|One-way colour tunnel 2007, Olafur Eliasson; Collection of the Art Supporting Foundation to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art|
photo Ian Reeves Photography
This year’s Sydney Festival sees the inclusion of both a large survey of the Danish-born Eliasson’s work, Take Your Time, along with a trilogy of immersive video installations by one of Australia’s most prominent new media artists, Lynette Wallworth, as major components of its visual arts program. Take Your Time, showing at the MCA in Sydney until April 11, first opened at the San Francisco MOMA in 2007 then toured a number of museums in the US where its range of spectacular experiential installations generated a buzz among gallery visitors. Wallworth’s videos carry similarly impressive credentials, exhibited previously to much acclaim both within Australia and at a number of prestigious international festivals, and appearing at the Sydney Festival as a trilogy for the first time.
|Sunset kaleidoscope 2005, Olafur Eliasson|
photo Fredrik Nilsen
|360° room for all colours, 2002, Olafur Eliasson|
photo courtesy the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York
Wandering through this labyrinth of special effects, however, a niggling concern arises that, beyond the initial shift in perception these installations facilitate, there may be limited scope for deeper interpretation. Following this line of thought, suddenly Eliasson’s approach becomes slightly unnerving. Completely a-historical, mainly non-representational, and largely without objects, this is artmaking with all the points on the compass wiped clean. Ultimately, though, this may be an idealistic strategy on Eliasson’s part, one in which art takes place in the present moment liberating the viewer from the encumbering expectations of transcendence, and its accompanying anguishes, handed down from history. And while the artist has insisted “it’s not about utopia or anything final,” it is from this perspective that the works seem most affecting. A quiet plea emerges to use one’s senses, however conditional their production of reality might be, to appreciate nature simply as it is, rather than treating it as a canvas for the projection of our feelings, anxieties and the desire to transform it into something of our own making.
|Invisible by Night, 2004, Lynette Wallworth|
photo Colin Davison
In the earliest work presented, Invisible by Night (2004), a life-sized woman appears trapped behind a misty screen and is beckoned to greet the viewer when the video is activated by a touch sensor.This uncanny encounter with a grief-stricken figure represents the artist’s melancholic and empathic response to the site of Melbourne’s first morgue. In a later work, Evolution of Fearlessness (2006), the same touch activation technique is used but here the idea is extended with the portrayal of 11 women, again in life-sized portraits. Some are refugees who have relocated to Australia from various corners of the globe and each has suffered violent persecution. The women’s harrowing true stories of survival are documented in an accompanying text.
In Wallworth’s videos the haptic dimension of the touch screen is not simply about engaging the senses as a challenge to the essentially non-tactile character of the cinematic medium. Rather, it belongs to a larger concern to use gesture, here the simple act of two hands meeting, to engender compassion and expose the viewer to meeting a stranger’s gaze at close proximity—a subversive act in a culture which conditions us to look away. Touch is not harnessed in the final installation, Duality of Light (2009), but again the notion of encounter is significant. In this instance it takes on a more mystical dimension. Immersing the visitor in the sounds of dripping water the installation brings to mind the emotive video works of Bill Viola where water signifies near religious journeys of birth and rebirth. Although here the subterranean sound of water hitting limestone, captured in a cave in Auckland by noted sound artist Chris Watson, leads into deeper recesses of memory becoming, as Wallworth describes it, like “an echo of time.”
|Duality of Light, 2009, Lynette Wallworth|
photo Grant Hancock
Olafur Eliasson, Take Your Time, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, Dec 10 2009-April 11 2010; Lynette Wallworth, Invisible by Night, Evolution of Fearlessness & Duality of Light, Carriageworks Sydney, Jan 7-24 2010
RealTime issue #95 Feb-March 2010 pg.
© Ella Mudie; for permission to reproduce apply to firstname.lastname@example.org