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Virginia Hilyard, In the Depths Virginia Hilyard, In the Depths
There’s no doubt that inner-urban Sydney’s Chippendale is already well into the process of gentrification; its huge brick brewery no longer emitting the smell of hops and slated for re-development. The surrounding area is trying to market itself as a bit of a local Soho, with galleries, warehouses, coffee shops and moped stores springing up alongside the old Socialist Resistance headquarters and the untouched Shannon Hotel (a few places-that-time-forgot still remaining). Nestled in these back streets is the new artist-run non-profit gallery Pelt. A beautiful white cube-like space, it’s at first not at all what you’d expect of the new home for impermanent audio. Though with its fully legitimated feel and in prime real estate, Pelt is quite a coup. The gallery regularly calls for expressions of interest for its exhibition program—providing installation, multiple projection and live performance space for artists engaging in the broad areas of sound and visual practice.

Video/installation artist Virginia Hilyard’s is the fourth exhibition to be held at Pelt since it opened in September this year. Her work In the depths seemed perfect for the space, which particularly suits solo work, allowing it due gravitas. Hilyard’s aesthetic has a refreshing clarity, despite her use of intentionally jerky hand-held camera work and Super-8 film stock. The overall effect is all about exquisite grain rather than grunge. We follow the journey of a woman (the artist) climbing the metal stairs out of a limestone cave, then splice straight into her wending her way through a high hedged garden maze (a colonial legacy shot on the Mornington Peninsula). Originally conceived as pleasure gardens for the bourgeoisie, it’s clear she’s traversing more anxious avenues here, with exits guarded Cerberus-like by vicious dogs. Next she’s wandering around inside a mirror maze (shot in a travelling sideshow in Dapto) which she navigates in a polka dot sun frock (a Yayoi Kusama moment). The previously black and white film suddenly changes to intense colour, as she’s back amongst the foreboding foliage of the hedges, before finally entering into an old library (past the spines of musty encyclopedias and their call numbers).

The loop ends at a bleached out window and then keeps going as the film stock peters out into brilliant Technicolour patterns. The sound track, set in speakers at the rear of the room, ranges from clanging metal, to footfall, to howling winds. These are all labyrinthine spaces of eerie entrapment, though our heroine keeps her composure throughout, transcending any conventions of cheap horror. I think we all recognise times when our lives are like this; when the walls start closing in and the contemporary world seems haunted by the psychic and mythic substratum of the old world. How great if we could just revel in it as an aesthetic, relieved of contemporary pop culture, entering into the silences and moody European sensibility of a cinema, one which is textured, full of lights and darks. Virginia Hilyard’s work goes further, affectively gesturing towards a spiritual odyssey as much as a cultural one, suggesting incarcerations of the mind overlaid on real sites.

In the Depths, Virginia Hilyard, Pelt, Unit 2, 46 Balfour St, Chippendale, Sydney, Oct 19-30;

RealTime issue #70 Dec-Jan 2005 pg. 49

© Keri Glastonbury; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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