Primavera's new media magic

Kirsten Krauth

Light bulbs, goldfish, skateboards and Starbucks. Welcome to the latest in new media at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Primavera is currently showcasing the work of Australian artists under the age of 35 and it’s a volatile blend. From Daniel Crooks’ angsty jagged/fluid explorations of inner city journeys to Indigenous artist Jonathan Jones’ austere beauty of bulbs and cords, the exhibition aims to explore what it is that defines new media with its intercutting of sound, performance, video art, computer aesthetics and everyday objects.

Tracking time

Entering Alex Davies’ Filter Feeder I am immediately drawn past the projections to the centre of the room. A fishbowl, goldfish swimming happily, children peering in. Gradually the large wall to ceiling projections envelope—hues of yellows and blacks, vertical and horizontal holds—with their strange static/movement and the occasional appearance of a ghostly fish. It soon becomes apparent that it is not my movements that are triggering the changes in the projections—but the fish’s. The sound, too, is what I imagine they can hear, water slapping against the sides, muffled and hollowed-out voices, contained, like those at a shopping mall or an airport. The goldfish bowl becomes a jewel, the light of the projections refracted in beams of intense green light. And as I listen, I am being absorbed by this strange waterworld where the ceilings and floors glide across shiny surfaces. Am I becoming a character in Richard Flanagan’s Gould’s Book of Fish, suddenly desperately up against the other side of the glass?

Daniel Crooks knocks me out with his Time Slice interpretations of moving through Melbourne. Six monitors line up and his video art fluidly moves across the screens. Each segment—train, tram, lift, a pan around a market—uses different computer effects. A view from a train is jagged, relaying how your eye fixes on points, playing catch up in a journey. Looking into the eyes of other people as they look out train windows is spooky, freakish, as if intruding on something private. Layers of bridges and tracks overlap and unfold. A lift and its occupants become amorphous, Baconesque blobs, floating in and out, the lift door like the zip in a pair of Levis, opening and closing to accommodate the 9-to-5 set. It’s a den of pleasure, occasionally grotesque, often erotic, as people glide through. A tram image infinitely reproduced becomes a tidal wave of transformations, a new iconic landscape. I can’t wait to see this work again. Coming soon to a television screen near you when the advertisers discover it.

Adam Donovan’s Heterodyning Cage and Stephen Honegger and Anthony Hunt’s collaborative installation Container both use a computer game aesthetic to implicate the viewer with varied results. Decked out in 3D glasses and moving through Donovan’s industrial space alone I just couldn’t tell whether the work was responding to me as it should. Teenagers ahead of me were having a great time, the boy running around, the girl in the wings laughing and screaming, “What if you jump!” I wander, tracked by cameras that change the perspective of the projected land/soundscape—a warehouse environment touched by lightly falling snow. A character on the screen, a dark shadow of a man’s head, gauges my behaviour, constantly looking over his shoulder. Am I getting him or is he getting me? We both leave feeling paranoid. In Container a large shipping container is converted to a gaming room where I become the central character, breaking into the MCA. Roaming its empty corridors, grabbing a gun, suddenly I'm implicated in murder. There’s blood on the walls. Who have I killed? The curator? The artist? There’s a dab of humour and irony here but no tension. This work is the beginning of something good but it needs more development. It would have been better with the door closed.

City ballet

I love and fear the rooms behind the black curtain, crossing the threshold of digital comfort. With anticipation I pull the curtain across, always hesitant before walking in. Others take an even safer route, gauging from the door whether it’s safe before moving on. I love that moment as your eyes adjust, sensing others in the room, shifting slowly to a seat.

Mari Velonaki’s Embracement captures the shiftiness of a particular relationship—the older and younger woman. A collaboration with the Australian Centre for Field Robotics at the University of Sydney, performers, Melpo Papadopoulos and Leah Grycewicz stand a concentrated distance apart on a crystal screen, their reverse images projected onto other walls. The younger woman lunges forward to hug the older woman. She repeatedly hugs her but each movement is subtly different. Is it a bear hug given to a mother or a stranglehold meted out to a lover? The line between affection and violence is crisscrossed, the lunge betraying anger/fear/longing, tender tension, a showdown and challenge that all relationships must negotiate.

Another man plays out every possible nuance of a relationship in Shaun Gladwell’s large video projection taken from the series Kickflipping Flaneur. Set against a mural at Bondi beach, a skater performs an extraordinary duet with his board. Delicate turns, using all the edges, flipping over to caress the wheels, he falls. Sometimes he’s not there. It’s slow-mo ballet, steady, repetitive and refined, rather than the full tilt of frenzied macho-dom usually seen in documentaries on skate culture. At times his shadow becomes part of the dance too and his board is end-to-end vertical while he teeters on his toes—the new en pointe. Jonathan Jones’ work is about connections and extensions too. A wall of light bulbs hangs off extension cords, the lights switching on and off, triggered by your footsteps. Almost imperceptible when it first happens, a gentle flickering. The heights of the bulbs vary, based on Bondi’s night-lights. Jones’ work is comforting, like the flick of a lamp switch in your home at the end of a hard day; I feel bathed in light as the bulbs give off fireside warmth. And talk about connections. How many light bulb associations can you think of? I count them as I walk its length. It’s a work I would like to take home.

The most entertaining exhibit is The Kingpins’ performative video installation Welcome to the Jingle. Four drag kings (Emma Price, Katie Price, Techa Noble and Angelica Mesiti) take on the ultimate challenge, to be the ugliest males they can imagine. These pimply blond mustachioed fitness fanatics with a Kath and Kim aesthetic reclaim the night, jogging in green satin sweatshirts in synch to the beats of Sydney’s streets. But they’re not pretty faces (as Kath would say); they manage to incorporate the political into their silliness. Their marathon running always leads them to Starbucks cafes, a stylised protest against the blandness of global conglomerates that specialise in coffee but can’t make it. Reminiscent of the genius of the Fat Boy Slim video clip Praise You where Spike Jonze leads a wonderfully incompetent jazz ballet dance troupe in the middle of a cinema queue, it’s priceless watching coffee slurping customers trying to maintain that look of someone desperately trying not to look, perfected by commuters all over the world so they don’t have to engage with life’s unexpected and threatening moments. With a glam rock/wrestling group as their coach shouting out variations of Gallipoli’s “what are your legs” dialogue and a hyper version of Jean-Michel Jarre’s accompanying soundtrack, The Kingpins put into performance form what we have all feared: a middle-aged Mark Lee, still trying to do the same moves on his ‘steel springs’, not recognising that he is past it. As I walk past the Starbucks in Circular Quay I see their blond ghosts moving in perfect time.

In Primavera, all the artists are immersed in the city landscape, illuminating it in new ways. Funny, challenging, sweet and mocking, the exhibition leads the way to a bright future for Australian new media. It's free so take a chance on it.

Primavera will also feature Re-Squared by Kirsten Bradley and Nick Ritar, a series of audiovisual performances, Australia Square, Sydney, Oct 9 & 16, 8-9:15pm

'Primavera 2003, curated by Julianne Pierce, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, Sept 17-Nov 30

RealTime issue #57 Oct-Nov 2003 pg. 21

© Kirsten Krauth; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 October 2003
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