Peggy Ahwesh



Peggy Ahwesh creates a kind of renegade arte povera ethnography of the everyday, approaching culturally complex issues and individuals with disarming simplicity and intelligence, and with risk-taking vulnerability, humor and abandon. Ahwesh has been behind the camera since the early '80s, at that time working out of the thrift store glamous of industrial Pittsburgh--the city that delivered George Romero, Andy Warhol and Peggy Ahwesh!

Most often drawn to the immediate and the personal, Ahwesh's films combine hanging out and acting out with serendipitous occurances and telling details. Her characters are outspoken and the films talk back to the muffling zeitgeist.

Ahwesh's films are unparalleled documents and beautifully distilled essays about ruptures in human continuities. In the contrasts posed between childhood, adolescence and adulthood, we experience the beauty and pain, the consequence of knowledge and the submersion into the social. Ahwesh's films penetrate to the heart of American ritual in an unprecedented way. Some of the short stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne were able to reach into the transfiguring moments when an ossified Puritanism spilled over into shocking carnival-- exposing the hidden order of things and the true nature of it's celebrants. Ahwesh comes at similiar concerns from a unique perspective, unearthing the subterranean roots of sandbox antics, doll playing, bedroom dalliance and tantrums, tourist attractions, social gatherings and the S/M rodeo of love relationships.

Ahwesh's films act as semi-guided tours that break all the rules of protocol--charting the off handed moments of impact--both the civilizing and transgressive elements that contribute to our social construction and private sense of self. The films identify and unglue some of our notions of romance, sexuality, violence, language. The bind that they leave us in is the bind of our own bodies, our inherited histories, our status as a partially occupied territory within the prevailing culture. These films celebrate also a truancy from that culture, a blistering that leads to disruption and self definition."

-- program notes (excerpts) by Mark McElhatten.


The Trilogy of Plato's Cave:
The Family Crisis
The Scary Movie

(1996, Film and Video, 25 min)

About the anxieties of growing up and emergent sexuality. Child performers enact, in a disarming fashion, classic Hollywood scenes, improvising before the camera with homemade props and makeup. Showing a strength of imagination, the girls alter history, the media and dismantle stereotypes with a seemingly fluid identity and sexuality.

Magnetism, Attraction and Repulsion, Deep Sleep, Auto Suggestion, Animal Magnetism, Mesmerism, and Fascination

(1996, Quick Time,15 minutes)

Investigation of attractions in science, romance, desire and the imagination.

Trick Film

(1996, Film, 5 minutes)

Activities at home with the Mistress and her naughty pet.

The Fragments Project

(1985-95, Film, 60 minutes)

A collection of Ahwesh's unseen camera rolls is a study of culture outside of labels and categories; this privileging of fragments (of playful, unfixed semiotic signs) seems the inevitable outcome of the slippery identities depicted in her earlier films where mothers and daughters reversed roles, friends delivered learned lecturesand "luck" was found in "lack".

The Color of Love

(1994, Film, 10 minutes)

Starting with a hopelessly inept porno film from the '70s which had deteriorated with age and poor storage conditions--the decay and mold have a sensual interest on their own-- Ahwesh produced a beautiful and powerful film, both erotic and disarming.

Strange Weather

(1993, Video, 50 minutes)

A video ostensibly about the depiction of drug addiction becomes unsettling by the way the work opens up the question of what constitutes "authenticity" in the video image.

The Deadman

(1990, Film, 40 minutes)

(made with Keith Sanborn)

Based on 'Le Mort', a story by Georges Bataille, that constructs a sexuality that is excessive, dispursed, destructive and scatological. The film charts the adventures of a near naked heroine who leaves the corpse of her lover, goes to a bar, and sets in motion a scabrous free-form orgy before returning to the house to die--a combination of elegance, raunchy defilement and barbaric splendor.

Martina's Playhouse

(1989, Film, 20 minutes)

In Martina's Playhouse everything is up for grabs. The little girl of the title oscillates from narrator to reader to performer, and from the role of baby to that of mother. If the unprecedented success of Pee-Wee Herman suggests(let's hope) a potential crisis in masculitity, then Martina's Playhouse signals that the equally artificial construct of femininity is ready to explode.

I Ride a Pony Named Flame

(1988, Video, 5 minutes)

In a sly commentary on Calvin Klein jean ads, a woman assumes a number of identified female stereotypes: Princess, Man Eater, Tart, Cowgirl etc. showing how women are pinned down into a claustrophobic "femininity".

Philosophy in the Bedroom

(1987, Film, 10 minutes)

After deSade, the meaning and shape of seduction.

From Romance to Ritual

(1985, Film, 20 minutes)

Seen from above, a very animated woman digs and scratches at the earth to give us a show-and-tell history of the megalithic site at Avebury. A bit tongue in cheek, like playing around in the backyard (prehistoric sandbox 101), but not far from the truth in its reading of the erasure of matriarchial societies from traditional histories.

Ode to the New Pre-History

(1984-87, Film, 25 minutes)

Both intriguing and disturbing, the film traces the socialization of violence in our culture. Scenes transition from Medieval times to the present, encapsulating the phenomenon of digging through the past. It creates a simultaneity of events and symbols in a search for a history that is more closely one's own.

The Pittsburgh Trilogy:
Verite Opera,
Para-Normal Intelligence,
Nostalgia for Paradise

(1983, Film, 50 minutes)

Friendship without trying, angst without despair, performances without acting and good times in hot weather.


Contact Peggy Ahwesh at

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