Robert Morris Tackles Gender Issues With His Videos

A St. Joseph's University senior explores gender roles.

By Roberta Fallon
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Apr. 28, 2009

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A (wo)man’s prerogative: Robert Morris’ videos tackle gender issues.

For Robert Morris gender is a natural subject for an art project. Morris, a local gay rights activist and senior fine arts student at St. Joseph’s University, has been obsessed with questions about his own orientation since he was 16. The videos he made for his recent senior show—stories of personal empowerment loosely based on his life—reflect his passion.

Tall, thin and with delicate features, Morris (who’s a former student of mine), came out freshman year at the Jesuit college where he joined and became leader of the tiny gay activist group STOP (now the Gay-Straight Alliance). He fought to raise the budget for the student organization and helped build it from a 20-person core to its current size of around 120.

Morris’ short video Masque of Gender quick-cuts between two people in separate apartments as they each shower and dress. They look like twins—both tall and thin with short dark hair. But there are no full-body shots, and what you get are glimpses of a back, a leg—enough to make you think you know who’s the man and who’s the woman, but of course you don’t.

At the end, the woman—University of the Arts student Amanda McHugh—is dressed like a young man. (A shot of her doing a crotch-grab to adjust herself is very funny.) And the young man—Morris himself—dons a stylish skirt and a padded bra.

Another video, Ode to a Lost Love, looks at depression and despair and posits recovery through willpower and productive activity. Caffeine is an ode to the brewed beverage that’s a staple of the artist’s day.

Morris, who’s from Pennsauken, N.J., and attended Bishop Eustace High School, loves to tell stories. He scripts, storyboards and casts his vignettes and works on a production schedule that’s right out of a film studio.

“What I like about film is that you get to form a reality separate from the world and force others into that reality, which makes them question their own,” he says.

He would like to work in the film industry and doesn’t see himself staying in the fine arts world after graduation since, as he puts it, he needs to make money.

His next project is called The Zeroes or The B Team, a superhero parody that involves “superheroes with lackluster superpowers.”

For more on the Philadelphia art scene go to theartblog.org.

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