A new video by the musician Anohni consists of an extended close-up on the artist Lorraine O’Grady against a black background, lip-synching to the three-minute song “Marrow.” It’s gorgeous and intense.
“Marrow” is the final track on Anohni’s unabashedly political debut solo album, Hopelessness. To premiere the album, the musician — who’s best known as the founder and lead singer of the band Antony and the Johnsons — staged a live show at the Park Avenue Armory in May. There, Anohni performed alongside a series of videos, each of which features a woman lip-synching to one of the songs. O’Grady’s was among them, and it’s now online.
Although she’s first and foremost a conceptual artist, O’Grady has a history of performance, beginning with what’s still perhaps her most famous work: her critical interruption of art openings in the guise of Mlle Bourgeoise Noire (1980–83). She’s well-suited, then, for the task of transmitting Anohni’s lyrics, and she does so gracefully, rocking ever so slightly to the electronic beats that back the dark song. “Suck the / suck the / oil out of her face / Burn her / Burn her / Burn her hair, boil her skin,” she mouths unflinchingly, knowing full well the weight of her words. Indeed, what makes the video so powerful is that O’Grady does more than just lip-synch along; she seems to be absorbing the music in the moment — both the lyrics and the breaks — and then transmitting it to the viewer, acting as a kind of mediator between the contents of the song and us. “We are / we are / all Americans now,” Anohni sings, in a line that references the undue influence of the US on the world and stings with past promises of patriotism. O’Grady mouths it for us, her eyes filled with emotion. She is gentle but firm: we are all Americans now, and we must deal with the consequences.