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New Media Scan 2002

...machine dreaming?

Chris Reid & Jena Woodburn

Danielle, Karalus, Shocked
Danielle, Karalus, Shocked

d>ART02 Exhibition

dLux media arts national touring show of short videos and 5 installation art works, d>ART02, seems to emerge from a machine-like sensibility, musing on the human condition from an electronically mediated and dispassionate distance.

Interactivity was a core principle of all but one of the installation works. Mari Velonaki’s Throw (Australia, 2002) invites viewers to pitch balls at projected images of figures that glide by like ducks in a shooting-gallery, making them flinch, bob and weave. Viewers variously display curiosity, aggressiveness, impatience and shyness, reactions that Velonaki seems to want to provoke to complete the work. Throw’s apparatus appears to be based on a movement sensor that triggers computer-programmed sequences of predetermined images, and successful interaction requires a good arm.

Another work with the capacity for viewer interaction is Sophea Lerner’s The Glass Bell (Australia, 2002), whose large glass screen, down which water cascades, shows first the façade of a house, then scenes of a pond and forest. Viewers are encouraged to touch the screen (hand towels hang nearby), which is intended to cause changes in the imagery. The opportunity for deliciously tactile engagement is teasingly offered. The work also includes photographs of the meditative patterns made by close-ups of rocks, leaves and snow, projected onto screens of white fabric. Suspended as a series of filters, the last delicate sheet barely registers the image.

Two videos requiring viewer participation were presented on sleek iMacs. Danielle Karalus’ Shocked (Australia, 2000) depicts a woman’s post-natal depression, relationship difficulties, consultations with her psychiatrist and subsequent electrotherapy. Essentially a short movie, and an absorbing and finely crafted one, it requires the viewer to activate each scene by finding and clicking on hot-spots on the screen. Rather than controlling the narrative and influencing its outcome, we’re only triggering its progression, retrieving data, and we can’t be sure we haven’t missed something. Debra Petrovitch’s CD-ROM Uncle Bill (Australia, 2000) is a black and white representation of life with a violent uncle that similarly requires the viewer to navigate the correct sequence of images. Both works offer dark histories to which we readily relate, and, like untended house-guests, we decide how deeply to pry.

Mathias Antlfinger and Ute Hoerner’s l’aprés midi d’un avatar (Germany, 2001) is the only installation that doesn’t need physical intervention. A large screen depicts 2 computer-generated figures walking and conversing in a barren landscape, independent of any operator and oblivious to viewers. This repeating sequence becomes sterile and disengaging, a feeling enhanced by having to eavesdrop on their babble via headphones. These escaped, life-size avatars satirise both human behaviour and their more biddable electronic brethren.

Interactivity is not new. Duchamp’s 1920 Rotary Glass Plates (Precision Optics) required the viewer to start it. A rationale for interactivity is that it sustains viewers’ attention and involves them more deeply than passively observing. It also acknowledges the individual viewer, whose interaction contributes to or even completes the work. Technology alone cannot sustain art. A work such as Throw presents limited, though testing, options. The ‘players’ watching Shocked are involved but become impatient as they sense they can only facilitate the progression of a stalled narrative. We’re accustomed to human interaction, with its infinite and complex variety and mutuality, but these machines lack human capacities. Viewers find themselves in a limbo between responding mechanically to machines and responding as humans to humans. However, in Throw, Shocked and Uncle Bill, our ambivalent responses form part of the works’ resolution and meaning.

d>ART02 Screen

d>ART02’s screen program comprised 17 works varying from one to 16 minutes in length. Anouk de Cleroq’s Whoosh (Belgium, 2001) is evocative, eloquent and relevant. Stark black and white images from various sources are supported by subtitles compiled from the writings of, for example, Tennyson, McLuhan and Ballard and aggregated into a heartfelt message about our captivity by alienating technologies. Phrases like “in this age of global communication I still mumble sad lines to myself” remind us of the diminished space for emotion in a mechanised world.

Andreas Gedin’s So far, so good, (Sweden, 2001) is an absorbing piece of theatre. Two seated men face us, one eating pizza and describing to his blind companion what is happening on a TV out of our view. We try to comprehend the unseen image (silent movie slapstick?) from the speaker’s rapid-fire description, and wonder what his unseeing companion could make of it. The film is about the translation of experience into narrative, of the visual into the verbal, and the subjectivity of the human filter through which they pass.

A Film (Atanas Djono, Australia, 2001) is highly seductive though ultimately simply self-referential. We see a skywriter putting the final touches to the words ‘A FILM’ in a blue sky, and then for 15 minutes we watch the phrase gradually dissolve, occasional clouds drifting by, accompanied by background sound suggesting a babble of voices. Also playing on film as both medium and concept is Phillip Ryder’s Train (UK, 2001), a re-photographed version of a piece of 16 mm film (showing Ryder tied to train tracks) that had been run over by a train. His Rock (2001), about suicide by drowning, involves immersing in a river for 2 weeks a short Super 8 sequence showing someone waiting on a bridge over the river. In both works the film stock stands in for the victims. The damaging of the footage introduces an aleatoric element, giving the resulting movies an expressionistic, quasi-abstract finish that parodies aged celluloid. Though rich in metaphor, this is end-game movie-making, literally and figuratively.

In Crash Media (Tim Ryan, Australia, 2001) we can just make out a car rolling over in slow motion. The electronically distorted image (evoking an animated abstract painting) may make sense to the camera, but it requires our careful interpretation. The subject matter’s possibly catastrophic nature is occluded by the distortion. The work distinguishes machine perception from human perception, reminding us that the two are not the same and that the difference between them can be vital.

Myriam Bessette’s Azur (Canada, 2001) is an aesthetically delightful and mesmerising light and sound work. Line Up (Julie-Christine Fortier, Canada, 2002) provided some humour, showing a burning fuse tracing a path through a human head and continuing on. Sumugan Sivanesan’s Seismic (Australia, 2002) shows a street scene frozen almost still by repeated pressing of the pause button, shifting our perception from the cinematic to the photographic.

SALA: Moving Image Project

The absence of a traditional narrative trajectory was a criterion for inclusion in the Moving Image Project—42 recent short screen works, all by local film-makers, shown during this year’s SALA (South Australian Living Artists) Festival. Diverse and generally of a high standard, they complemented nicely the d>ART02 season. Joe Felber and Julie Henderson’s 25 Songs involved Henderson as choreographer and performer in a short film on classical dance, music and culture. This delightful piece set the highest production and performance standards. Choreographer and dancer Christos Linou showed 3 short films transferred from Super 8 to DVD—Thriving, a fragment of dance; The Sirens, in which images of the sea are overlayed with images of human movement; and the nicely satirical Act of Trespass, which depicts a businessman repeatedly walking and retracing his steps across a busy city footpath to the bemusement of passers by.

Equally interesting were the works that revealed fascinating microcosmic worlds normally unseen. Anne Walton’s DVD works all used a digital camera set for maximum close-up. Edge shows maggots sniffing about at the edge of what looks like earth pressed against a sheet of glass. The fascinating Glen Helen 1, 2 & 3 shows 3 scenes shot at that location in Central Australia, the first showing (upside down) a finger tip pushing sand up against the lens, the second showing a droplet of water slowly drying on a rock in the sun and the third showing the artist’s right cheek in profile as she brushes flies from her face. Walton’s technique shifts your perception.

A relief from the showcase of sophisticated technology were Aanya Roennfeldt’s Manbags and Pasta Cowboy Gets Takeaway, animations that used materials such as cut-out drawings on wood veneer backdrops—a down-market South Park. Both works comment humorously on social manners and male identity, the Art Povera materials adding a wry twist. James Strickland and Bianca Barling’s Second Fix explores the broken heart, while Shoot is a collage of tantalising fragments by 17 film-makers, adroitly edited by Danielle Walpole.

The moving image combines 2 essential aspects of culture: story-telling and visual imagery. Prior to the advent of film, still images such as paintings and photographs were often narratively driven, the fragments they depicted standing in for an implied whole. Film extended this potential to protracted actuality. In new media, narrative is often implied by virtue of the medium’s suggestiveness as well as our own suggestibility and desire for story. We don’t like a plot left hanging, but perhaps that’s where the art lies.

d>ART02, Experimental Art Foundation, Aug 1-31; Mercury Cinema, Jul 30. Samples of works shown are at the dLux media/arts website, .

The South Australian Living Artists Festival, Moving Image Project, curator Jo Holmes, Mercury Cinema, Aug 4 & 7

RealTime issue #51 Oct-Nov 2002 pg. 17

© Chris Reid & Jena Woodburn ; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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