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Triangulating the horizon

Gail Priest: MAAP, Land Sea Sky

Jan Dibbetts, Horizon Sea I-III, 1971 Jan Dibbetts, Horizon Sea I-III, 1971
photo Peter Morgan
When RealTime talked with MAAP Director Kim Machan about the Land Sea Sky exhibition at the end of last year its 2014 international touring schedule looked ambitious—Shanghai, Seoul and Brisbane—particularly as the organisation had just been declined further triennial funding by Arts Queensland (see RT119). Despite this, Sydney has since been added to the list with a slightly smaller manifestation: 13 artists instead of the full complement of 20, exhibited across two floors of the National Art School Gallery.

Machan’s curatorial style grounds contemporary media-based works with the inclusion of a seminal historic work. For MAAP2004 in Singapore, themed Gravity, she used two works by Yves Klein—the magic of the collaged photograph Le Saut dans le vide (Leap into the Void) and the International Yves Klein blue series, presenting a hue similar to the blue channel of the RGB video signal—to re-assert continuity between visual arts history and the media art present (see our MAAP2004 festival feature). For Land Sea Sky she anchors the exhibition with Dutch artist Jan Dibbetts’ 1971 video series Horizon Sea I-III in which the meeting point of sea and sky is rotated in a number of orientations across split screens so that the landscape loses its figurative impact and becomes about line, angles and neat abstract geometries. Dibbets’ work thus reinforces both the land, sea and sky of the exhibition title as well as the sub-titular provocation to revisit “spatiality in video art.”

Positioned next to this work is a more contemporaneous version by Korean artist Kimsooja. For Bottari—Alfa Beach (2001) Kimsooja has filmed a stretch of sea and sky on the Nigerian coast, the place from which slaves were dispatched to the colonies. By splitting the screen horizontally and inverting the image in two ways—placing upturned sky on the bottom, and upside down sea on the top—the artist intends to negate the romantic ideal of a seascape. While the work certainly manifests an aura of gloom, this an instance where the artwork requires the roomsheet notes provided to convey its deeper import.

Derek Kreckler’s Littoral (2014) Derek Kreckler’s Littoral (2014)
photo Peter Morgan
Also accompanying the Dibbets series is Australian artist Derek Kreckler’s Littoral (2014). Kreckler offers a low-tech approach to expanded video that is playful and effective. Projecting onto a wall-sized screen made from vertical strips, he presents three black and white sequences of wavescapes, each sequence increasing in closeness. Behind the strip-screen is an oscillating fan and the resultant billowing lends a remarkably satisfying three-dimensionality to the image, waves surging out towards the viewer. Kreckler undercuts the implied power and grandeur of the images with his gently comic use of a domestic fan. This, in addition to the strip-curtain allusion and the black and white of the image give Littoral a sense of nostalgia—the seascape often integral to Australian childhood perhaps.

Adding a little land to the watery second level of the exhibition is an understated piece by Shilpa Gupta. The artist asked 100 Indian adults to draw a map of India from memory.100 Hand drawn maps of India (2007-08) is simply what it is and something more. The highly variable outlines are down-projected onto a plinth resulting in a quietly powerful comment on ideas of identity, border and nationalism.

Zhu Jia, It’s Beyond my Control, 2014 Zhu Jia, It’s Beyond my Control, 2014
photo Peter Morgan
There is a nice resonance between Gupta’s piece and pioneering Chinese artist Zhu Jia’s It’s Beyond my Control (2014). His is also small and intimate, projected onto a small alcove at the top of the gallery’s impressive semi-circular staircase. Jia’s work most directly addresses the manipulation of spatiality in the video medium. It consists of a hand holding a pencil which is outlining the edges of the corner into/onto which it is projected, the joins between walls and floor. Here the virtual attempts to actualise and define, to demarcate the real world. While not quite flawless in execution—the projection is stretched to fit the corner (as the title implies, as part of a touring exhibition it is beyond Jia’s control)—it is still a very neat conceptual conceit.

Positioned near the gallery entrance—which unfortunately washes the vision with excess light—Barbara Campbell’s interactive close, close (2014) also deals figuratively with the Land Sea Sky thematic explored by second floor works. The viewer controls a horizontal image strip which moves up and down the screen according to your proximity. From the furthest distance you are offered a view of the sky and as you walk towards the screen the image moves downward displaying the tops of sails, a grassy sand dune and a strip of beach populated by birds. At the closest point you ‘enter’ the water, the sound implying submersion. Within the short video loop (filmed by Gary Warner who also contributed the sound) there is a strong dynamic that works effectively with the interactivity. When I played with the work at first there were birds on the shore but as I moved the image to the sky the flocks were on the move. As I brought the image back to the beach it was empty and I felt the loss. The very deftly managed visual and sonic interactivity (by John Tonkin) is perfectly integrated into the overall concept of the shifting territories of migratory shorebirds.

In Lauren Brincat’s This Time Tomorrow, Tempelhof (2011) we leave the sea behind to concentrate purely on land and sky—a strip of grey runway leading into a hazy distance. The perfect symmetrical perspective is reinforced by the mounting of the screen on a triangular frame. A figure walks into shot and down the centre of the runway to gradually become a black dot in the landscape. Near the end of the cycle, if you peer hard enough you see two distant figures emerging though we are denied the closure of their arrival. The work’s precise geometry and sense of shifting scale is mesmerising.

Other works on the ground floor offer more oblique though no less intriguing interpretations of the exhibition’s theme, concentrating more perhaps on the idea of spatiality of video and the frame as a landscape—such as Wang Peng’s Feel North Korea (2005) which uses the split screen with one part often blacked out to echo the political situation in this country. His second piece, Beyond (2014), is perhaps the most oblique, featuring three screens depicting subtley moving images of a pair shoes and a head of hair, both in extreme close-up. A shot of a distant aeroplane and vapour trail separates them, the connection to be read in the negative space between the screens. Wang Gonxin’s The Other Rule in Ping Pong (2014) splits the action of a bouncing ball across three screens one of which is embedded in a plinth in the space, implying a spatial and sculptural relation between the surfaces. Both Chinese/Australian artist Paul Bai’s Untitled (Wind charm) (2013) and Italian artist Giovanni Ozzola’s Garage—sometimes you can see much more (2009) use subtle manipulation of video footage to question perception of the image, the depicted space and the architecture of the gallery itself.

Kim Machan’s curatorial combination of figurative and conceptual makes Land Sea Sky a satisfyingly cohesive exhibition, a compelling showcase of Australian and Asian artists—something MAAP has consistently offered for over 15 years. May it continue to do so.

MAAP: Land Sea Sky: revisiting spatiality in video art, National Art School Gallery, Sydney, 21 Aug-11 Oct;

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 52

© Gail Priest; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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