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One woman prepares for the risky solitude of Georgia O’Keeffe’s American West

In the popular imagination, the American West is at once a place of peril, solitude and liberation – a vision most famously expressed in Hollywood westerns. It’s also a place of immense natural beauty, as reflected in Georgia O’Keeffe’s famed renderings of the New Mexico landscape. Both of these visions of the West intermingle in the US filmmaker Courtney Stephens’s film Ida Western Exile.

The experimental work plays out in a series of recorded phone calls in which Stephens nervously enquires about issues – from the amount of canned tuna one can eat without subjecting themselves to mercury poisoning, to the availability of something called a ‘zombie killer machete’ – that reflect her intention to spend some time alone, away from society. And her chosen destination seems to be the American West, as implied by a series of shots of its extraordinary, red-tinted and rocky landscapes, which are at times overlayed with the O’Keeffe paintings inspired by them. Through this framework, Stephens builds an idiosyncratic meditation on how, in her words, ‘emancipation is curiously coupled with risk’ – a truth that tends to be especially inescapable for women.

7 November 2022
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