Masks in the Sun is a feature length film experience, installation, and overall a performance art piece created over the span of two years, exhibited in shop windows, and performed in a local community theater venue of a the small city of Marshall, Michigan.
The creation, exhibition and screening of Masks in the Sun in this town itself was a direct engagement with what Embeha was continually seeing and hearing around him in this small city. This work confronts the challenges posed in contemporary middle America by excessive civility, fear, and the tolerance of American libertarian worldviews of selfishness, involving gun violence, conspiracy theory, and other playfully willful forms of ignorance. Its title was taken from a quote by the writer and state welfare dependent Ayn Rand, who herself declared she had destroyed the legacy of philosopher Immanuel Kant by exposing his ideas as “Halloween masks in the sun,” no longer mysterious or scary in the light of day.
Masks in the Sun was the result of Embeha’s ongoing pursuit of how film and performance might create experiences simulating delirium or dementia in audiences, a simulation that, like Gabriel’s years of experience among those with Alzheimer’s, he describes as half dreamlike and half theatrical.
In making the film, Embeha says he studied and incorporated techniques from different genres, including documentary, true crime drama, film noir, soap operas, horror and mystery. In addition, he helped the actors to help him create narrative and characters that are “experimental” in senses that extend beyond these categories of filmmaking.
The work is set in the town of St. Gabriel, in the fictional Autonomous Province of Michigan, a beautiful, baroque-inspired still life of economies and privilege on the verge of decay. There a documentary filmmaker is recording members of a local theater group as they create an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. In the process of making his documentary, driven by the monologue of the local cemetery groundskeeper, his film becomes enmeshed and confused in libertarian rumors of conspiracy and murder somehow related to an old man suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Simultaneously, within both the town and the old man, the spirits of Halloween and Christmas are running together. Strange scenes are being acted out in a series of political masquerades, an ongoing festival season of mourning and excess being mysteriously presided over by the gravedigger himself.
In work done in years that follow, including The State: A User‘s Guide, Embeha describes these goings on depicted in the film on one of many “As-If-Reality Exercises.”