Missing

Virginia Baxter

Mahalya Middlemist & Justine Cooper, Vivid Fragments

Mahalya Middlemist & Justine Cooper, Vivid Fragments

You enter past a wall of coloured stills–spoon, book, bed, guitar and camera. In a plinth in another part of the room, a CD-ROM invites with its image of a Super 8 viewer–itself containing an image of a railway line leading into a tunnel. On the tracks, a mattress and a book lie abandoned.

Touch the mattress and you’re transported to a recreation of the room once inhabited by Eric Warburton whose disappearance is the focus of Vivid Fragments, the CD-ROM installation created by Mahalya Middlemist in collaboration with Justine Cooper and Joshua Raymond. A young man who lived in and around inner-city Sydney for over a decade, Eric Warburton hung out with squatters and street kids and with artists such as Geoffrey Weary, Milton Read and writer Henry Johnston, many of whom, at some time or other, included Eric in their work. John Conomos, whose essay accompanies the exhibition, recalls his own transitory acquaintance. “Eric’s presence was silent, ghostly, understated. All those twenty odd years ago in a city that was seemingly abundant with creativity and cultural and social experimentation.” Middlemist was also a friend. “When he went missing in 1987,” she remembers, “he was a ‘nobody’, his disappearance barely rating a police search or a mention in the press.” She was amazed at how little of him was left once he’d gone.

We enter a squat that friends remember as Eric’s shifting habitat. At one time, the mattress leans against a wall. In another it’s strung on ropes from the rafters. The meagre possessions now offer themselves to our curiosity. I pick up one of the books Eric liked to have around the place, though he was illiterate. Apparently, he disliked people reading in his presence; they appeared to him to be blankly staring into the pages. Touching these objects triggers fragments of memory manifest in a tiny film, a snatch of music (created by Derek Kreckler) or a spoken recollection from some of the people who knew this strange young man. There’s one precious trace of his voice. Each trajectory takes you back into the room, onto the tracks and into the tunnel.
Mahalya Middlemist & Justine Cooper, Vivid Fragments

Mahalya Middlemist & Justine Cooper, Vivid Fragments

In the early 90s, Mahalya Middlemist began compiling material for a documentary, a biography constructed from non-linear impressions and anecdotes. She started looking for traces of Eric Warburton’s life in photographs and on 16mm and Super 8 film. Then her footage and stills were stolen. Luckily, she’d made copies of some of it and this accounts for the texture of the work she describes as composed from “fragments of fragments.”

The experience of Vivid Fragments lies somewhere between meditation and séance and, like the best new media art, the materials are well suited to their subject matter. Middlemist observes that the people she interviewed all claimed a singular memory of this person but they were frequently conflicting. Here the artists give credence to them all while the non-linear architecture of the technology allows for random associations to connect in the interaction. Vivid Fragments is a deeply personal work that also highlights the power of collective memory and of a seemingly fragile community of transients, friends and casual acquaintances. The coloured photographs on the wall are the mute objects of disappearance. From the carefully rendered still, film and sound fragments, the visitor is invited inside this circle to reflect on a life which was, in Middlemist’s words, “marginal in every way.”

Vivid Fragments, CD-ROM by Mahalya Middlemist and Justine Cooper in collaboration with Joshua Raymond, sound design by Derek Kreckler with additional sound by Glenn Remington, Peloton Gallery, Chippendale, Jan 20-29

RealTime issue #66 April-May 2005 pg. 12

© Virginia Baxter; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 April 2005