|Sue Dodd, Airhole Screentests, Everything is Nothing Wendy (Pop)|
2013, single channel HD video with stereo sound, 12:26 min
Nicole Monks, in another engaging work for two large screens, Finding Grannie Laurie (2009), realises a more contemplative performativity with an intense stillness in juxtaposed landscapes—one forested, the other open, dusty, ochre-red—in which she morphs symbolically, identifying with her grandmother (mother of a child of the Lost Generations) as hip modern clothing ultimately surrenders to kindred nakedness.
A different kind of morphing is realised in Sue Dodd’s Wendy Airhole (2013) video series. It’s the artist’s take on the creation of celebrities à la Andy Warhol, in which Dodd appears in various popular culture music guises from country to hip-hop with personae and songs of her own making. The power of this work resides above all in the large black and white video portraits (meant to recall Warhol screen tests it seems) of Dodd’s characters and the attention we can dedicate to these ‘same but different’ manifestations of performers revelling in their ironic art. It’s quite the opposite in Angela Tiatia’s Woman’s Movement where a blonde-wigged trio of faceless ‘sexy’ women dance vigorously, if mechanically, with exercise balls and red bananas until exhaustion begins to set in.
Like Dodd, Brazilian artist Berna Reale too appears in her videos, but as one of the frightening agents of social inequality and political threat. Though emphatically didactic, the work’s fantastical images are complex and memorable. In Cantando na Chuva (Singing in the rain; 2014) a bulky figure in gold suit and gold gas mask wobbles along a red carpet across a vast field of garbage to the sound of Gene Kelly’s “Singin’ in the rain,” while indifferent scavengers go about their daily work in the distance. There is no rain. In Soledade (2013), a woman relentlessly drives a golden chariot pulled by a team of pigs through the dusty street of a poor village. While these two works are grimly funny, Palomo (see an excerpt, 2012) is intimidating. A security force figure dressed entirely in black and wearing a protective wire grid that looks like a muzzle, rides a bright red horse through near empty city streets as if ready to crush any protest with the force of a horseman of the apocalypse. The heightened clatter of the hooves on the road is additionally unnerving. Each work is finely shot: Soledade with action movie verve and Palomo with austere arthouse calculation.
Another work that mixes message and mystery is the aptly titled Opaque (Germany, 2014) in which Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz in a wreck of a building announce that having been “underground for five years” they are making a film to combat colour barriers and racism. Roughly shot, Opaque ‘documents’ the process. Glittering backdrops are pulled back and forth, there are speeches (some from notes) and finally the lighting of colour smoke bombs, pink and blue, that merge into a swirling purple cloud that fills building and screen, reflecting the gender indeterminancy of the characters and the dissolving of boundaries. Calculatedly naïve, its performances raw and filming rough, Opaque is irritating but still demands attention for its sheer strangeness—and its refusal to adopt the screen and performance values of the likes of Monks, Dodd and Reale.
The exhibition’s vivid performativity is loudly announced by the song at the centre of the first work encountered on entering the exhibition, Rosie Deacon’s Bit Fat in Da Back Kangaroo Rap (2016). In an expertly realised ‘video clip’ (Sam James), kangaroo-like figures (Deacon and companions) dance with abandon. Around the large screen are mannequins dressed in the dancers’ costumes and other creations (tea towels etc), revealing Deacon’s astonishing weaving together of Australian tourist kitsch, frequently endowing it with comic detail, like a silken koala in a kangaroo pouch. Though making a political point about the denaturing of Australian fauna, Big Fat in Da Back Kangaroo Rap above all revels in pushing kitsch into camp excess but with the meticulous attention to detail rarely afforded toy koalas and kangaroos.
Among other works are further varieties of performance: Thai-Australian artist Kawita Vatanajyankur performs a series of surrealised domestic labours (see Virginia Baxter’s response); Hissy Fit (Sydney) go verité at great length with nebulous car trip chatter (you look on from deckchairs); New Yorker Anne Hirsch appears in provocative short works, some personal, some satirical, including Semiotics of the Camwhore, playing on a tiny screen in a corner of the gallery; and Soda_Jerk (Australia, currently based in New York) pay tribute to the pioneering work of VNS Matrix (I can’t comment, one screen was not functioning and the sound, even with earphones, had to compete with “Kangaroo rap,” as did Gillian Wearing’s 2 into 1, an estimation by its subjects of the relationship between a mother and sons—the only males to appear in the exhibition).
Video oediV is a distinctive exhibition of Australian and international artists, all of them female, revealing an expanding range of performative possibilities in video art. These were inherent in the beginnings of the medium in the 1960s alongside ‘painterly,’ photographic or filmmaking approaches less preoccupied with the body or the makers themselves.
I didn’t sight a written curator’s statement for Video oediV. It might have explained the show’s the title, but it suggests a mirror image, recalling arts writer Rosalind Krauss’ much debated accusation in 1976 (“Video: The Aesthetics of Narcissism,” October, Vol. 1, Spring, 1976) that video artists were self-obsessed. Most of the artists in Video oediV are mirrored variously as themselves, extensions of themselves or adopted personae; the intriguing results for the most part seem exploratory rather than narcissistic, finding or inventing liberating ways of being.
See Video oediV before it closes on 20 March; you’ll be delighted and intrigued.
Campbelltown Arts Centre, Video oediV, curator Megan Monte, 16 Jan-20 March
RealTime issue #131 Feb-March 2016 pg. web
© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to firstname.lastname@example.org