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Straight Out Of Brisbane

Under the city's skin

Dan Mackinlay seeks out SOOB

Seren Pugh, Bri$crane :: Remixed
Uniquely among the current crop of emerging arts festivals, Straight Out Of Brisbane positions itself as a (self appointed) representative of local arts. From the name on down, SOOB is suffused with the concerns and talents of Queenslanders. If the festival promotion is to be believed, a visit to the festival should answer the question, “In what state are the emerging arts in Australia’s urban-growth capital?” This year the answer is relaxed, confident, inventive...and a bit hard to find.

The process of gentrification squeezes urban Brisbane as it squeezes all cities, but the onset here is acute. Public space and its nephew, the emerging art venue, are scarcer than ever. The festival is aware of the contested nature of the space it takes place in and harnesses it; this is, by design or not, a unifying theme of the festival. Where SOOB once took over Fortitude Valley, owned it and inserted a rash of oddity under the hypodermis of club’n’pub nightlife, this year the infection is symptomless. Arriving in the centre of the festival precinct I am hard put to find any of the festival venues or, for that matter, maps to them. Or just a bloody list.

A bit of persistence, however, is well rewarded. The Bri$crane :: Remixed event suspends an exhibition over the river in an ephemeral gallery occupying a pedestrian rest area in the middle of the Goodwill Bridge for the sunset rush hour. It’s the loungeroom where good Situationists will hang out in their afterlives. Perspex sheets the windows of a wall-less room, looking out over the construction site skyline of the CBD. Each pane has been overlaid with transparent or translucent artworks offering alternative visions of the skyline. The concrete and decking of the little used space are strewn with toys of various kinds and comfy seating; a chatting audience watches the fading light reveal shifting video projections against the bridge pylons; and live electronic tonescapes overlay the rush hour traffic thrum.

Di Ball’s slick digital imagery layers the scene with dystopic futures and pasts: a nuclear technopolis collides with a primeval Brisbane River; a nightmarish urban architectural model gives voice to alternative histories overwhelmed by the historyless architecture of the city’s interminable construction boom.

Seren Pugh has a more tactile process, based in a kind of graffito urban planning. Her work, a spidery paint-pen sketch directly on the plastic, responds to the prim lines of the built panorama. Here the high-rise skyline imposes itself rudely on her canvas, as if the office block developers have scrawled on public property with ill considered concrete tags.

I wouldn’t say that steel scaffolding is the most graceful medium for hanging the pieces, nor, ah, the most tactful for the subject matter. But the main letdown here is the number of works. Only a handful of artists have been involved in this element of the show that purports to critique the lack of democratic voice in urban planning. Perhaps the show is running into precisely the issue faced by the city’s planners: there simply isn’t room to fit everything.

The show best lives up to its eponymous claim in its literal remixing of the commuting pedestrian crowd, suited workers and lycra’d joggers suddenly interpenetrated with hallucinatory art and the characteristically drunken mass of SOOB aficionados. It’s the first satisfyingly naughty happening of the 2006 festival in a SOOB history of some damn good ones. And it looks gorgeous when the sun sets.
Chromophonozone, Jemima Wyman Chromophonozone, Jemima Wyman
Chromophonozone takes the venue squeeze and runs with it, setting up off the gallery circuit in a seedy venue called Don’t Tell Mama in the strip club precinct. Upon arrival at the locked front door, a lean figure in a dark coat ushers visitors through the carpark at the back of the building to a second floor entrance. Apparently this circuitous procedure is less to do with the licitness of the activity inside than the fact the venue has been closed to the public for a liquor licensing infraction; inside it’s nothing more or less alarming than a karaoke bar. But the covertness of the entrance meshes perfectly with the show; as such, it must be the only entity to have benefited from the previous evening’s police liquor regulation sweep of the Valley, apart from possibly Law and Order itself.

If the forces of the law had arrived 24 hours later, I hazard, it would have been still more priceless watching them encounter the dance floor this evening with its frenetic vision of gold lamé and sadomasochism. On the main stage there’s a backdrop of multiple re-spliced instructional karaoke videos against which singers belt out MIDI pop classics from behind shapeless sequinned masks in the form of cloth head bags decorated with distorted leering faces. There are some performances of rare zest, occasional sheepishness, universal disregard for even vestigial melody, and overall bodyslamming undignified abandon—all wholly enacted by the audience. It’s a lurid cartoon world of saturated phosphors, overdriven speakers and unprovoked, untutored madness, totally hands off for the artists, who stand back with parental pride and discuss how the show recalls Abu Ghraib’s “interrotunes” musical torture. Certainly, the willingness of the audience evokes something fascinating about the disinhibiting power of having a bag hiding your face. As claustrophobic and badly ventilated as the venue is, the show’s captivating until eventually I’m co-opted for a spell as the lean figure in the dark coat out the front. Occasionally little herds of confused karaoke fans who weren’t told that they were in for a “new media interactive A/V exhibition” emerge, distraught, and huddle confusedly around the stairwell. And some stay in there and enjoy it. Chalk another excellent urban intervention up to SOOB.

No stranger to the world’s supply of saturated phosphors or Abu Ghraib imagery, San Francisco-based digital stills and animation designer Kenneth Tin-Kin Hung is well known in Australia, for his work if not his name. His eternal-splash-page site, was a viral marketing phenomenon, popular in email link-forwarding circles (I’ll bet you got one) during the last US presidential election for its high energy war and election propaganda parody. Perversely it is this online designer, of all the SOOB visual artists, who is translated into the most classically gallery-like, central city space in the festival’s stable of venues, the edgy White House, for his Global Presidential Election.

The stock characters here are the icons of global mediascape, fictional and actual. Ronald McDonald and George W Bush are, respectively, exemplars of each, Arnold Schwarzenegger weighs in in for both camps, and so on. These personalities are cut and mashed endlessly in some kind of incestuous genetic recombination in ever more concentrated concoctions of hybridised geopolitical action movie promotion. Hung’s look borrows from video game arcades, from Maoist propaganda, from martial arts movie posters, from fast food advertisements, from the choked neon signage of night-time Asian metropolises, from clichés of early web design—pretty much every lurid trend in the last century’s visual dialogue, and if there are any he’s missed it’s not from want of trying. Hung offers a kind of reductio ad absurdum of the process of global media storytelling where events and personalities themselves become items in the palette of advertorial graphic design, or bit-part characters in the endless, climaxless cartoonish geopolitical narrative—a homage to the global relevance of pasting boobs onto a picture of a major political figure in Photoshop. My reservation here is: if SOOB is trying to raise the profile of emerging arts, why isn’t this epitome of eyecatching advertising out on the street?

Bri$crane :: Remixed, curator Fiona Hogg, artists Di Ball, Seren Pugh, Priscilla Bracks, AV performance The General Will; Chromophonozone, Thea Baumann, Jemima Wyman, Don’t Tell Mama; Global Presidential Election, Kenneth Tin-Kin Hung, White House, Brisbane; Straight Out of Brisbane, Aug 15-20,

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg. 7

© Dan MacKinlay; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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