Matthew Berka: Hume’s Disappointment (2016)

A staticky, granulated landscape, foliage blotched into opaque black. A touch of Australian painter Louise Hearman in the lone car, road off kilter, the whirling trees. Ghost tape, mangled documentary. An artefact of colonisation, corrupted by trauma.

Like the weird VHS tape in Japanese horror film The Ring, Matthew Berka’s sinister, melancholy video, responding to a particular place and the colonialist narratives that have shaped it, has the quality of being sentient in itself, born of terror or rage — or shame. It’s a filmic badland, the kind Ross Gibson talks about in Seven Versions of an Australian Badland: a place that’s become a no-go zone, charged with fear for colonising populations due to deliberately concealed histories of atrocity. Uncanny, alien; the sort of place that can swallow you up.

It’s a piece of found footage where fragments of meaning swim to the surface, coming in the form of intercepted wireless signals, of repeated phrases thrown up on the screen, of the soft strains of convict folksong “Botany Bay,” of abstracted landscape resolving Rorschach-like into faces. The male narration (Bill Peach, maybe?) from some 20th century documentary about Hume and Hovell’s 1824 expedition across the Great Dividing Range tries to assert itself over the landscape only to be intercepted by scratchy, hissing grabs of image and sound, the tape fracturing as though besieged by what has been suppressed.

But this is not merely a haunted historic document. Amid the buzz of imagery imprinted on the tape there’s that one car fuzzily driving through the bush, ultimately vanishing into the video’s pale ether. A warning, perhaps, to us onlookers: drive into the badland at your own risk, for here is emptiness. Here is absence. Katerina Sakkas

Matthew Berka is a London-based artist and curator from Melbourne who works with film, video and sound. Through audiovisual assemblage he creates speculative films that explore associations between place and the unknown. You can see more of his works on his website

Matthew Berka, Hume’s Disappointment, Super 8mm transferred to 2.5K video,
colour, b/w, stereo, 11’00

Top image credit: Hume’s Disappointment

25 October 2017