Rose McGowan’s latest film is nine minutes and nine seconds long. Her entire performance was improvised, and shot in one take.
“Indecision IV” opens with a close shot of McGowan sitting perfectly still in the center of an empty chapel. The sound of her breath is audible above the room’s ambient noise. A male dancer enters behind her and begins an athletic choreographed routine, projecting dominance.
McGowan watches intently, making slow movements as he performs around her. When his performance is at its most fervent, she stands, walks to him and claps once. The tone of his dancing morphs into something more vulnerable. The power has shifted.
“It was really freeing not having to be bound by dialogue, not having to be bound by marks – you know, the ‘x’ on the floor,” the actress and activist said at the debut screening in London. “It’s a different relationship with the camera (than the one) that I’ve developed over the years. This one felt like I was doing a dance with it.”
This immersive art film is the latest in a series of creative endeavors McGowan’s been pursuing since she publicly accused disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein of rape last October, and distanced herself from Hollywood. “Brave,” a memoir about her childhood and the Weinstein scandal, was published earlier this year, and she’s recorded an album, “Planet 9,” for which she’s currently shooting a visual component. There’s also a screenplay in the works.
“For so long I was in an industry where someone else has to let you create, and there’s something about taking the reins yourself and saying no, I am an artist in full, I can do this myself,” she said.
“The way Hollywood works is it reserves the ‘artist’ word for certain performers. For the others, you’re just told you’re a commodity. And that’s kind of what I was told I was. Then one day I was like I’m not a commodity, I’m an artist and you don’t get to tell me what I am.”
McGowan’s life, as she tells it, has always been steeped in art. Her father was a fine artist. One of her sisters works for the international gallery Hauser & Wirth, while the other runs a gallery in Denver. In London, where she has a home, she’s a regular fixture at art fairs and parties.
She’s a fan of American artists Kehinde Wiley and Mary Kelly, and recently acquired a piece by the experimental sculptor Claire Falkenstein. And yet creating her own works of art never occurred to her until now.
“I got absorbed into Hollywood at such a young age, it kind of killed other aspirations in some ways,” she said. “When you spend 25 years being other people, you don’t really have time to form what you want.”
It was Mashael Al-Rushaid, a friend and founder of London’s Heist gallery, who approached McGowan about participating in “Indecision IV,” a video she had commissioned from director Tonia Arapovic, dancer James Mulford and sound artist David Triana.
“It wasn’t actually planned to include (McGowan) in the project. The project was a response piece that was a response to a painting. But while we were on the scene, we were thinking, ‘How poignant would it be to include her in the project because of the subject matter? It’s about feeling empowered … to be strong as a woman, and, as a man, feeling empowered to be vulnerable,” Al-Rushaid explained over the phone.
“The day before (shooting), she had just come back from the States and Weinstein had been arrested the day before, so she was in quite a raw moment, so I asked her, ‘Do you want to be in a position where you get to kind of express yourself physically in regards to this kind of inner struggle and dialogue?’”
McGowan described her participation as a “release” and a form of healing, another step in processing the trauma she experienced after speaking out against Weinstein. After filming ended, she went to the bathroom and wept.
“I felt like I had to man a ship for a while, and just take the hits. And when you take hits every day and the world’s coming at you every day, and you have to fight it, you don’t have a lot of time for reflection. It’s more just survival. So I’m getting out of survival mode, and that feels really nice,” she said. “This was a part of that.”
“Indecision IV” screens at the Institute of Light in London on Dec. 15 and 16. All proceeds go to Refuge, a charity that provides support for survivors of domestic violence and violence against women.