Liam O’Brien: Early April (2017)

Chantal Akerman said that “there is no good documentary without a bit of fiction, and vice versa.” Of the four videos in this Almost Doco collection, Liam O’Brien’s has most in common with cinema in that it’s a sad comedy set in a fictive reality. Early April engages with film laterally, though, in that its narrative has no resolution.

A nameless, emasculated blow-up doll wakes and plods his way through a go-nowhere day, which will be the same as every one that follows. There is a total absence of other people, other lives going about other work. There’s a desire for social interactions: he tries and fails to make a Skype call, his iPhone lockscreen shows a couple kissing and he watches PornHub in bed. Though our protagonist is just a doll, O’Brien’s shaky camerawork and repeated close-ups imbue him with a surprising amount of emotion: he’s thoughtful, he’s concerned, he’s anxious, he’s let down, his brow wrinkles with sensitivity. He’s a real character.

This conflation of people with objects and objects with people takes on a deeper sense of alienation when you consider that the plastic protagonist is a surrogate for the artist, who is currently in residence in New York City. This is his bedroom, his commute, his studio. The Sterling Ruby poster on the wall came with the sublet. The plastic man is not just imaginable as an actual human, he’s modelled on an actual human.

Plentiful philosophical references abound should you care to scour the books on this plastic man’s desk and note the YouTubes he watches to get himself to sleep. You might see Early April as a droll meditation on the diminished status of artists today, a cartoon portrait of failed masculinity, or a quasi-fictional demonstration of Nihilist thought. But I read it as being about the reasons for its own emptiness: as a way of saying that life goes on. Lauren Carroll Harris

 

You can read about visual artist Liam O’Brien and see excerpts from his video and other works on his website http://www.liamobrien.com.au.

22 May 2017
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