Primavera: the cinematic city

Gail Priest




Given the inherent difficulties in creating art events in public spaces, it was fantastic to see the MCA’s Primavera (in conjunction with City of Sydney and AMP’s Art & About) take to the street with Re_Squared. Staged at Undercroft, a strange, brutalist cave beneath the Australia Square building in Sydney’s CBD, Re_Squared projected the city back onto itself, concrete onto concrete, reflecting its textures and terrors, visually fetishising everyday urban existence.

Re_Squared is the creation of Cicada (Kirsten Bradley and Nick Ritar) on visuals, with Ben Frost on sound. With a massive surround sound system, Frost lulls us into his audio zone by re-sampling the actual environment. What sounds like the rumbling Martin Place underground turns out to be the opening body-jarring bass frequencies of the piece. The projections are concentrated on a screen with 2 angled pillars used for flanking images. Pillars behind catch more projections and texture the space.

The 1 hour 15 minute audio visual immersion breaks into episodes, or tracks, as in an audio recording. Comparisons with the Koyaanisqatsi model of urban ambience come to mind, though there is something more engaging in this work. Partly it’s the combination of grittiness and meticulous production. A great section takes place in an underground carpark with the camera strapped to the underside of a skateboard. Another loop follows a superkooldude in stupidly wide pants down the road—no destination is ever reached but the rhythm and purposefulness is compelling. Sometimes it’s pure aesthetic absorption: water in a gutter filmed so it looks like an exotic rock pool; a smoke trail meandering from an ashtray; an escalator infinitely ascending like a city artery. An interesting inclusion is a personal narrative with each of the artists filmed in silhouette on split-screen, pacing, preparing…for what? These visuals are manipulated live while the overall score seems predetermined. Frost’s sound is sumptuous, full of beautifully defined dirt and crackle, spliced with orchestral melodic swellings. Only by the end of the piece did I feel the climactic waves becoming a little too comfortable.

Having enough time to access the space in order to truly explore its potential is one of the challenges for artists taking on site-specific work. While the audio and visual elements of Re_Squared are well tended and blended, with the exception of one stark graphic, the flanking columns are only really explored as a surface for a kind of washed out texture. I wondered whether some smaller, more focussed projections might have more power. Also, the surround sound creates a desire for a 360 degree experience making the frontal focus here unsatisfying. That said, I found Re_Squared an engaging audiovisual experience. Hopefully there’ll be further such immersive explorations in response to other spaces in the future.

Re_Squared, Cicada + Frost in association with MCA and City of Sydney/AMP’s Arts & About, Primavera, Undercroft, Australia Square, Sydney Oct 9 & 16. www.cicada.tv

RealTime issue #58 Dec-Jan 2003 pg. 25

© Gail Priest; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 December 2003