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The turbulence of truth

Michelle Moo

Jeff Riley, Obstruction (video still) Jeff Riley, Obstruction (video still)
PROOF is an investigation into evidence and truth. While overtly political—not least in the PROOF Overboard title of the cinema program—the line of questioning extends to a tracing of proof: its mediums, trajectories and traces, from the mechanistic to the digital and the phenomenal, drawing in sound, movement, space and light.

In Ross Gibson’s startling, ruminative Street X-Rays, the fixed evidentiary nature of crime photographs gives way. The space is dark, contemplative; 5 screens are arranged in the space. The projections travel through the screens so an imprint registers on the walls; the effect is ghostly. On the screens, archival crime scenes are juxtaposed with recent footage of the same places. Present and past are conflated, layered upon one another, interacting. No one perspective is allowed to dominate: our eyes move between screens, to the ‘X-Rays’, to the sculptural projectors; we move in space as time and place collapse and things become “little pulses in history.” One effect of multiple screens (such as in Jem Cohen’s Chain Times Three, which uses 3 screens and makes you wonder how you ever watched a film on one) is to highlight the artificiality of the fixed perspective. This is extended in Gibson’s work: the use of small screens arranged in a spatial matrix creates a kind of living space. And there is an emphasis on darknesses which are to be imagined into, that are engendering. When I entered Street X-Rays, with its use of light and incantatory sound, I was reminded of Mizoguchi’s film Ugetsu Monogatari (1953), not in terms of content, but in the clamouring, haunting forces drawing the present and past into an akashic vortex (the akashic record is a Sanskrit term which refers to an etheric field or realm where everything, past, present and future, exists, simultaneously, as a permanent record)

The collapsing of past and present also emerges in Nizar Jabour’s Greetings from Iraq. After exile in northern Iraq, detention in Iran, escapes, arrests and 7 years waiting for an answer from UNHCR at the Pakistan-Iran border, Jabour was accepted as an Iraqi refugee by Australia in 1997. After 17 years in exile, having been declared dead by the authorities, he returns to Iraq. We watch as his father sings a song; his son is still alive. In the streets there are palm trees, rubble, people walking on their way to another city. The footage is intercut with family snapshots, those icons of family unity. Here is the pain of exile. It is also a place of censorship, a place in which Australia has gone to war, but whose people (especially victims of the war and refugees) have never been shown in the media. What’s the danger in seeing the truth of another place, of people? Surely a pertinent question for a government that rode to victory by re-captioning a picture of children struggling in open seas.

Questions of evidence and the right to know arise explicitly in Jeff Riley’s arresting Obstruction, a montage of scenes involving obstruction of the camera: often a hand across the lens. The camera as witness is extended to the camera as threat and the relationship between subject and camera becomes very loaded, even scary. A logger, having picked up and thrown an environmentalist, turns his wrath onto the camera, and by extension, us. A police officer yawns as he removes his identification badge before heading into one of the most violent protests Melbourne has known. Obstruction records damning evidence, not least of all the testimony of obstruction itself.

While Uluru might be the centre of our aspirations regarding tourism and national identity, Woomera, having hosted missiles and atomic testing as well as a detention centre, seems to register our national fears. This is the point Peter Hennessey makes in My Woomera Project (What do you fear?). The Ikara missile—developed in the 60s to be launched at distant submarines—is re-created in pale wood; but unlike the contained miniature models, this re-creation dominates. Monitors feature a static image of the missile overlaid with voices in languages such as Arabic, creating a complex sense of the feared expressing their fears, drawing on Woomera as detention centre, but circling the place of contention. We never see Woomera, we don’t know if the voices are those of refugees: it’s unsettling and elusive, circling this island that, from its deep heart, has always feared threats from the sea.

The behaviour of information, truth and proof emerges as phenomenal: its interactivity; its replication of living systems. In Adam Donovan’s beautiful Heterodyning Cage sound and image movement are generated through interaction with exhibition visitors, and the 3D images move almost imperceptibly, as if breathing. This idea of information being physical and phenomenal is also explored in Paul Rodgers’ The Spectrum Chart and the Spectrum Drum, which traces normally unseen electromagnetic pollution. Rodgers provides evidence: a fluorescent tube is lit up under powerlines, shortwave radio picks up signals that seem discarded in the ether. The spectrum drum underscores this culture of waste, constructed out of discarded materials. Like John Hansen’s Senju-Kannon Buddha Bot No.1—a gorgeous buddha that looks like it’s from the set of Dr Who, with moving wooden and metal arms holding defunct data storage—it sits on the border between mechanistic and technological. In both pieces there’s a strong sense of excess and multiplication. Hansen’s Buddha’s face is supplanted by faces made from contemporary facial creation software comical in its already-dated look. The intruding faces effectively evoke maya and proliferation (Maya is the Vedantic term which speaks of the unreality of matter).

Proliferation is also manifest in Sarah Waterson and Kate Richards’ sub_scapePROOF. Here, political rhetoric is spliced with footage from confessional shows and treated to effects that rupture: Dr Phil’s are you honest with her? sits alongside one of George Bush’s speeches. The turbulence of truth and untruth—making, a texture of bombardment and disruption, creates a chaos that we are familiar with: patterns arise and with them a deeply political questioning of rhetoric.

This immanent critique where the movement and meaning embody each other, and which can move along a line of questioning from the phenomenal and philosophical to the political and playful, shows us what ACMI can do so well. It should also be considered that the hybrid arts of the moving image may be the only forms which can represent our world in this way, something I hope our funding bodies are considering carefully.

PROOF, curator Mike Stubbs, Screen Gallery, Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne, Dec 9 2004-Feb 13 2005

RealTime issue #65 Feb-March 2005 pg. 29

© Michelle Moo; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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