Auto Portrait #2 is a video self-portrait in which image and light, voice and noise, are digitally compacted to suggest a whole life being gathered up and re-lived in a few intense minutes.
In the quietest part of the video cycle, clicking left and right strobe lights fire alternately at a regular, sedate pace. They illuminate opposite sides of a female subject (the artist), seated for a formal portrait. Some distance from the screen is a bare loudspeaker suspended in the beam of a spotlight.
With a single intake of breath, the sitter's voice is heard from the loudspeaker. It is at once disembodied (apart from the on-screen image, and not lip-synced) and embodied (the loudspeaker is at head-height, on vertical steel cables, in a space analogous to Hegarty's body were she addressing the listener in person). The voice begins the recitation of a life, given as a mixture of personal memories and remembered world events.
As the frequency of the clicking strobe lights increases, it drives an increase in the rate of speech. The sitter becomes agitated, demonstrating both a resistance to the process underway, and a synchronicity with it. Eventually the voice becomes implausibly fast and breathless, and the flailing on-screen figure is subsumed into white light and high-pitched noise.
After a crescendo, the pace of activity slows down, and the on-screen image darkens again. The sitter reappears, poised as before between sedately-paced strobes. The accompanying recitation ends with a final remembered event: '...making this soundtrack' and a long exhalation. After a few moments of calm, the cycle begins again.
"(at P.S. 1 ) Peter Murray, curator of the Crawford Municipal Art Gallery in Cork, has brought together the work of 20 Irish artists who live and work in London [sic] and whose efforts sometimes address Irish themes [...] The show's most impressive moments are supplied by women. In Frances Hegarty's haunting video "Auto Portrait," flickering (strobed) images show the artist in a state of rising and ebbing distress as if she were suffering a fit of paranoia, grief or a near-death experience..."
The Irish Struggle for Visual Poetry to Call Their Own
Roberta Smith, Review of group exhibition '0044' at P.S.1 - New York Times, June 25 1999.