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Existing beyond the visible spectrum, ultraviolet light is a useful analogy for the positioning of experimental short video and electronic media works in relation to mainstream film cultures—particularly work with a queer bent. The marginal existence of much of this work means that it is dependent for exhibition on the somewhat restricted screening possibilities of specialist film and queer festivals and this, in turn, highlights the importance of cultural institution collection and acquisition policies for long-term survival. Hot on the heels of Brisbane’s month-long Pride Festival, Ultraviolet, a selection of 11 short video works and a CD-ROM from the Griffith University Art Collection, screened to a full-house at the State Library of Queensland. Curated by Edwina Bartleme, the program explored intersections between formal innovation and alternative representations of gendered sexualities.

Engaged (1994), by Paul Andrew, explores the world of cottaging, beats and anonymous sex. Counterpointing tightly framed colour mid-shots of numerous men (refreshingly diverse in class, age, beauty, ethnicity and masculinity) with fast-motion, grainy black and white footage of graffiti in public conveniences, the film foregrounds the dichotomy of public/private and the way it manifests differently for men and women. White (1996), by Francesca da Rimini and Josephine Starrs, maps connections between madness, lesbianism and the dominant culture through women’s experiences of psychiatric wards. The use of predominantly white stills (of clinical interiors and bandaged body parts in close-up) constructs a sense of deep-seated alienation and institutional rigidity. No longer connoting purity and goodness, white becomes the colour of disease and oppression, challenged slyly by the soundtrack of detached observations in Italian, Spanish and English (the only suggestion of difference in the work).

The camp underbelly of classic film noir is exposed in Back to the Happy Ever After (1993) by Philip Hopkins, Michael Carne and Shane Carne, in which the ‘male lead’ is played by a ventriloquist’s dummy. In some ways analogous to the regimes of compulsory heterosexuality, institutionalised and internalised homophobia, ventriloquism raises questions about who is speaking and who is being spoken for. The short-circuited, anxious editing in Barry McKay’s Faggots are for Burning (1996) mimics the dilemma of the necessarily closeted gay man positioned as a secret outsider inside the closed(-minded) community of Christian fundamentalists.

A diaphanous and seductive palimpsestic assemblage, Robyn Webster’s video Korper (1995) traces the surfaces of that most unstable border, skin, and other intimate textures relating to the body, blurring the boundaries between inside and outside to create fleshscapes. Featuring a teasing soundscape of soft static, barely audible whispering punctuated with the arhythmic scrape of metal, Korper is beautifully shot in the duo-tone blues of X-rays and fleshy rose pinks. In Cyberflesh Girlmonster (1996), the interactive CD-ROM by Linda Dement, the scanned body parts of various women are re-membered and re-articulated as monsters (a notion also explored in a disorienting close-up of an armpit in Julie Rrap’s Sniff Movie). One way to read the navigation of the girlmonsters and the various texts activated by them is as a virtual beat offering anonymous (lesbian, trans-sexual, cyborgean) sexual encounters. Given that the (often violent) sexualised experiences may be the ‘real’ bodily memories of the flesh donated by others, it’s significant that opportunities for safe, anonymous public sex for women are usually virtual.


Ultraviolet, State Library of Queensland, curated by Edwina Bartlene, Griffith University Art Collection, administered by Griffith Artworks, Queensland College of Art, July 5 1998.

RealTime issue #26 Aug-Sept 1998 pg. 35

© Shane Rowlands; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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