A waking dream of history

Danni Zuvela

Arterial, TRACK

Arterial, TRACK

Encountering the Brisbane art group Arterial’s TRACK installation is like stepping suddenly into a collective dream. As you approach the alcove, random sounds and images emerge unbidden, mutate, and disappear. Even from a distance, the artwork’s mysteriously illogical idle state flickerings evoke the evanescent imagery of the mind’s ‘dream screen.’ A triumph of non-linearity, this complex fusion of historiography and site-specific art is permeated with a pervasive sense of reverie.

A fabulously industrial interface—chunky metal levers and thick, buttons housed in a metal case and set into the building’s infamous distressed concrete—summons multiple audio and video tracks telling histories that are at once shared but unknown, or at least (until now) undocumented. The console enables the participant—for there are no mere ‘viewers’ here—to navigate some 40 video and several thousand audio tracks investigating the history of the venue. The iconic Brisbane Powerhouse is both matrix and nexus for this ambitious project, which, in contrast to the frequently unmet promises of much new media art, succeeds demonstrably.

Projected diagonally on the wall of the alcove, 3 distinct video tracks dramatise the history of the space, charting its trajectory from pre-European invasion, through its industrial phase, to post-industrial live performance space. These spatio-temporal histories interweave and refer to each other via well-planned associational links, which produce a hoop-like sense of time, a collapsing of past, present and future; the eternally present moment. Sound, ranging from quotes to recovered conversations to music, is embedded in a few video works, permitting virtually endless permutations of sounds and images. Many of the heterogeneous video works, particularly the totemic and songlines pieces, are rich in hypnogogic imagery; the experience of these enhances the sensation of dreaming while awake. The simultaneous, non-linear remembrance of histories is significant: no one narrative is privileged, and history is construed as contingent, deeply interrelated and ongoing.

This ‘drifting’ has sometimes been criticised as insubstantial skimming or browsing, but in TRACK’s case, the hypermediated journey develops an organic, accreted understanding of the space. The effect for the user, of this intentional wandering through vestiges of the Powerhouse, is an art experience that mimics the associative processes of the unconscious and dream ‘logic.’

The product of a 3-year artistic inquiry, TRACK is, in many senses, a community artwork. It converses with other successful new media projects hosted at the Powerhouse including its Arterial precursor Elektrosonic Interference and the recent Temporal Intervals. It draws together the work of numerous video and sound artists, documentary makers, editors, actors, performers and information technology specialists in a complexly interrelated, communally-authored whole that sublates the twin art myths of both the singular creative genius, and the difficulties of reconciling multiple and divergent artistic talents. Most significantly perhaps, TRACK hinges on community involvement.

Though its idle state fascinates—the sudden eruptions of random soundscapes have surprised a few passers by—it is in the interaction with the machine that the artwork is made meaningful. By delivering the documents to the viewer via self-directed use of the console, the contemplation of the artwork is no longer abstract, but a material experience. The result is that, by means of the proficiently computerised interface, the staging of multiple writings is largely determined by the user, who thus acquires a more prominent status. Though in new media practice, this kind of co-authorship is sometimes more interesting than successful., in TRACK, the relations between artists, community and artwork produce a powerful fusion.

The interactivity in successful new media installations such as this one both entails and impels direct action on the part of the user. These actions are both physical—touching, pressing and cranking—and intellectual, with the invitation to make sense of it by self-directed exploration of the various representations and associations of narrative nuclei.

TRACK takes the stories of the place and transforms them into both an aesthetic and pedagogical experience. A tribute (not only, but particularly) to producer/director Therese Nolan Brown’s ability to cohere a project of such scale; to Andrew Kettle’s time-travelling soundscapes; to Chris Davey’s exceptional programming skills, and to the Powerhouse, a protean place in the city’s consciousness, TRACK is a visionary experience.

TRACK permanent installation, Arterial Group, Brisbane Powerhouse, from June 20

RealTime issue #56 Aug-Sept 2003 pg. 23

© Danni Zuvela; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 August 2003