In the video for “Digital Witness,” Annie Clark wears a green tunic, hair tall and electroshocked, more Dr. Seuss than guitar god. She sings to a focal point, never to the camera. What is the object of her gaze? Not distraction or indifference. She is palpable intent.
For her new album and tour, she dyed her hair a “Daphne Guinness grey.” An interviewer remarks on its “middle-age gravitas.” Clark, 31, has chosen wispy, frizzy age. Susan Sontag, or Ursula.
Clark says, “I just kept thinking this phrase, ‘The power’s in the pose.’”
According to social psychologist Amy Cuddy, non-verbal communication determines not only what others think of me, but what I think of myself. Her experiments prove that open postures, such as The Wonder Woman (feet shoulder-length apart, hands on hips), make me feel powerful, better equipped to conquer anxieties, such as Impostor Syndrome.
Clark says, “Conﬁdence is like leaning back. It becomes a grand sleight of hand.”
I heard about Impostor Syndrome from my old therapist. I told her I went to readings, openings, performances, thinking “I’m not supposed to be here.” I wore faded jeans. I drank. My friend Sarah looked at me one night and said, “You haven’t spoken in an hour.” My face clutched, leaning on a wall.
In her journals, a young Susan Sontag writes,
“I had never realized how bad my posture is. It has always been that way.”
“Think about why I bite my nails in the movies.”
”Don’t smile so much, sit up straight.”
For years, I worked on crews for NYC Fashion Week, hanging lights, building truss. One afternoon, I sat backstage at a Ralph Lauren show, my only duty to ﬂip on white lights upon a photographer’s request. I crouched and read a Murakami novel. Ralph walked by in fur. Flash bulbs on models with pursed lips. I ﬂipped a switch, sat down, small, folded.
Chris Kraus says, “Failure, like cancer, can only be a manifestation of a person’s secret will.”
Before Clark took on the moniker St. Vincent, she toured with her uncle of the jazz duo, Tuck & Patti. Played piano wearing butterﬂy wings for Sufjan Stevens. Guitar in bulky technicolor robes for the Polyphonic Spree.
Album cover: eyes blank, grey teased, metallic dress on a plastic throne inspired by 80s Milanese design. A backdrop of hexagonal tiles echo stills from Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain.
Regarding the photo: “I thought, ‘Okay, it should appear bold.’ So what does bold mean?” She decides on a shot that is “clean and symmetrical and very, very considered.”
Dr. Oz tells his studio audience, “Assume the Wonder Woman position,” and a hundred people rise to their feet, hands on hips.
Every movement is intentional. A choreographer designs Clark’s gestures. She skitters out from behind the mic, tears a guitar solo, skitters back, plants her feet. She smiles only between numbers. A mess contained and calculated.
From an episode of the 70s TV series Wonder Woman: A bad guy escapes on a raft. Lynda Carter, as Wonder Woman, stands onshore in power pose. She takes off her tiara and ﬂings it at the raft, puncturing it. The tiara boomerangs back to her hand. Bad guy ﬂails, can’t swim, Carter lassos him and hauls him to shore.
G-chatting with my friend Gabe, I talk about a crush, and say I’ve “put myself out there,” so now I’m “sitting back.” He replies, “Don’t sit back. Lean back.”
But doesn’t ‘posing’ make me another brand of impostor? Is there self-deception in posing? In an episode of True Detective, Matthew McConaughey’s character says, “Each person is so sure of their realness.” Is my realness real?
Cuddy’s presentation on power poses culminates in the slogan, “Fake it til you become it.” Doubt as opposite of pose.
In February, Clark plays live at the Diane Von Furstenberg fashion show, wearing a smirk colder than the strutting models.
One afternoon, I’m a guest instructor for a class of 8-year-olds, teaching a workshop on stage presence. I make each one stand behind the mic. Boys leaning back in chairs cracking jokes a moment ago shrink, hiding. One girl avoids me until I take her hand and walk her to the front. We pass the mic, trading words: “I” “like” “to” “eat” “chocolate.”
Stephen Colbert asks Clark: “You’re somewhat of an art rocker, so can I enjoy your music or do I have to ‘get it?’” She smiles, in on the joke. Her posture is not Warholian detachment. A malleable conﬁdence, containing many possible poses.
In the video for “Actor Out of Work,” Clark sits across from an empty chair, back straight, hands folded, eyes characteristically piercing. One by one, an actor sits opposite her, a set-up similar to Marina Abramovic’s “The Artist is Present.” But there’s no tear-inducing catharsis in Clark’s eyes. The actors shift their weight, scratch their noses, adjust skirts, slide bangs from eyes, cower, clutch the chair. They weep, but from intimidation.