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Lost Worlds

Gail Priest

Clare Langan, Too Dark for Night Clare Langan, Too Dark for Night
Within an hour of landing at Tullamarine I can usually be found, like a faithful pilgrim, descending the staircase of ACMI’s screening gallery in the hope of losing myself in selections of the best in contemporary screen-based art. The latest offering World Without End, is definitely an exhibition where the viewer is asked to surrender to an unknown journey. Inspired by Godard’s dictum “It is not necessary to create a world, but the possibility of a world” (catalogue essay) curators Alexie Glass and Alessio Cavallaro have selected Australian and international works which play with scale and time, exploring vastness through compression, fetishising the detail in the epic, and challenging the sense of self in an infinite universe.

In the entrance stairway is the Pleix Collective’s Netlag (France)—a tessellated map of the world made up of footage from over 1600 web cameras across the globe. We pan and zoom in on sections of the map to glimpse quotidian activities as captured by the anonymous cameras. The banality of detail provides this world view with a bland universality, heightened by the generic electro beat of the soundscape.

Susan Norrie’s Enola (Australia) also plays with scale but focuses more on the compression of the constructed world. Filmed at the Tobu World Square theme park, the camera slowly circles the wonders of the world in quarter size—the Eiffel Tower plonked next to the Vatican, nestled near airports with aimlessly circling planes. Strangely the muzak soundtrack adds to the suggested silence of the place, in which the only living figures are 2 hooded observers, peering in wonder at these creations. This world is too clean, too ordered, too observed, too quiet...we have built ourselves out of existence.

From this quiet, constructed world we enter the bombastic audiovisual symphony of Simon Carroll and Martin Friedel’s History of a Day (Australia). Here the viewer is surrounded by cascading images of a day in progress from sunrise to sunset. In the intervening 4 minutes we experience earth, air, water and fire—soaring across seas and deserts, plunging into volcanoes and industrial zones, riding tempests and cloud gusts. The footage is stunning, playing in cannon across the 5 screens, accompanied by a near operatic soundscape. The pace and virtuosity of the piece is certainly impressive even if the grandeur overrides the possibility for deeper contemplative resonances.

Matching the visual scale of History of a Day, is Daniel Crook’s Train No 1 (Australia). Shown several times over the last few years, this is the most impressive presentation of this work, spanning half the wall of the main gallery, utilising 3 projectors. Using his TimeSlice technique, the vision is staggered and interwoven extending the visual material—in this case a train—into seemingly infinite dimensions. Each sliver of image has its own character and charged essences which in combination create a shimmering mirage of everyday experience.

Deftly placed opposite Train No 1 is the most subtle but beguiling of the works in World Without End—Ross Cooper and Jussi Ängeslevä’s The Last Clock (UK). Concentric circles are formed by the rotation of clock hands—hour, minute, second. The circles are heavily textured with tawny smears, each with a different density. The accompanying notes tell us that these are the product of the sweep of the hands of a clock across live video images from a camera placed upstairs on Federation Square. Knowing this and discovering figures appearing and being wiped away—moments held and then obliterated over 3 different timeframes—lends the piece an ephemeral, poetic quality, a ‘liveness’. However, it is a knowledge well hidden unless you read the notes. Perhaps there is a way in which this work could be presented in relation to the source of the video material, so that the cause and effect could be more easily discovered.

It is this same ‘liveness’, the physicality of Lynette Walworth’s Hold: Vessel 1 (Australia) which makes it such an appealing work. A gentle interactive experience, the visitor holds a finely crafted translucent glass bowl in order to catch the projection—underwater creatures of quivering cilia, wispy tendrils and exotic colours are manifest in your hands, accompanied by an intricately textured soundscore. Placed in its own viewing room, the work still weaves its magic 4 years after its initial inception.

Scattered through the exhibition are Robert Cahen’s Cartes Postale: Video Melting Pot (France). Starting with touristic stills, these scenes have but a brief moment to come to life, before being frozen again in time. There is a satisfying haiku element to these works—revealing layers below the cliche. My favourite is the idyllic view of an Icelandic town which, when unfrozen, shows an aeroplane soaring across the skyscape.

A jarring inclusion is A Viagem (The Voyage) by Christian Boustani (Portugal). Commissioned by the Portuguese government for Expo ‘98 it depicts the 1543 Portuguese expedition to Japan. It is a finely crafted and visually impressive film of collaged action and 2 and 3D animation inspired by Japanese gilded panels. However, there is a self-conscious trickiness and triteness that makes it sit uncomfortably within the contemplative framework of the other exhibits. Its cute and beatsy soundtrack completely drowned out the unearthly calm of Darren Almond’s (UK) A, a meditative exploration of Antartica.

Moving from the white ice of Antartica into the sweltering vastness of the Namibian Desert, Clare Langan’s Too Dark for Night (Ireland) is an apt culmination for this journey to the end of the world. A lone figure walks with calm purpose across the massive wind-sculpted sand dunes. The cinematography is astounding, and Langan’s use of handmade filters subtly protects the viewer from being swamped by the image. The figure searches for signs of other humans, finds only ruins and continues the search, a cycle as inevitable as the entropy of the shifting landscape. This is quietly devastating.

Seoungho Cho’s Rev (South Korea) and Brian Doyle’s The Light (US), were the least engaging works in the exhibition. Positioned next to the exit escalator, Doyle’s quietly contemplative studies of light (lights) are both visually and aurally overwhelmed by Cho’s hyperactive portrait of urban living—a collage of wildly spinning cameras, a revolving door and a candle flame. This section also marks the centre of the gallery space, so not only did Cho’s sound overwhelm Doyle’s work, but all the sound from the works seemed to coalesce into a cacophony of thunderclaps, train noises and clashing tones. In fact, soundbleed was an issue for all the works not accorded their own viewing rooms. Although considerable effort was made to place speakers directionally so that visitors sitting on the viewing couches could discern elements of each audioscape, several works dominated the entire aural space. This is an ongoing problem in screen-based exhibitions, and while many seem to accept the inevitability of it, the compromised audio element of this audiovisual medium should not be underestimated.

Even though the placement of works is seriously problematic for the sound, it is the fact that the works rub up against each other—each piece sharing some element of the works placed near it creating sympathetic resonances—that makes World Without End such an enjoyable exhibition providing many possible pathways to explore and possible worlds in which to lose yourself.

World Without End, curators Alexie Glass and Alessio Cavallaro, Australian Centre for the Moving Image, April 14-July 17

RealTime issue #68 Aug-Sept 2005 pg. 38

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

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