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Video unframed

John Gillies: New Releases, AGNSW

John Gillies is a media artist and musician and teaches at the College of Fine Arts, UNSW

Tiago Carneiro da Cunha, Low attention span/high curiosity rate (portrait of Peter Elliot) Tiago Carneiro da Cunha, Low attention span/high curiosity rate (portrait of Peter Elliot)
Entering Gallery4A in Sydney you see 30 VHS tapes displayed on the wall. You select one, Low attention span/high curiosity rate (portrait of Peter Elliot) by Taigo Carneiro da Cunha, and step back and place it in the VHS player behind you. You seat yourself on a couch. On a large screen is projected the image of a corner in a white room. In that room are 3 boxes and a man. A very chunky man. This man has short crutches attached to his arms which he uses to walk and run on all fours. Occasionally he screeches and, jumping up, runs at the camera, arms and crutches flailing about in the air. You watch—is this a recording of some kind of behaviorist experiment? Some bizarre private fantasy? Then you realise. This man is not a pantomime act—he IS a gorilla. Every pause, gesture and vocalisation perfectly mimics the animal’s behaviour. Peter Elliot is a professional ape appearing in many films including Greystoke—The Legend of Tarzan Lord of the Apes and Gorillas in the Mist.

This work (amongts others in the programme) is indicative of a kind of radical anti-aesthetic in much contemporary video art. Actions and events are presented and left unexplained. What we have are tapes with the quality of documents—documents of actions and everyday events which problematise the act of viewing and the perception of the world from which they were taken. There is no obvious attempt to be ‘creative’ within the medium. But this video raises all kinds of uncertainty about mimesis. For a split second we have no idea what we are looking at. We don’t have a framework for what we are seeing.

Rotator (by Volker Eichelman and Ruth Maclennan) presents a series of shots of an ideal European romantic garden accompanied by a soundtrack of kitsch filler music. Like so much contemporary photography which seems to objectively render people, landscapes and buildings, it seemingly documents without comment. Different shots are part of a hyper-real catalogue in which everything is rendered in absolute detail. The romantic being emptied of romance, leaving behind the banal shell of hyper image. However the low resolution video image has trouble competing with the high resolution of the large photographic prints of much contemporary photography (see Bernd and Hiller Becher, Andreas Gursky, Thomas Struth et al).

Time is indeterminate. Most of the works are loops or of an indefinite duration. You may watch them for as long or as little as you want. Exhibition space is also indeterminate. These works could be individually installed in a gallery, appear as a segment screened on TV, or projected in public spaces. Like a pop song or an ad they can exist in any situation. Charles Saatchi says simplicity is one of the qualities of great advertising. This kind of video art shares this simplicity. The concepts are so simple that they transcend context.

New Releases: An International Survey of Recent Works on Video,curator Emil Goh, presented by dLux media arts, Gallery4A & the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, March 15-April 14

John Gillies is a media artist and musician and teaches at the College of Fine Arts, UNSW

RealTime issue #43 June-July 2001 pg. 37

© John Gillies; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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