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online exclusive - may 10

fingers on windows

matthew o'neill: tom hall, the past will betray

Tom Hall, The Past Will Betray Tom Hall, The Past Will Betray
courtesy the artist

As a musician, Hall’s work within Brisbane-based ensembles like Damon Black’s Secret Birds or his own AxxOnn project has often been defined by the composer’s ongoing struggle to redefine laptop drones and electronic composition as a pursuit as egalitarian and accessible as the electric guitar and heavy metal. The laptop-oriented AxxOnn, by way of example, have spent the past two years performing alongside metal-oriented acts like Boston’s Isis and Seattle’s Sunn 0))).

Hall's work as a multimedia artist, by contrast, has frequently found him sequencing and re-contextualising tasteful photographs and naturally occurring imagery of mundane environments into transcendental collages of light and sound. His solo compositions as a sound artist, furthermore, echo this approach. Euphonia, Hall’s 2008 collaborative album with fellow Brisbane-based artist Lawrence English, consisted of little more than solitary murmurs of shimmering electronics woven into gorgeous and hypnotic soundscapes.
The issue that has stalked the artist’s entire career has been the effective synthesis of his two perspectives. Hall has shown consistent difficulty in regards to creating a work that unites both ordinary and extraordinary worlds without revealing a clear bias to either. At best, in 2009’s Left of Left installation at Brisbane’s Judith Wright Centre, he has created transcendental work with a strong grounding in everyday influences; while, at his worst (Secret Birds’ earliest collaborative performances), Hall’s various worlds have collided, with violently fractured and disappointing results.
The Past Will Betray, however, has brought Hall closer to a unified artistic vision than any of his previous works. A stylistic successor to Left of Left presented within an almost identical framework, Hall’s most recent installation reveals both a broader conceptual scope than previously and a more refined appreciation of focus and deliberation. The work is officially geared towards exploring the indistinct areas between past and present but, ironically, The Past Will Betray is Hall’s most distinctive and focussed work yet.

A week-long interactive visual exhibit displayed nightly via the Judith Wright Centre’s Shopfront Space windows, The Past Will Betray’s installation component is very much a refinement of Hall’s Left of Left practices. The key difference is, whereas Left of Left consisted of multiple projections layered and dispersed throughout the entirety of the Shopfront Space and glimpsed through its windows, Betray’s visuals are projected directly onto the windows. The work immediately engages more with the public and fosters a greater sense of interactivity—a true joy.

Tom Hall, The Past Will Betray Tom Hall, The Past Will Betray
courtesy the artist
Visually the exhibit is titillating enough: Hall has expanded his range of austere, distended urban and nature images into colourful psychedelic vistas, effortlessly bathing the Shopfront windows in hues of orange and red without sacrificing the beauty of his more staid imagery. But, in interacting with the exhibit on a physical level, you discover an especially rewarding connection.

Placing your hands on the warm glass of the windows, you can practically feel the work give way to your indeterminate will. The colours, images and ideas almost seem to morph beneath your very fingertips. It’s often difficult to determine how much change is governed by interaction, but the work is a mammoth step forward from Left of Left and a truly thrilling experience in and of itself.

As with Left of Left, the exhibition concludes with a concert performance of work by Hall with supporting sound artists. But this somewhat blemishes the exhibition’s advancements. Whereas Left of Left saw Hall delivering the audio-visual source material of his exhibit over to multimedia artists Lawrence English and Lloyd Barrett to present additional versions of the exhibition’s central premise, The Past Will Betray’s final night doubles as a launch for Hall’s latest solo album Past, Present Below and, as such, proves to be a much more sound-oriented affair.

The performances presented on the night are far from unremarkable—Oren Ambarchi’s deconstructed guitar noise proves fittingly cerebral and Ambrose Chapel’s blend of doom-metal and ambience is intriguing and accomplished while Hall’s lush drones are a particular delight—but the entire event seems like a rather discontinuous and dissatisfying conclusion for such a fascinating exhibit.

Tom Hall, The Past Will Betray, Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, Brisbane, installation March 18-25, performance March 25

RealTime issue #96 April-May 2010 pg. web

© Matthew O'Neill; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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