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Video challenges: fury and reflection

Keith Gallasch

The agonies and the ecstasies of viewing the 3 d>Art.04 experimental screen programs are a reminder of the riches, cliches, excitements and tedium of the form. The nature of bad video art and the function of boredom was in fact an unresolved aspect of the Performance Space/Sydney Biennale discussion of the form (June 26). Not only is it a matter of the variety of work and of curatorial aesthetics (the 3 programs in d>Art.04 were strikingly different), but also of what's on offer— after all, these screenings comprise a best of whatever is submitted rather than the best of the best.

In curator Claude Gonzales' Australia Screen, the raw subjectivity of Denis Beaubois' vertiginous Fall from Mataval (1'17) and the dizzying, highly crafted transformations of the world and photographs in Hobart Hughes' The Wind Calls Your Name (4'24) excelled in technique and vision. Of the rest, the only work to reveal any verve was Janet Merewether's droll "experimental documentary" Palermo—history standing still (11'), a visual one liner with some nice variations and black and white neo-realist flavouring. Mireille and Fabian Astore's documentation of their Tampa: A Walk on the Beach (13'3) was pretty much that, a documentary with little if any of the sting of the exhibited photos, the website and Mireille Astore's accounts of beach-goers' agitated responses to her caged self. Although lyrically shot and edited (with a too, too ominous soundtrack) it was hard to see why it was programmed.

Australian Emerging Screen, curated by Brendan Lee and Angelica Mesiti, exhibited a more informal, sometimes raw aesthetic suggestive of formative skills or a dogged resistance to anything that might look slick. The program included mini-movies with corny dramatics, some slight animations, a mock movie trailer (that like its kind promises more than it can fulfil) and a dry visual arts show documentary (again why?). Relief came in the form of Yasmin Sabuncu's Esmerelda Videos (1) and (2) (both 4') with their wildly performative and often jocular play between the artist's selves and those projected onto her (male/female; east/west). Alana Tracey's Structure (7') is simply too busy, but the suggestion of interiority and delirium through intense close-ups and some moments of striking animation showed promise.

John Gillies might not have had an agenda for his International Screen selection, but it proved to be a coherent, deeply satisfying and challenging program, one which, as he said at the screening, turned by chance on the utopia/distopia axis. Christina von Greve (Germany, 3') in Desde la Memoria transforms documentary material of the Spanish Civil War and its legacy into a canvas-grained montage with curiously rich colouring, deeply etched faces and the intoning voices of elderly subjects, and sublime merging of old footage and new. Editing is almost everything here, as is the grim musicality of the recurrence of the words "blood" and "misery." The despair of a generation is summed up in the bleak coda, "Don't excel at anything: you will lose the war anyway." This is a demanding but darkly rewarding 3 minutes. The 2'38 Nuée (Myriam Bessette, Canada) proves to be a calming antidote as beautiful folds of watery colour run down the screen against an intensifying sound score. Situationist Guy Debord is celebrated in The Society of the Spectacle (A Digital Remix) (Mark Amerika, Trace Reddell, Rick Silva, USA, 10') with a furious collage of black and white images (and sudden flarings of colour) and theory-saturated subtitles that you can only grasp at as they roll by, occasionally recognise, and go with the odd beauty of their flow. It's appropriately playful ("everything is fucked but fun"), pulsing, pop-ish and engrossing—the hypertext crowd stoked on Godard (who is, of course, invoked).

Gillies again lowers the temperature with one of the highlights of d>Art.04, Building (Anouk de Clerq, Joris Cool, Anton Aski, Belgium, 12'), a pleasingly non-documentary approach to homaging the work of architects Robbrecht and Daem. The experience is like watching an ever metamorphosing, highly geometric woodblock print, starting in the dark and gradually revealed as shafts of light, white and grey, mutate, 2-dimensional, shifting into third, gradually generating the spaces of a just recognisable building, the lines of light pouring through windows and down corridors, still abstract, ever suggestive of the vision of the architects almost made real. The cool, sometimes ominous imagery is pitched against a growing, cacophonous sound score evoking creative ferment and a less cool world beyond.

Caroline Hu's Remembrance (Hong Kong, 9') takes us from the architectural reverie of Building into a Calvino-ish estimation of a city, the vision alternating between the personal and the theoretical, the banal and the magical in the play of light, the tilt of the camera eye and the dissolution of images. Gentle reflection is rudely supplanted by the demanding geometric and theoretical abstractions of Marcello Mercado's Das Kapital version 0.7 (Italy, 17'). The geometry not only vibrates with a kind of organic life force but whirls into glorious, seductive floral and vegetable forms, reminding us of Marx's observations of how, in commodification, the economic can be made to appear natural with little thought of the consequences - here represented by colour saturated images of the murder victims of state terror. The discomfiting text coda, "Overflow to zero...Return", perhaps bespeaks a regenerative, ever duplicating capitalism (as if out of Chaos Theory) with a life of its own. As with The Society of the Spectacle (A Digital Remix), the rapid editing and churning information flow reflects the struggle to connect with global politics, the impossibility of slowing down, but at the same time conveys a manic playfulness, a creative resistance against considerable odds.

The pulse of the program again changes dramatically. Ellen Bornkessel's It's Possible (Germany, 7'30) is a long, continuous tracking shot from a train of a deserted semi-urban landscape (homes, stations, small industries with ample green space between). The stark neatness of the scene, the absence of people, the left-travelling movement of camera/train and lights on in the daytime (a summer evening, presumably) collectively and quietly disorient the viewer as a child's voice-over fantasizes an ideal world, one with a "green supermarket." It's Possible completes the program with a wary optimism and a rhythm that allows for reflective re-entry into the not too real world outside the cinema. Gillies' program of experimental screen works is one of the best I've seen, not only for the selection of works of high quality (their immaculate crafting nothing to do with 'slick') but also for the order in which they have been programmed, with a musician's sensibility.

dLux media arts, d>Art.04 Experimental Screen, Dendy Opera Quays, Sydney Opera House; Sydney International Film Festival, June 17-27

RealTime issue #62 Aug-Sept 2004 pg. onl

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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