re-casting the apocalypse

jessica wallace listens in on christine collins’ cowboys

Christine Collins, Riding School for the Cowboys of Doom

Christine Collins, Riding School for the Cowboys of Doom

I WALK INTO THE AIRY GALLERY, A SHED REALLY, WITH WHITE WALLS AND A CORRUGATED ROOF. BEFORE I TAKE IN THE SCENE I’M MET WITH THE INDISTINGUISHABLE VOICES OF SEVERAL MEN AND THE FRAGMENTS OF A CLIMAXING FILM SCORE. THEN SOMETHING MORE COHERENT, “HOW ABOUT AN EGG?”

In her sound installation, Riding School for the Cowboys of Doom, Christine Collins uses the length of one wall of CACSA’s Project Space to house her work. Four speakers sit on the floor, at least a metre apart, each attached to necessary equipment: AKI, Kenwood, TEAC, Annexe. CDs spin in portable players. The eclectic sound gear emulates the crossing over of eras apparent in the soundscape of four filmic narratives and their relationship to three large images that hang on the wall.

Precise traces of Albrecht Durer’s Four Riders of the Apocalypse (1498) gallop across the tryptic of white primed canvas. Elegant, in flight, the riders move. Towards what? The end of the world: death, famine, war and plague. Beneath them the speakers call, talk of extermination, innocence, of hunters and betrayal. “I wonder if any of these girls will file a complaint about you.” A cat meows. The sound of ice clinking in a scotch glass is unmistakable. The evocations of Hollywood hero and anti-hero are ripe in this landscape. Even if their voices aren’t heard, the Lone Ranger and Dirty Harry are present. Here, the model of American manhood competes with the vigilante for airtime.

You have to get intimate with the speakers in order to hear the film stories in isolation. I lean close to the soft fabric to decipher a line, just in time to be distracted by a familiar voice. Darth Vader? No. It’s Sean Connery in Zardoz, a futuristic western: “You wore a mask. You lead me on, like a game.” The play of these dialogues across the gallery is akin to hide and seek. “If you’re bad enough you’ll die” is followed by “Yes” then “booby trap”, “Yes” then “Goodnight.” A car revs and swamps the Dadaist dialogue.

The technicalities of the exhibition are visible, incorporated. The electrical cords snake along the floor between the speakers. The slender copper thread that hangs from the canvas edges of each apocalyptic rider joins the wires of the sound gear below. The associations between these elements are anachronistic yet, like Collins’ versions of the four riders, the soundscape keeps you moving towards something—perhaps an unfulfillable desire to identify each film, to complete a narrative. But if the dramatic closure of the classic western resurrects hope and order, Collins fragments the protagonists and removes visual contexts, opening up territories of cinematic and, with the four horseman, cultural memory that have no need for resolutions.

It’s been said that the values of Durer’s riders change with the times. By placing them in a cowboy context Collins has inverted their classic meaning. Rather than being ready for action, the riders are left afloat, intermingling with the tales of other men. Collins’ considered juxtapositions of masculinity are quietly comical. I am left wondering if this school of heroes will in fact bring on the apocalypse. Or are they simply doomed to suffer the repeated sounds of each other’s manly actions? Can they get the girl in the end?

Christine Collins, Riding School for the Cowboys of Doom, sound installation, Project Space, Contemporary Arts Centre of South Australia (CACSA), Adelaide, July 20-Aug 26

RealTime issue #81 Oct-Nov 2007 pg. 55

© Jessica Wallace; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 October 2007