," always trying to experience the spiritual depth they're supposed to contain. Nothing ever seems to help, so she just gets back to dusting her elaborate menagerie of knickknacks. 

Cynthia, who is played by Moulton, might sound pitiful, but she's a relatable sad-sack. Just like, well, everyone, she's hungry for meaning with a capital "M." But she looks for redemption and transcendence in all the wrong places, expecting external sources — beauty products, exercise and diet fads, New Age spirituality — to heal her. And so, tragicomically, Cynthia's journey dead-ends at the same place every time: her own paucity of spiritual fulfillment. 

For "Whispering Pines 10," which she performed at the late-night TBA festival venue the Works last Sunday night, Moulton integrated her video work with a live performance, incorporating a libretto by collaborator Nick Hallett and an expansive three-channel video environment with which, as Cynthia, she interacts.

In it, Cynthia begins her day by turning on the television where, after hilariously fumbling through a broadcast workout routine, she happens upon an interview with famed environmental activist Julia Butterfly Hill, who spent two years in a 1,500-year-old California Redwood tree to prevent loggers from felling it. Hill becomes a momentary spiritual guru for Cynthia, an emblem of unwavering conviction that is a foil for her own consuming doubts. Cynthia then retreats to her bathroom, where she drinks a powdery elixir (called "Eno") and slips into a bubble bath, losing herself in a self-examining hallucination. 

In her past videos, Moulton has used deliberately archaic video editing techniques — production values on par with most cable access programming — to portray our means of spiritual sustenance as similarly obsolete. Here, though, she lampoons the altar at which the contemporary creative class most often worships: the Apple MacBook. When she dusts, her knickknacks scroll like icons on a Mac's docking interface. When, in her Eno-fueled fever dream, she climbs to the top of a Redwood, she interacts with the video as if it were an iPad's touchscreen, pulling off-screen visuals into view. The hallucination culminates with Cynthia kneeling before an enormous projection of a password-protected cosmos, which is actually the default Apple wallpaper. She attempts to unlock its secrets but continually enters the wrong characters. 

Moulton's treatment of life's most vexing questions is kitschy, trippy, and, at times, laugh-out-loud funny, but it is also genuinely heartbreaking. Moulton reminds us that, while we may live in a world that has declared God dead, our longing for spiritual communion is still kicking.