just what's on offer?

jessica wallace: monceaux & sterling’s
supermarket

Dan Monceaux, Niagara Falls 2007

Dan Monceaux, Niagara Falls 2007

THE OPENING MONTAGE OF DAN MONCEAUX AND EMMA STERLING’S SUPERMARKET IS FULL OF FAST CUTS, STARS, LIGHTS AND CARS, DOUBLING AND REPEATING. A SEQUENCE OF NIGHT-TIME CITYSCAPES TURN AROUND THE SCREEN. THE FOOTAGE SHIFTS FROM FILMIC TO THE OPEN SHUTTER BLUR OF VIDEO. LINES OF COLOUR SLOWLY DRAG ACROSS THE FRAME. LIVE FEED OF MONCEAUX’S HANDS, MIXING THE SOUND, DISSOLVES BRIEFLY IN AND OUT OF THE SCENE. THEN WE’RE TAKEN ACROSS A BRIDGE, MOVE INTO A TUNNEL. THE TITLE, IN THICK BLACK RETRO FONT, CROSSES OVER A LARGE WHITE SPACE. BLACK AND WHITE GEOMETRIC PATTERNS TAKE OVER. THERE’S A CROSS-SECTION OF A BRAIN, LIKE AN X-RAY. BUBBLES FALL. THEN A WARNING THAT THE FILM MIGHT CAUSE INDUCE EPILEPTIC EPISODES CUTS HARD ONTO THE SCREEN.

These eclectic media are driven by the audio beat: electronic music composed, performed and mixed by Monceaux. Meanwhile a male narrator, like documentary’s ‘voice of god’ and in a style reminiscent of cinema advertising and infomercials, informs us that Supermarket “speaks up for consumer interest…supplying several million people with the truth”, “for men and women in all walks of life.”

Supermarket unfolds as a series of chapters, or sections. Early on I’m wondering what will hold them all together. Even though it is described as non-narrative the approach to genres and styles fragments the work. There are a number of Monceaux-Stirling vignettes. One section comprises numerous shots of people wearing uggboots framed to cut off the person at the knees, keeping identities censored, or avoiding, like television news, the need for permission to shoot. At best the uggboot works like a ‘quirky’ homage to American avant-garde ‘catalogue’ films. This chapter is followed by a romantic comedy, shot on Super 8 for Shoot the Fringe. It tells a story about two balloons meeting in The Garden of Unearthly Delights. While a sweet interpretation of falling in love, its classical narrative form stands out amongst the otherwise experimental use of footage.

“Men and women from all walks of life” are presented to the audience through a combination of archival and borrowed footage. However, unlike, say, Tracey Moffatt’s Love (2003), which liberally takes from Hollywood, Supermarket doesn’t appear to have a sense of direction. Early on there is a sequence of images that runs approximately in this order: an Aboriginal man hunting with a spear, kangaroos, the face of a native American, an eagle, a bull running, snow on branches, time-lapse footage of Uluru, and smiling black children who wave at the camera. Are the artists calling into question the ethics of representation or are they unconsciously contributing to a colonialist perception of Aboriginal people? And what about the generalising association the sequence makes, likening the indigenous peoples of Australia with those of America?

Other sections of Supermarket either rely on audience cinematic memory or assume that the audience doesn’t have any. Scenes from Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), 1970s martial arts and other films are re-cut. While the artists are perhaps concerned with deconstructing authorship the sequences seem to bear no relationship to an overall theme, except to say that everything can be accessed and is all available for consumption.

In keeping with the tradition of experimental filmmaking, Monceaux and Sterling do take risks. Supermarket has been created under the radar. It’s low budget, asynchronous and amorphous. It’s openly in development, always in flux, and this allows the artists plenty of room. At times Supermarket offers images that stand alone as remarkable moments. It is worth noting that the filmmakers come from a visual arts background and their documentary, A Shift in Perceptions (2006), about the experiences of three visually impaired women, has done very well in both national and international film festivals [RT75, p50].

It’s ironic that the makers of Supermarket claim to comment on the emptiness of consumerism and yet present their work in some way as a ‘must have’ consumer event. Perhaps that’s the incongruity of making art about society valuing the superficial while needing to market the work to secure an audience. Or if irony is part of the artists’ intentions why am I am still wondering what I’m missing from the Supermarket experience? If, as Monceaux explains, their objective is “not to sell you anything substantial, just the image of an empty shopping trolley”, then it fulfils its sales pitch, paradoxically leaving the audience with the same old consumerist dilemma.

South Australian Living Artists festival: Supermarket, artists Emma Sterling, Dan Monceaux, camera, editor Emma Sterling, music, sound Dan Monceaux, producers Emma Sterling, Dan Monceaux; Mercury Cinema, Adelaide, Aug 9

RealTime issue #87 Oct-Nov 2008 pg. 35

© Jessica Wallace; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 October 2008
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