Frazer Bull-Clark: The Palm Trees of Beverly Hills, New South Wales (2017)

Sydney artist Frazer Bull-Clark has made what he calls a moving postcard of Beverly Hills, Hurstville, and beyond that, what reads as a picture of the oddity of Australian suburbia. Beverly Hills is a suburb with a largely unknown history even to Sydney residents. I can find only a few online mentions of its distinctive cocos palms, which one blogger says were planted in the 1940s to exoticise the area with a Californian vibe in tune with its namesake.

As a portrait of a place, there’s a link between this work and the city symphony genre of films, such as Symphony of a Metropolis (Berlin, 1927) and Man with a Movie Camera (Moscow, Kiev and Odessa, 1929). Bull-Clark uses Super 8, a celluloid format long past its heyday, and a favourite of home-movie enthusiasts. The grain and texture of this format is unusual in moving-image art today, which has historically borrowed heavily from television and now from digital sources. Unlike digital video, celluloid film lives in the black moments between physical frames that your eyes flick over as they form the film image; film lives because of undetectable flashes of absence. In choosing Super 8 to capture the palm trees of Beverly Hills and transform that landscape through moving image (notably, through the central visual motif of zooming in and out on individual trees), Bull-Clark brings the near-deceased materials of film history closer to the vernacular of contemporary art. This bridge between the formal concerns and materials of cinema and art is a key space for Almost Doco.

The irony of Bull-Clark’s work is triple-edged. It’s expressed in its materiality—by using a lo-fi film format to suggest the work could have been made in any era. It’s expressed in the music—an upbeat track with a dreamy 1970s American sound by an Australian band. And it’s in the work’s subject—a modest Australian suburb named after a glitzy Los Angeles one, with introduced species of flora to create a visual resemblance. Long live… America? Lauren Carroll Harris

 

Frazer Bull-Clark is a Sydney-based filmmaker and artist. You can see his portrait of a Canberra artist and his suburban environment in Leaving Lost on the National Portrait Gallery Vimeo Channel.

22 May 2017
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