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Shopping Bag Spirits and Freeway Fetishes: Reflections on Ritual Space

Shopping Bag Spirits and Freeway Fetishes: Reflections on Ritual Space (1981)
Director: Barbara McCullough
Digital video, color

Barbara McCullough’s journey as a film- and video-maker has focused less on finished products and more on processes, at once aesthetic and spiritual.  Shopping Bag Spirits and Freeway Fetishes: Reflections on Ritual Space represents a significant stretch along McCullough’s path, where she conversed with other L.A.-based Black artists about the role of ritual in Black life and creative practice.  Visual artist David Hammons likens his activities to vanguard musicians as he improvises an outdoor composition of found objects.  Poets Raspoeter Ojenke, Kenneth Severin, K. Curtis Lyle and Kamau Daa’ood describe and display their synergistic approaches, as do improvisational musicians Freedom in Expression, accompanying one another with voice and percussion.   Kinshasha Cornwill and Houston Cornwill describe their performance/visual art collaborations.  Senga Nengudi recalls feeling “possessed” while dancing in costume at the collaborative performance she staged to open her “Freeway Fets” installation at a Los Angeles freeway underpass.  And in an intimate conversation, Betye Saar offers McCullough an inspiring definition of ritual: It is not just a rite, but also what feels “right,” a process that builds the artist’s confidence and the traditions that can be passed along to future generations.

McCullough uses video footage, still photographs, interview audio and musical selections by Don Cherry to explore how her own film and video practice fits into Black traditions of performance and visual arts.  McCullough opens Shopping Bag Spirits with footage from her own project, Water Ritual #1: An Urban Rite of Purification, a landmark of Black and feminist experimental filmmaking.  In addition to featuring alternate shots, McCullough’s 16mm film footage is enhanced with video effects.  Blighted urban ruins become enchanted with glowing purples and blues, as video technologies (explored in courses with Shirley Clarke), add new dimensions to McCullough’s repertoire.

Jacqueline Stewart

Available for research at UCLA

Film Credits

Individual Role(s)
Barbara McCullough Director
Bernard Nicolas Cinematographer
John Simmons Cinematographer
Roderick Young Cinematographer