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RT PROFILER 3, 21 MAY 2014

Under the Influence: words, pictures, sounds

A creative individual’s desire for ideas is unquenchable. Inspiration is drawn not just from other works of art in their chosen field but from the abundance of concepts, narratives and atmospheres found in films, books and music. For Profiler #3 we’ve asked artists to tell us about the words, pictures and sounds that have influenced their practice overall and what’s currently keeping them tipsy.

Phillip Adams | Martyn Coutts | Alex Davies | Lucy Guerin | Samuel James |
nova Milne | Soda_Jerk | Sam Songailo | Lindsay Vickery | Julie Vulcan

Phillip Adams
Phillip Adams, stills from Thumb Phillip Adams, stills from Thumb
courtesy the artist

I am about making an experiential form that is new, a place where unorthodox behaviours and research sit at the edge of physical and cross disciplinary offerings. At my most comfortable place of experimentation I take great pleasure in engaging audiences in the live experience of performance and art. For example in Tomorrow, I ask for totally nude participation of the entire audience to build an architectural installation that activates a sexualised, ritual cleansing and group transference and transportation of energies. Tomorrow grew from my own esoteric research into alien abduction and a revelatory experience at The Integratron in the Mojave Desert, USA.

On the other side of the fence I’ve taken to literally hypnotising the audience. Thumb is my first solo work: a cross-disciplinary performance, part installation, part film. It explores the psychology of scale in terms of the gigantic and the miniature, inspired by size changing themes from 1950s and 60s cinema including The Incredible Shrinking Man, Fantastic Voyage and cult Scandinavian film, Troll Hunters.

During the research phases I took a course in hypnotherapy. The bigger question I am asking here is to what degree can the experience of hypnosis affect and effect an art marking practice to create an authentic scale-shifting perception inside the performance. After a 30-minute hypnosis session participants awaken to a world of multiple polystyrene building blocks that suggest any number of backdrops such as Norwegian mountains, caves and snow capped peaks. They also encounter a strange silver alien and a gigantic wall collapsing over them. Midway through they are dressed in green puffer jumpsuits with fur hoods and introduced to an off-the-wall Scandinavian film director and his actors on a movie set. The scale of the work continues to shrink as they watch a film on a 1960s home movie screen of footage shot in the Banff mountain ranges (Canada) and studio developments recreating scenes from The Incredible Shrinking Man.

In addition to Thumb, future projects include a commission from the National Gallery of Victoria that is a response to the Italian Masterpieces from Spain's Royal Court Museo Del Prado (1 June, 3pm) and LIVE WITH IT we all have HIV (17-27 July, Arts House Meat Market), supported by the Victorian AIDS Council and their regional networks.

Related articles

The eyes have it
Carl Nilsson-Polias, Balletlab, And All Things Return To Nature Tomorrow
RealTime issue #114 April-May 2013 p35

For all RT articles on Phillip Adams see realtimedance archive

Martyn Coutts
Sam Routledge, Martyn Coutts (right), I Think I Can presented by Intimate Spectacle and Performance Space at the Art and About Festival 2013, Sydney Central Train Station Sam Routledge, Martyn Coutts (right), I Think I Can presented by Intimate Spectacle and Performance Space at the Art and About Festival 2013, Sydney Central Train Station
courtesy the artists

Coming of age in the 1990s had a profound affect on the way I view the world. While the mainstream was filled with Stock, Aitken and Waterman pop classics, the underground saw the rise of rave and electronic music. I learnt a lot about repetition, about the structure of a piece of work and about total immersion in a space from raves and clubs. In this respect it is hard to go past “Blue Monday” by New Order, the biggest selling 12-inch single ever, completely unplayable on radio due to its length.

Around the same time that rave became popular, Japanese Anime and Manga broke in the west. The first wave of movies that were dubbed into English were Akira (1988), Ninja Scroll (1993) and Ghost in the Shell (1995). All three borrowed strongly from Japanese history, yet all carried an apocalyptic vision of a post-nuclear future. You could feel the still present fear that the atomic bombs of 1945 had on the makers of these stories. What I took from these films was a questioning of who we are as humans/cyborgs/post-humans. The meshing of the body and technology has always been a key theme of my work. Akira was always my favourite of these films due to its wrapping together of science and spirituality.

More recently I have been undertaking research into Sydney’s Parramatta River for an interactive app called Against The Tide. I have always had an uneasy relationship with Sydney. As part of the reading for the project I started with Delia Falconer’s Sydney (2010) which is such a beautiful evocation of her home city that I almost believed that it is as romantic as she suggests. However, after reading John Birmingham’s Leviathan (1999) I understood where my unease comes from: the terror of the settlement on convicts and Aboriginal people, the corruption stemming from the mixing of government and business and the brutality of the police (among other concerns). I now believe that somewhere between the viewpoints of these two books lies the true Sydney.

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Alex Davies
Alex Davies, portrait photo Tommy Oshima; The Very Near Future, photos courtesy the artist Alex Davies, portrait photo Tommy Oshima; The Very Near Future, photos courtesy the artist

My recent project, The Very Near Future, was undoubtedly influenced by the following works to some degree. The installation combines spatial cinematic storytelling with complex electronically mediated illusions.

Believing Is Seeing: Observations on the Mysteries of Photography, Errol Morris, (2011)
Morris, who is mostly known for his documentary film works has written an intriguing book on photography. Morris examines photography with a healthy skepticism (and in almost forensic detail) with regard to the meaning and authenticity of images. This exploration sheds light on how we can readily jump to conclusions when interpreting photographic images. Although the discussion is centred around photography, the ideas are relevant to all mediated experiences, and many of these concerns inform the ways in which I think about and create electronically mediated illusions in The Very Near Future.

Los Cronocrímenes (Time Crimes), Nacho Vigalondo (2007)
In addition to media illusions, a key theme of The Very Near Future was time travel, or specifically, how one can physically represent a sense of future time travel through media. Los Cronocrímenes is simply a wonderfully inventive film exploring some of the dire implications of time travel. The narrative structure of the film is also quite refreshing and both these elements provided inspiration in terms of potential structural approaches to story telling, and some of the many possible ways time travel can be conceptualized.

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Heck, baby, I shoulda seen it comin…
Urszula Dawkins, The Very Near Future, Alex Davies
ISEA2013 in RealTime, online feature

realtime tv @ ISEA2013: The very near future, Alex Davies
ISEA2013 in RealTime, online feature

For more RT articles on Alex Davies see our mediaartarchive

Lucy Guerin
Lucy Guerin, photo Toby Burrows; (front to back) Stephanie Lake, Alisdair Macindoe, Jesse Oshode, Live Movie Rehearsals, photo Lachlan Woods Lucy Guerin, photo Toby Burrows; (front to back) Stephanie Lake, Alisdair Macindoe, Jesse Oshode, Live Movie Rehearsals, photo Lachlan Woods

At the moment I am working on a project called Live Movie in which I want to screen a full-length feature film (not sure which one yet) and use it as a score for a dance piece. I want to use the edits, camera movements, sounds, characters and narrative as ways to generate movement both improvised and choreographed, responding to the movie in real-time. I aim to show not so much a representation of the film but to use the elements of filmmaking to create a dance work.

I saw David Lynch’s film Blue Velvet (1986) in my mid-twenties, when it first came out. I haven’t seen it since, but I clearly remember the opening scene with its bright, cut out world of the ordinary everyday, and then the zoom in to a bright green lawn drilling down to a close-up of subterranean insects chomping savagely below the surface.

This was the film that made me realise that you could see things differently. That there’s a multitude of perspectives from which to view something; that artistic expression was not just about an idea that you had, but about how you showed it; about how style and genre connected to meaning. It was entertaining and had great music, but also a dark, unfathomable side. These two things sat together.

As a choreographer working mostly in theatres, I have often thought about how we can shift the frame of viewing from the square of the proscenium where everything is life-size, to give a sense of close-up, to draw the eye of the audience in a filmic way. Lighting helps of course, but how, as a dance-maker can I create movement that draws us in to see detail?

Growing up in Adelaide in the 1970s and 80s I wondered how my middle class, unremarkable background could offer up anything unique or interesting as artistic material. Seeing Blue Velvet revealed to me that the ordinary aspects of life can be horrific or beautiful or funny, depending on the way they are presented. That zoom in to the lawn revealed how the simplest things could contain worlds and that looking closely is where I could find poetry. It was in detail, and in what lay below the surface.

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See realtimedance, 12 choreographers for all archived articles on Lucy Guerin

Samuel James

Where most artists are tangled within postmodernism my work remains in phenomenology—pursuing the connections between perception and material—or literally between video and performer. My concern is how all of our mediums—body, films, sound—are related. I have been reading lots of secret things, things that exist under the veils of reality and things that are the veils of reality: Victoria Nelson’s The Secret Life of Puppets (2001, when I was working with puppeteers) and in the last two years The Secret Life of Plants (Tompkins and Bird, 1973) and also the profound Rinrigaku by Watsuji Tetsuro (1937). In my videos I was compelled to take work beyond the performer and object to the plant universe and the inanimate. This has helped deepen my understanding of body and matter and what we are actually filming.

Merleau Ponty’s intertwining of perceiver and perceived for me still encapsulates indefinable existence, an endless, churning assemblage of things in more or less proximity and awareness to an individual. Being conscious of the actions and processes of video, when I film something, I film whilst knowing I am filming, yet I am also presently in some ways not-filming, drifting into distractions, smells, noises, physical interactions which make the capturing of a performance an unending and complex activity. For me, this aesthetic research reveals how the tools become a mirror reflecting the subconscious. Media is inextricably bound up with perception and fed back into external phenomena. As Deleuze says, the actual comprises nothing more than clusters of virtuals—all by-products of our own presence and life-making. Video art is nothing more than pulling out and isolating some of these events.

Just as important as the video itself, the screen experience is also about the narcotic, cinematic, performative space, where the witnessing makes possible the offering of one’s own dreams into another’s dream. Where every action in an artwork or characters in a film are seen as the same actions you are living through this very day, in this moment. The life in the cinema is transposed into the viewer’s. Video and materialism are bound in a way that produces an event that says nothing but we understand it totally and vividly as our own, it becomes embodied as part of us.

Related articles

Processing paradoxes
Fiona McGregor: Samuel James, Ms & Mr, Artspace
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nova Milne
nova Milne, 1) Jete 2) There There Anxious Future, 3) Xerox Missive nova Milne, 1) Jete 2) There There Anxious Future, 3) Xerox Missive
courtesy the artists

It took an aging French philosopher to reinvest in the existential problem of love. Alain Badiou’s In Praise of Love (2009) emancipates love from the dumb simplicity of inward-looking narcissism. Instead, it can be a radical construction: a project formed no longer from the perspective of one, but through the lens of difference and infinite subjectivities. It emerges as a way of thinking that privileges risk, chance, reinvention and a new way of experiencing time. Badiou’s notion of enduring love is really about locking a chance encounter into the framework of eternity, an event that is returned to, but always displaced and re-declared afresh. We imagine that as the loop passes, it reinvents itself.

We’ve been collaborating informally since 1998, including with the generic conjunctive title Ms&Mr since 2003. Through a range of forms such as large-scale video assemblages and installations, we create moments of connection or disruption that often take the form of an abstract encounter across the breach of time. Orlando, the novel by Virginia Woolf (1928), its title character and Sally Potter’s film adaption (1992), have been in our heads since we were teenagers. It’s a strange love letter that seems inspired by the theory of relativity.

Philip K Dick’s Ubik (1969) represents time spatially (and comically psychedelic) in an imagined future of 1992. One character, Glen Runciter, repeatedly visits his dead wife (suspended in cold-pac) as she continues to offer corporate advice through telepathic communication. In our XEROX MISSIVE we had Dick’s living fifth ex-wife commune with the deceased author from the future (as he predicted) by visiting his 1977 self in documented footage form.

In the original COSMOS series (1980), Carl Sagan stands like a monk by the sea, elucidating in his dulcet, melancholic tone. In episode 8’s thought experiment on Time Dilation, a kid leaves his friends on a park bench, taking a short ride on a bike that travels near the speed of light. From his perspective, a few minutes pass, but he returns to find that, for his friends left behind, time flowed at its usual rate and they have since grown up and died. His brother remains waiting, now an old man, and their gaze meets across the bridge of time that now separates them.

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Gail Priest: Ms&Mr, Xerox Missive 1977/2011, AGNSW
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Fiona McGregor: Samuel James, Ms & Mr, Artspace
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1) Soda_Jerk; 2) Hito Steyerl, Not to be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File, 3) Parliament – Funkentelechy Vs. The Placebo Syndrome, 4) Microsoft Windows 95 Video Guide 1) Soda_Jerk; 2) Hito Steyerl, Not to be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File, 3) Parliament – Funkentelechy Vs. The Placebo Syndrome, 4) Microsoft Windows 95 Video Guide

Whether we’re working with video, lecture performances or cut-up texts, a kind of errant pedagogy is fundamental to our practice. The sources we’ve selected here also share an educational impulse that’s gone wayward.

Hito Steyerl - How Not to be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File (2013)
How Not to be Seen… takes the form of an instructional video on how to remain invisible in an age of image proliferation. Equal parts Harun Farocki, Monty Python and post-internet art, this work manages to occupy the treacherous territory between the absurd and awesomely astute. So digital politics. Much entertainment value. Very respect.

Parliament – Funkentelechy Vs. The Placebo Syndrome (1977)
The third instalment in Parliament’s epic concept album trilogy, this LP sees the Starchild educating listeners on how the forces of uncut funk can be deployed in a fight for freedom. At stake in this intergalactic P-Funk mythology is a sharp critique of the socio-economic conditions of the late 1970s. Along with Sun Ra these guys delivered us our first schooling in the secret powers of combining social politics with speculative fiction.

Microsoft Windows 95 Video Guide
Sometimes the most ingeniously bent educational formats are deadly earnest in their intent. Research for our new lecture performance Netsploits has us deep in VHS tapes of 1990s operating system manuals and internet instructional videos. Special mention must go to Microsoft Windows 95 Video Guide which bills itself as “the world’s first cyber sitcom” and stars the best friends we never had: Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry.

We will be going errant educational in our upcoming AGNSW Contemporary Project 3 Live Video Essays. Over consecutive Saturdays in November we will perform three video lecture performances including The Carousel (2011), Netsploits (2014) and Terror Nullius (2014).

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Sam Songailo
Sam Songailo, Digital Wasteland, CACSA Sam Songailo, Digital Wasteland, CACSA
photos Emily Taylor

I've always loved the background art in sci-fi, particularly in Anime. The Anime series: Space Adventure Cobra (1982) contains in my opinion some of the best. The world seems to be made of metal interspersed with colourful lights, patterning and oversized computers performing some mystery function. The background art continually threatens to steal the show. I like to think of my installation work as the background art for something else that has or will take place. When I started painting I was trying to recreate these backgrounds. What I ended up producing was nothing like it. That initial trigger created a series of paintings leading up to where I am at today. Now it feels like my practice has a life of its own.

Through the look of the work I am seeking to reproduce a certain fictional atmosphere, which I would best describe as the emptiness of being inside a computer game. The first game machine my brother and I owned was a Commodore 64. The tape drive was unreliable and often we would spend hours trying and failing to load games. Eventually we would get one to work and it was kind of magical when it happened. Sometimes a 'crack intro' (see 64 legendary examples) by the team that pirated the software would load before the game. Typically they consisted of colourful graphics, bouncing letters and an accompanying SID tune (SID was the name of the sound chip). The graphics on the 64 were low resolution and really forced game makers to be creative. I remember these crack intros having some of the best graphics at the time.

I have recently completed a couple of exhibitions. The first at Alaska Projects as part of the SafARI festival and then the exhibition Digital Wasteland at the Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia. Both large scale painting installations. Currently I am finishing off a mural in West Footscray and working on an exhibition opening in July at Hugo Michell gallery ( Finally I am working on a commission for a university which will be completed late this year.

Sam Songailo’s Digital Wasteland will be reviewed in RT121.

Lindsay Vickery
1) Lindsay Vickery, 2) Silent Revolution, detail (2013), 3) Nature Forms I, detail, (2014) 1) Lindsay Vickery, 2) Silent Revolution, detail (2013), 3) Nature Forms I, detail, (2014)
courtesy the artist

Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco’s book Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt (2013) has been hovering over a lot of what I’ve been making lately. It’s a confronting look at where society is heading (and already is for some): the final pages are as heart- and gut-wrenching as anything I’ve read. The combination text/“graphic reportage” they use was a big influence on the visual style of my recent works Silent Revolution and Sacrificial Zones.

I think the creative response and energy around the Occupy movement, artists like Molly Crabapple et al (, has started a kind of community of intention that hasn’t been around for some time. I’ve also been following the work of this New York composer Bil Smith, an enigmatic Luther Blissett kind of character, who has been publishing these amazingly unrestrained scores incorporating notation, graphics, photographs, data visualization and so on.

In particular this year, I’m looking closely at the boundary between representation of sound and image, partly through some experiments with eye-tracking technology, but also with some new works involving sonfication and visualisation (and re-sonification of visualisations and vice versa). My interest in this is an outgrowth of the ‘screenscore’ works we’ve been doing with Decibel, but also some other things: Peter Ablinger’s Quadraturen series that explores the distortions that occur as a result of translation from one medium to another, and Manuella Blackburn’s compositional approach using visualised sound shapes. For example, in my recent works Nature Forms I, three performers and a computer sonify images derived from trees, rocks etc, with differing degrees of fidelity/freedom; and in Lyrebird, software I’ve made for Vanessa Tomlinson’s 8 Hits program, field recordings are transcribed in real time into a ‘score’ that she can play or improvise with. This has led to some interesting questions about innate associations between colour and shape, some of which have been answered by the interesting work at Stephen Palmer’s Visual Perception Lab in Berkeley 9 into “weak synaesthesia,” the sort of cross-modal correspondences that naturally make us group light, high and bright together.;

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Julie Vulcan
1) Julie Vulcan, 2) Drift, 3) Wishing Dark 1) Julie Vulcan, 2) Drift, 3) Wishing Dark
photos Michael Myers

The current series of work I am developing is Wishing Dark and this has led me to revisit some cult classics from the 1970s and 90s: Neal Stephenson’s sci-fi novel Snow Crash (1992), Wim Wender’s epic film Until the End of the World (1991), Alex Proyas neo noir thriller Dark City (1998) and Andrei Tarkovsky’s enthralling Solaris (1972).

I have been exploring themes of sensory deprivation, what makes us resilient and the thin line between what is real and what we perceive to be real. All these have echoes in the book and films above. Reading and watching these classics again affirms how close some of the ideas are to current neuroscientific research which influences some of my investigations, especially around visual perception, hallucination and how our brains fill in the gaps.

Some of the themes might seem dark and a bit gloomy: existential crisis on a space station; amnesia, murder and time/memory manipulation; dream addiction; language as virus. Well they are dark, both literally and figuratively and that is my interest. Dark = Manifestation. It’s not particularly a new idea but I am interested in this idea of self-implosion as survival—a path to mind expansion.

I am also a bit enamoured of the 1960s/70s futurism aesthetic—it was so hopeful…and silver. This filtered into my new work Drift at the recent Festival of Live Art (Melbourne) and Metro Arts (Brisbane). The predominance of silver and lime green in the installation was my homage to that era. The work on one hand seemed to present a nurturing haven offering some time out, but on the other it was highlighting how we hold onto small gestures in the face of uncertainty. What courage does it take to step into our space pod and warp our view to survive?

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