Collected Works: Art
Screen Test: Edie Sedgwick
by Andy Warhol
A halo of blonde hair shimmers on a silver screen. Rings of kohl hang heavy around the eyes. Rose-gold lipstick blisters beneath the monochrome. A heart-shaped jaw is traced lightly by the lens, a paper cut-out placed atop the dull side of a tin foil sheet. Throat muscles clench, loosen, and realign as swallows are laboriously released. Eyelids blink arrhythmically, the pupils less focused with each parting of the lashes.
Each work in the Screen Tests series is a miniature movie with an economical premise, a four-minute portrait snared in a single shot. The work’s title is apt; it challenges the physical stamina of its subject, and dares onlookers to an unwinnable staring contest. Edie Sedgwick, like every sitter in the series, was instructed to stay as still as possible, restricting her movement and breathing. With each furtive fidget and ginger inhalation, her discomfort is clear.
The static camerawork hints at the clinical interest of a scientist, content to observe patiently for hours without answers. An experiment it may be, but the film yields results that surpass the logic of the laboratory coat. Cast close-up, Sedgwick herself appears as the source of the light. She is elevated as a lucid flame, her intensity rivalling the glow of saintly evocations, in particular the hair-shorn martyr, Joan of Arc.
But the vision is a fleeting one. As Sedgwick melts out of view, we are left to decide whether the effect is a relic of the artist’s reverence, or whether the face on the filmic shroud exerts a divine power of its own. Our own eyes growing ever wearier, she seems to blur to abstraction. As Edie Sedgwick’s palpebral movements palpably slow, Screen Test invites us to share her sleepiness, to endure the tribulation then set our mind at rest.
Words by Elizabeth Brown
More to discover
You can view the artwork here. Blake Gopnik has written about Sedgwick's screen test for The Daily Beast. There are many articles available online about the Screen Tests series as a whole, including those by Erin Blakemore for JStor Daily, Brian Dillon for The Guardian, and Jonathan Jones for The Guardian.