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Peter Fischli and David Weiss, Der Lauf Der Ding/The Way Things Go Peter Fischli and David Weiss, Der Lauf Der Ding/The Way Things Go
THEY SAY EVERYBODY WANTS TO BE 21. ANY YOUNGER AND YOU THIRST FOR FREEDOM FROM YOUR WORLD. ANY OLDER AND YOU WISH YOU COULD HAVE IT OVER AGAIN. EXPERIMENTA’S AWKWARD PHASE IS NOW OFFICIALLY OVER; WITH TWO CONFIDENT AND POPULAR EXHIBITIONS IN HOUSE OF TOMORROW (2003) AND VANISHING POINT (2005), THE ARRIVAL OF THIS YEAR’S EXPERIMENTA PLAYGROUND REPRESENTS THE BIG PUSH FOR THE ORGANISATION. BIG ENOUGH, IN FACT, TO NOMINATE ITSELF AS THE INTERNATIONAL BIENNALE OF MEDIA ARTS. THE RESULT WAS A CONFIDENT AND ARTICULATE EXPERIENCE THAT SURVEYED SOME OF THE MOST INTERESTING WORKS OF RECENT YEARS, WHILE PROVIDING A MAP FOR THOSE NEW TO MEDIA ART.

The inclusion of Peter Fischli and David Weiss’ video work Der Lauf Der Ding/The Way Things Go (Switzerland, 1987) is an example of the latter; a keystone of experimental art practice that has the instant effect of grounding the viewer on the sensory level. A series of reactions and actions unfolds as an elaborate version of Mouse Trap ricochets across the periodic table with abandon. A tyre rolls down a board setting a pulley in motion that ignites a match that sparks a coal fire, and so on. Though this and a number of the other works are now freely available, including via YouTube, the environment of the playground needs its swings and roundabouts—the perennials and milestones that mark the borders of the sandpit. The Way Things Go should really be part of the science curriculum at high school level; it’s messy, permanently and viciously DIY and still boggles the mind’s eye 20 years on from its creation.

Alongside a number of other video works, this subdivided room of “extreme art on screen” set the tone—making a compromise between accessibility and confrontation. During four visits, I saw the same dynamics: people flocked to the work least likely to appear on DVD. Interactive art came first, especially for children. Only then were the video works taken in. The Black Box gallery was perfect for the collection, and the low light conditions were soothing without being soft.

Giant interactive teacup rides courtesy of Shu Lea Cheang’s Baby Love (2005, RT76, p23) were the main attraction for most, but the meat of the exhibit was in the smaller works that required touch, or its similitude.

In Double Fantasy (Jennifer and Kevin McCoy, USA, 2005), the dream worlds of two children are assembled with miniature tiny trees and buildings. Two meticulously constructed dioramas lie back to back and are suspended in mid-air, a squid-like array of metallic arms curling out from the sides and winding back to point cameras at the tiny figures on either side. A projector rifles through the angles which are carefully plotted to use tilt and deep focus, and we see the stories unfold. On one side, a grim but baroque battle scene, on the other, a joyful wedding in a chapel. The result is as much a paean to romantic imagery as it is deconstruction. The soft light and off-kilter situations are dreamlike and whimsical, soaked in nostalgia. The natural urge was to twist the camera arms to new positions; so common was this impulse that Experimenta had to staff the artwork with an apologetic young minder—play has its rules and regulations. Still, the decision to frame the artwork as open sculpture and allow visitors to examine it from all angles is fair trade for the lack of interactivity. (For more on the McCoys, see RT78.)

As a child you looked up from your bed, watching branches move in the wind through the window. Seeing grim shapes in the half-light, you made horrible things come to life. In Philip Worthington’s Shadow Monsters (UK, 2005), a plain white projection invites closer inspection, for which you have to cross in front of a divider. Immediately, you sense the projection is coming from below and not above; and not only that, but you’re a horrible freak. Your shadow is captured and relayed onto the wall in front of you with a slight delay, with monstrous additions such as tentacles, hairs, spines, spikes and gawking eyes on stalks. Move your hands to make a shadow-play duck and the duck will grow fierce teeth while belching out a grey cartoon cloud. The whizz and pop of the accompanying sound cues complete the circuit. The projection and capture mechanism has been refined and changed after a number of international showings, but the iteration at Experimenta Playground is as good as it gets.

In a similar way, The Manual Imput Station (TMEMA aka Golan Levin and Zachary Lieberman, USA, 2004-2006) whittles away expectations as you approach a nondescript overhead projector with a handful of shapes and numbers on a table. Casting your hands into the beam doesn’t produce any results at first. Only when your fingers cross, or you use one of the letters and shapes to form an enclosed form, does the play begin. Form an ‘O’ with your thumb and forefinger and the shadow ‘O’ on the wall lights up in yellow, promptly ‘falls’ as a virtual object, and bounces away with the sound of rolling glass. Before you know it you are are causing smaller shards to rain and shatter. The work generates scientific curiosity; it would be equally at home in a children’s science museum.

Narinda Reeders’ Help Yourself (Australia, 2007) is immediately one of the most effortlessly inquisitive and deliberate pieces of interactive art seen for some time. Parodies of ATM routines have been mounted before, as have playful versions of self-help culture. Their natural combination in Help Yourself is immediately recognisable and satisfying. Your on-screen guide, Lydia, who cannot hear the commands you speak into the microphone very well, is likely to berate you, and will somehow abuse your trust. Advice is generated almost incoherently and always aimed at the heart. Anybody who has experienced the dark wit of the woman inside Westpac ATMs will appreciate this opportunity for revenge.

If Experimenta's projected biennale can be achieved without having to include media arts' greatest hits, then it could go on to be a success and for all the right reasons, commercial and national. More importantly, the first biennale has been curated with kindness and daring and could, in the future, continue to develop its sense that art isn't an endless self-referential game but something you can play with to your heart's content.


Expertimenta Playground, BlackBox, The Arts Centre, Melbourne, Aug 25-Sept 23, www.experimenta.org/playground

RealTime issue #81 Oct-Nov 2007 pg. 24

© Christian McCrae; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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