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Christine Collins, I may have to see YOU again, Charlie Christine Collins, I may have to see YOU again, Charlie
photo courtesy AEAF
INSTALLATION ART CONTINUES TO EVOLVE AS AN IMMERSIVE, CONFRONTING ARENA IN WHICH VIEWERS’ SENSE OF THE WORLD IS CHALLENGED AND THEIR PREDISPOSITIONS EXPOSED. THIS GROUP EXHIBITION AT AEAF COMPRISES TWO CONTRASTING ENVIRONMENTS INVOLVING HYBRID ARTFORMS, BUT THERE IS A COMMON DEVICE—THE VIEWER AS ACTOR RESPONDING TO ARCHITECTURAL SPACE AND COMPLETING THE ARTWORK.

In I may have to see YOU again, Charlie, Christine Collins has created a room within the gallery like a tiny cinema, but there is only a blank, black wall where the projected imagery would be. This is a work of sound art that uses fragments of Hollywood film soundtracks stripped of their visual elements, thus referencing rather than presenting cinema. The voice throughout is that of Charlton Heston, a career Hollywood actor who appeared in some epic films that defined a genre and shaped a culture.

Collins is interested in separating out elements of film for scrutiny, as she has done previously in work for the CACSA Contemporary 2010: The New New exhibition. Decontextualising these intense and disturbing lines both trivialises and immortalises them. Collins’ work celebrates the halcyon days of Hollywood cinema, and simultaneously questions Hollywood as an artform in itself. This work manifests as homage to Heston, but functions as incomplete conversation and is an exploration of language and its effects. Sitting as if to watch, we try to visualise the scenes, but we’re provoked to think verbally.

Many of the 18 characters Heston plays in these excerpts are historical figures—Moses, John the Baptist, Marc Antony, Michelangelo and so on. Collins’ catalogue essay is like a poem in which she paraphrases fragments of text as if they are statements made directly to her, colliding them to conflate the action. For example, “He [Heston] tells me he is a Florentine, a soldier, a shepherd, a Jew, a scientist, a narcissist, a civilian and sick of me,” and “He asks me if I have hot water, a reason, a gun and a report.” The quotations begin with I or you, establishing open-ended interpersonal exchanges. Collins’ positioning of herself as the respondent in these exchanges asks us how we would feel in the glare of Charlton Heston’s sometimes saintly, sometimes threatening masculinity.

Ray Harris, Let me Go Ray Harris, Let me Go
video stills Ray Harris
Outside this little cinema, Ray Harris’ installation Hold me Close and Let me Go consists of two videos projected on the gallery’s walls and a row of five large wooden crates, or small rooms, each a unique environment into which viewers are invited.

Harris is the actor in both videos: in one, she embraces a life-size human figure hewn roughly from ice; in the other, she cuddles another life-size figure, of soft, sticky pastry dough. Gradually she becomes covered in dough, unable to free herself, like a fly caught in a web. Both videos suggest failed relationships and the failure of the woman to comprehend her delusion.

Ray Harris, I've been here before series Ray Harris, I've been here before series
photo Ray Harris
In the I’ve been here before series, the five rooms represent a cycle of life. They are: a bed with teddy bears, curtained in pink to mimic the vagina and suggest the womb; a garden of plastic flowers and intense artificial perfume, possibly a Garden of Eden; a darkened interior with a dimly illuminated hole in the floor that could be a passage to the underworld; a room whose interior is entirely of mirrors, including a mirror ball; and lastly a room of plastic bags of water and tubing suggesting drip-fed life, as if we’re inside a dying body. The physical body is central to this work, and each room locates the viewer in claustrophobic, contextualising space to offer an oblique window onto the self.

In her artist’s statement, Harris writes, “Like the small scratch on a sapling’s bark that grows to a big cut, these are the narcissistic wounds and scars, the yearnings and fantasies, the denials and re-creations and the inextricable knots that keep us tied to the ones we never had.” In exploring narcissism Harris uses herself as the exemplar in the videos and the viewer as exemplar or avatar in the five rooms. In the room of flowers, you see yourself on CCTV and in the mirror room you have a panoptical, infinitely multiplying view of yourself. I found myself watching dispassionately as if witnessing narcissism rather than experiencing it. But this is not a failure of the work, which succeeds in triggering understanding. It’s the intellectualisation of narcissism, a bleak commentary on what we see as significant in our lives and how delusional we can be. The title Hold me Close and Let me Go suggests contradictory desires, and the work is a darkly humorous exploration of sexual dynamics.

Harris’ work frequently involves videos in which she acts out a symbolic ritual or play flavoured with the theme of the abject figure in the world. Her 2010 video Glittervomit shows her in close-up regurgitating a mouthful of glitter at the camera, as if sickened by the superficiality being pushed down her throat. She weeps in Cry Me a Ravine (2010) and she is the deceased in a funeral parlour in I Wish I was Dead (2010). Critical self-examination as distinct from narcissism is a strategy essential to our functioning in the world.


Christine Collins, I may have to see YOU again, Charlie; Ray Harris, Hold me Close and Let me Go, Australian Experimental Art Foundation, AEAF, September 30 – October 29 2011; http://aeaf.org.au/

Collins recorded an interview for the CACSA Contemporary 2010: The New New exhibition which can be seen here

This article first appeared in e-dition Nov 8

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. web

© Chris Reid; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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