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Draw (fireplace), 2005, video still, Anna Barriball (UK) Draw (fireplace), 2005, video still, Anna Barriball (UK)
Courtesy the artist and Frith Street Gallery, London
MOVIES AND FLICKS COME FROM THE REALMS OF SUNDAY AFTERNOON, FROM THE WORLDS OF DATES, DISTRACTION AND TRANSPORT FROM THE EVERYDAY. THIS EXHIBITION OF VIDEO WORKS AT THE CONTEMPORARY ART CENTRE OF SOUTH AUSTRALIA, FRAMED BY ITS TITLE, SCARY MOVIE, AND PRESENTED AS PART OF THE ADELAIDE FILM FESTIVAL, MAY FRIGHTEN VIEWERS IN ITS DISTANCE FROM SUCH PLEASURES. TAKEN TOGETHER, THE WORKS IN THIS EXHIBITION RUN FOR NEARLY THE LENGTH OF A MOVIE. I STUMBLE INTO THE SUNSHINE WITHOUT A HAPPY ENDING.

First up is Mark Boulos’ Gates of Damascus (UK), a documentary following the experience of Mayrna Nazzour, who regularly manifests stigmata over the Easter weekend. The occasional wobble of the camera suggests that we are watching real events, captured as they unfold. Mayrna addresses us directly only once, and then we take our place amongst the hordes who have come to watch, record and feel some connection. The recording of the miracle on video gives us some contiguity to a moment (a scraping of the experience, recorded and hoarded like those of the oil and sweat that are carefully harvested from Mayrna’s skin). I wonder if I can claim to have experienced a miracle. Is a miracle only real when viewed with faith?

In contrast, Anna Barriball’s Draw (UK), a projected image of a fireplace, has a specificity that could have come from an old house much like the gallery in which it is situated. The only movement involves a semi-transparent sheet of paper hung over the mouth of the fireplace. It is sucked in and out, accompanied by the amplified sound of its regular, crumpled breathing. The quiet whimsy of this work snares me. Is the fireplace breathing? Is the whole house alive? Is it the house I walk through now? The whole gallery? The strength of the work is in its unwillingness to fully settle into any of these possibilities and thus it quietly tears at certainties we might have about the space through which we are moving.

Erik Bünger’s Gospels (Sweden/Germany) presents a stream of documentary-style talking heads (predominantly American celebrity actors) who one after the other exult a mysterious ‘he’ in an endless tirade of praise. Each describes ‘his’ qualities, with unwavering belief in the goodness of ‘him.’ The religious overtones extend to the actors’ body language of closed eyes and raised hands. This is the gospel according to Hollywood, pointing its funny, cynical finger at those who hand down truths in a screen media saturated culture. Shot at various times, only changes in video quality and fashion subvert the work’s almost seamless construction, allowing the possibility for artifice to creep in—how are we to know if they’re sincere? They’re actors after all.

The artifice in Mark Wallinger’s Sleeper (UK) seems clearly spelled out: a man in a bear suit wanders through an empty urban space at night; we watch him through glass. His patchy ill-fitting suit shows all its stitching; socked feet poke out. Similarly, the grainy hand-held camera work proclaims that this is not a filmic experience constructed for the viewer, but the recording of a ‘real’ event; the wanderings of a fake bear. The footage is from a real-time stream between the German Embassy in London and the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin, where Wallinger donned the suit. The bear seems beaten down by the weight of references he carries: German history, mysticism and a small nod to Joseph Beuys. For twenty minutes Wallinger perseveres with his lacklustre impersonation, putting the viewer in the awkward position of simultaneously suspending disbelief and accepting the artifice.

In his curatorial essay Richard Grayson references the work of Georges Méliès, magician and filmmaker, whose early experiments delighted and terrified viewers. Méliès wrote, “when anyone can photograph the ones dear to them...then death will no longer be absolute.” Scary Movie uses the screen to expand the boundaries of lived experience by disrupting and re-defining the absolutes conjured by the very existence of the moving image. By the end of my viewing of Scary Movie, the ‘real’ in its old solidified, embodied form shifts and flickers uncomfortably.


Scary Movie, curator Richard Grayson, artists Mark Wallinger, Anna Barriball, Mark Boulos, Erik Bünger; CACSA, Adelaide, Feb 23-April

RealTime issue #78 April-May 2007 pg. 20

© Sasha Grbich; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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