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Video: medium of the moment

Rachel Kent

Emil Goh, Mother and Daughter, 2002	 Emil Goh, Mother and Daughter, 2002
Courtesy the artist and Sherman Galleries, Sydney
As one of the most significant and widely employed art forms of the past decade, video occupies a central position within Australian contemporary art practice. This is attested to by the establishment of the Australian Centre for the Moving Image in Melbourne, as well as exhibitions like Primavera at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art (RT57, p21). Several of the Primavera 2003 artists currently feature in Mix-Ed: diverse practice and geography at Sherman Galleries and Interlace at Performance Space. As part of the Biennale of Sydney’s Parallel Program, these exhibitions feature works by some of Australia’s leading younger artists.

Curated by Simeon Kronenberg of Sherman Galleries, Mix-Ed presents an assortment of local and international talent, including 4 younger artists whose film and video work takes everyday subject matter, as well as conceptual paradoxes, as its focus. Sydney artist Emil Goh creates intimate projection works featuring the artist trailing anonymous individuals as they navigate the urban jungle. In this instance, the simple act of filming a mother and her young daughter as they stand together on a subway escalator takes on a range of subtle meanings. It speaks of the implicit bond between parent and child, of the daily human encounter with technology and of the isolation and anonymity of urban environments with their impervious, metallic facades.

Sean Gladwell likewise takes the city as his backdrop in the projection work Hikaru Sequences (2001), which presents a solitary figure performing complex maneuvers on a BMX bicycle. Slowed down and balletic in appearance, it creates poetry from the mundane. Daniel Crooks presents a large projection work featuring the revolutions of a circus carousel, its seats flying outwards. Like the “time slice” video works that he presented at Primavera 2003, this work re-constitutes our understanding of time by breaking down the carousel’s revolutions into individual frames.

Finally, Daniel von Sturmer presents viewers with a conceptual conundrum on a small television monitor showing a hand repeatedly dropping a crumpled piece of paper, a plastic bag and other objects. As the actions unfold over and over again before our eyes, we ponder the visual trickery of the simple gestures and their playful, associative meanings. Von Sturmer is concurrently exhibiting in the Biennale of Sydney at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, where his tilted table with projected images is a highlight..

Taking the ordinary and rendering it extraordinary is also a feature of works exhibited in Interlace. The fourth in a series of exhibitions curated by Blair French collectively entitled Video Spell, it introduces new, specially commissioned works by Goh, Gladwell and Kate Murphy, who some readers will remember for her delightfully cheeky 2000 documentary Britney Love. The exhibition is accompanied by a substantial CD ROM catalogue, as well as video footage of other works by each artist, providing a comprehensive overview of their practices to date. The role of performance in daily life is a recurrent theme in each work, from Gladwell’s documentation of individuals as they perform repeated actions and gestures in city locations, to Murphy’s dual screen work PonySkate (RT61 p37).

Goh documents the interiors of inner city apartments in Seoul, Korea, using a rotating camera mounted atop a tripod, one interior merging into the next with almost seamless precision as day passes into night. A meditation on urban life and lifestyles, its neon signs, cluttered interiors and conversational snippets co-exist with the pink light of the evening sky and occasional glimpses of temple eaves.

“Televisual culture” is identified by French as a driving force behind Interlace, with the works addressing the “means by which both our private and public actions and our personas are inflected by a conscious self-image—of how we appear to others and the quality of our apparent performance in various situations.” Murphy’s Ponyskate in particular captures this quality, with its combination of images shot from the perspective of its 2 young protagonists and documentary-style footage of the same scenes shot by the artist.

The idea of the video camera as a physical extension of the human body, observing and interacting with the world around it, is illustrated well by works within these exhibitions. Drawing upon conventions of documentary and portraiture, and referencing art history as much as cinema and pop culture, they bring the city and its inhabitants to life in often unexpected ways. Streets, subways, fun fairs and other public spaces are contrasted with the privacy of interior, domestic spaces and individual lives, while simple gestures and acts are given suggestive, even mysterious potential. The role of the moving image is pivotal in capturing these moments, while the durational nature of the works invites a viewing relationship based around time and space.

Screens permeate our daily existence, from the television sets in our living rooms to the screens scattered across the metropolis featuring constantly shifting news footage and advertisements. Bridging the worlds of art and daily life, the works in these exhibitions attest to the status of video as the quintessential medium of the moment.

Mix-Ed: diverse practice and geography, Sherman Galleries, Sydney, June 3-26; Interlace, Performance Space, May 28-July 3

RealTime issue #62 Aug-Sept 2004 pg. 45

© Rachel Kent; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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