|Spelling Dystopia 2009, Nina Fischer & Maroan El Sani|
© the artists
Set to a thumping ethno-electronic soundtrack, Almagul Menlibayeva’s sensual, telluric video Headcharge (2007) is as mesmerizing as it is perplexing. As Kathryn Weir cautions in her catalogue essay for The view from elsewhere, GoMA’s program of moving image art from Asia and the Middle East, the temptation for those schooled in Western avant-garde art traditions is to try to read this artwork in the transgressive tradition of the Viennese Aktionists, whose experiments, as Stephen Barber notes, "disassembled the human body and its acts into compacted gestures of blood…and meat." However, as Weir goes on to note, beyond surface similarities of public nudity, freeform sexuality and "abject smears", to place Menlibayeva’s highly specific video practice in this Western tradition is as much a misreading of the work as the other common responses—"exoticising fascination or complete misunderstanding"—to the art of ‘elsewhere’ explored in this extensive, challenging show.
Complex art such as Menlibayeva’s "Romantic punk shamanism", which synthesises Central Asian and European references—specifically Kazakhstani cultural iconography with distinctly Western countercultural, psychedelic and Baroque flourishes—poses a unique challenge. The double gesture of familiarity and difference in this kind of work requires a viewer capable of stillness, observation, and "cultivating an openness to what is not known or cannot be known."
The view from elsewhere offered Brisbane audiences a unique opportunity to cultivate that openness through the installed white cube show, Small acts, and the black box cinema program in which Menlibayeva’s dynamic videos were shown alongside realist documentaries and poetic short films from across the region. In Thai auteur Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s typically languid Primitive: A Letter to Uncle Boonmee (2009), a contemplative, searching camera rakes over the interiors of various wooden houses in a near-deserted village. Young soldiers dig up the ground outside one dwelling as the voices of three young men are heard repeating a letter to a man named Boonmee, about a tragedy in a small community, Nabua, which forced residents to flee their homes in panic. As a fearsome tropical wind seizes palms and banana trees and whips them into a wild frenzy, a swarm of bugs invades. Then the sky darkens, the camera tilts slowly to reveal a tracery of tree branches, and the bugs disperse. Weerasethakul’s earlier film, Like the Relentless Fury of the Pounding Waves (1996), shown with Primitive on the final Sunday of the program subtly explores four lives connected by a radio play, a "mysterious comedy and tragic drama!", about the sea goddess Mae Ya Nang. As with countrywoman Sasithorn Ariyavicha’s meandering, reflective works (My First Film, 1991; Drifter, 1993; and Birth of the Seanema, 2004), this work is emblematic of the "dual consciousness" Mark Nash writes about in his catalogue essay, which sees international artists drawing on and developing aesthetic codes both culturally specific to Thailand, as well as histories of North American and European avant-garde and art cinema.
|Cut Piece 2003, Yoko Ono|
photo by Ken McKay © Yoko Ono
In the next room, Kimsooja’s videos, A Beggar Woman, Lagos (2001) and A Homeless Woman, Cairo (2001) feature the artist adopting the forlorn poses of society’s most vulnerable members. With her back to the audience, lying or sitting begging in a public street, Kimsooja recalls the public struggles of non-violent activists, foregrounding her body as a political object and using video as witness. The majority of works in Small acts, however, reflect the easy availability of user-friendly, cost-effective digital technology and the way early video art’s political imperatives have given way, in a large part, to smaller aims constellated around self-expression. Of the documentation of simple performance gestures, particularly memorable are the sweetly domestic games of Guy Ben-Ner, and Taiyo Kimura’s absurdist acts, as they recall early cinema’s climate of wonder and discovery, and the period before genres such as ‘documentary’—or even ‘the trick film’—had fully crystallised.
|Moby Dick 2000, Guy Ben-ner|
© the artist
In the light of so much pro-filmic reality, more constructed works such as Menlibayeva’s, Mona Hatoum’s exquisite Measures of Distance (1988), and Nina Fischer and Maroan El Sani’s study of Japan’s infamous uninhabited Gunkanjima (Battleship Island) Spelling Dystopia (2009), are a breath of fresh air. In particular, Inoue Tsuki’s remarkable A Woman Who is Beating the Earth (2007), about the hard rock fantasies of a woman struggling with an abusive relationship, stands out from the rest for its bravery, wit and raw poetic force.
The view from elsewhere was an expansive exhibition, involving numerous works and requiring multiple visits. It highlighted the unique ability of the relationship between the Gallery of Modern Art and the Australian Cinémathèque to articulate, with sensitivity and scope, the dimensions of contemporary moving image practice and how, in both gallery and cinema setting, the elsewhere of the title, in Mark Nash’s words, "is not just the elsewhere of the artist’s location, but that space which opens up within the viewer when they engage with the individual works."
Small acts, curator Kathryn Weir, Media Gallery, GoMA, July 25-15 Nov 15; The view from elsewhere, curator Kathryn Weir, Australian Cinémathèque, GoMA, Brisbane, Oct 7–Nov 15
RealTime issue #93 Oct-Nov 2009 pg.
© Danni Zuvela; for permission to reproduce apply to firstname.lastname@example.org