Beyond the new media comfort zone

Briony Lee Downes

Points of Entry sets out to challenge the well-worn expectations of interactive art and upend ideas about freedom of choice and technology. Co-curated by Nina Czegledy, Deborah Lawler-Dormer and Robin Petterd, the exhibition resulted from a groundbreaking collaboration between Canada, New Zealand and Australia. Tightly woven, Points of Entry rewards the curious with an engaging selection of digital and new media work. Viewers are not only lured into “touching” the work, but so subtly enticed that they hardly know they’ve been seduced until it’s too late. A lesson in exploring the periphery, and the ideological centre of space, place and object, Points of Entry coaxes us to step beyond our aesthetically distant comfort zone to see and experience more.

Presented simultaneously in 2 galleries, much of the work is object based; few rely on the performative complexities of intricate technological gadgetry. Three dimensional sculptures, screen projections and sound works successfully combine with hauntingly elegant moving images and suggestive conceptual installations.

True to the show’s title, which alludes to the numerous possibilities of interaction between the viewer and the work, each piece in Points of Entry prompts a different instance of exchange: listening, touching, sitting, seeing, imagining.

Nestled into rectangular cavities above the hip-height wooden box that is Canadians Simone Jones and Hope Thompson’s Studies in Compulsive Movement: Anxiety Box No 1 are 2 small flipbooks featuring sketches of a human figure laboriously getting on and off a chair. Removing these books sets off the suspenseful jerks and high-pitched lilts of a Hitchcock-style soundtrack, occasionally broken by a woman fearfully whining, “something’s wrong.” An accessible work that requires your full physical involvement to come alive, Anxiety Box pushes the boundaries of the artwork’s uneasy intimate space.

Contrasting in size to the compact Anxiety Box, Yuk King Tan’s (NZ) mixed media work, The New Siteseer, contains 3 elements, each representing a journey. The launch, flight and descent of 100 camera-mounted rockets, erotically charged in cornflower blue and playfully jaunty in their expectation of flight, is documented in video projection, sculpture and photography. Delicate in their hues and random composition, the photographs exude a quiet grace compared to the sharp force of the determined rockets fizzing into the sky on screen. A work that captures the spirit of aesthetic play and the scientific and conceptual significance of the rocket as object and explorative machine, The New Siteseer celebrates the rapturous act of flight and the beauty of imminent descent.

In their empty solidarity, 2 marble-like benches welcome the viewer to sit and observe Canadian Jon Baturin’s arresting installation, Doukhoubor Communal Bath, Age 5. Tied with thin black rope to the spindly spokes of an oversized umbrella are several images of naked men, photographed from the neck down. On the reverse, their faces, wide-eyed and staring, screwed up in anguish or serenely soft in repose, look larger than life. Interspersed between these are pictures of plastinated human flesh, dissected and dismembered, exposing the membranes of amputated limbs, cross-sectioned torsos and skinless genitals. Converging in the centre of the umbrella, the black ropes stretch to the floor to cage a teddy bear rotating on a small platform: a poignant symbol of innocence incarcerated. The voyeurism of watching the images gently turn from face to naked body to flesh ripped open, subtly pulls the viewer in to feel more like a participant; vulnerable, exposed and watched.

Intriguingly, Points of Entry removes itself from the digitally abstract to merge new media with a heavily conceptual ideal. Currently touring Australia, the exhibition poses the question: how comfortable are we in our own space, and is it really ours?

Points of Entry, CAST, Plimsoll Gallery, Hobart, June 6-29;

Artspace, Sydney, July 18-August 14; other venues TBA.

RealTime issue #56 Aug-Sept 2003 pg. 28

© Briony Lee Downes; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 August 2003