Julian Day: Poles (2016)

Julian Day must have a good sense of humour. Poles plays out on the unsuspecting viewer almost like a particularly groanworthy Dad joke. Filmed within Alaska Projects’ cold carpark exhibition space, Poles commences with a medium wide shot of three performers from the Synergy Ensemble: Timothy Constable, Bree van Reyk and Joshua Hill. Their bodies divide the screen into careful thirds, with each working in feverish silence to cut a tall metal pole in half with a tube-cutter tool.

This silence is quickly shattered as each pole is severed, the clatter of metal reverberating through the booming concrete space. The performers immediately move to repeat the procedure on the remaining length of pole, diminishing lengths of metal yielding pitches of higher and higher frequencies until further cutting becomes impractical and the performers freeze. The entire operation takes only 30 seconds, videographer Matthew McGuigan complementing the escalating pitch of falling metal with increasingly intimate close-ups of van Reyk’s hands at work or bits of tumbling metal clattering at Constable’s feet.

There are various pleasing clashes at work here; between the meticulous precision of the concept (what could be more exact than the Golden ratio?) and the cheerful cacophony of the execution; between the formal austerity of the cinematic framing and the gleefully deadpan execution of the performers.

If Poles is a joke, however, its punchline is difficult to perceive, with repeated viewings serving to suggest a darker, more violent reading—in the clinical gaze of the camera, in the blank, soulless gaze of the performers as they work, each incision being followed with a further incision, the frenzy of merciless destruction almost suggests massacre. So, maybe not so funny after all. Oliver Downes

6 June 2017