DVD: the innovator, interviewed: adam elliot

Contemporary Arts Media has released into its burgeoning catalogues 14 DVDs from Kostas Metaxas’ Is This Art series, most with two interviews per disk and mostly pairing artists from the same or similar fields. In a country poor at recording and accessibly archiving interviews with its artists, Is This Art? hopefully represents a point of transition to a richer future and, notably, one from outside the ABC, the most persistent of documenters (a vast treasure trove of material warrants digital release in the iPod era).

The focus is on innovators, mostly Australian, for example choreographers Lucy Guerin and Gideon Obarzanek, and a range of artists working with new technologies: Stelarc, Drew Berry, Mari Velonaki, Martin Mrongovius, Craig Walsh, Justine Cooper, Josephine Starrs and Leon Cmielewski. From overseas there are Ulf Langhenrich of Granular Synthesis, media artist Shilpa Gupta, photomedia artist Wu-Chi-Tsung, Dutch ‘music machine makers’ Peter Bosch and Simone Simons, and, recently repatriated to the UK, Mike Stubbs and Gina Czarnecki.

I sampled the double bill featuring animator Adam Elliot and media artist Ian Haig. The Elliot interview is nicely constructed, alternating between the animator being interviewed at a desk (his creations in glass cases behind him) and excerpts from his Academy Award-winning Harvie Krumpet and an earlier film. The segueing between the animator’s reflections on his life and the excerpts effectively suggests autobiographical connections between the man and his work—“a lot of Harvie’s idiosyncrasies are mine.” Elliot is disarmingingly frank about his work (“writing is the cheapest part of the process”, “there’s not a lot of animation…there’s a lot of winking and blinking”, “some animators do too much…every hair moves…when just a blink will do”) and his beginnings (hand painting t-shirts for five years; last minute acceptance into the VCA Animation course while contemplating a career in picture framing).

Elliot likes playing God (he couldn’t do that with actors, he says), he’s “a bit of a luddite”, and he loves being able to still see his finger prints on the clay characters in his films. There’s also a glimpse of his studio and, in the profile shots, Elliot’s storyboard drawings scroll across the screen. The interview is relaxed, Elliot is eloquent, and the interplay of elements gives the viewer a substantial sense of the man and his work, all in 16 minutes.

The Ian Haig interview offers a strong visual impression of the artist’s satirical, sometimes scatological creations as well as his motivation (“popular culture is more radical than art”, “art should screw with people’s minds”, and a view that high art simply gives certain people what they want), though the two strands are not brought together as effectively as in the Elliot interview. There’s simply not enough talk about the actual works and the interviewer doesn’t probe past Haig’s rhetoric. Nonetheless, it’s vital for scholars and students to be able to see this work and to get some sense of the artist.

Is This Art? offers brisk accounts of careers, ideas and works from significant innovators, often well outside the mainstream; the brevity of the interviews makes them ideal for classroom and accessible study use. KG

Is This Art?, exero hdtv productions 2007, distributed through Contemporary Arts Media, www.contemporaryartsmedia.com.au

RealTime issue #80 Aug-Sept 2007 pg. 35

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 August 2007