seeking immersion

judith abell encounters robin petterd’s drifters

Robin Petterd, Drifters

Robin Petterd, Drifters

HAVE YOU EVER PLAYED POOH STICKS? IT’S A GAME POOH BEAR INVENTED ONE DAY WHILE HE WAS THINKING OF SOMETHING ELSE (PROBABLY HONEY). ONCE INVENTED, POOH BEAR AND HIS FRIENDS SPENT COUNTLESS HOURS DROPPING STICKS IN A STREAM ON ONE SIDE OF THE BRIDGE AND THEN RUNNING TO THE OTHER TO SEE WHOSE STICK EMERGED FIRST. EACH STICK, ONCE RELEASED, WAS SUBJECT TO THE UNPREDICTABLE, BUT CONTINUOUS, CURRENT OF THE STREAM AND THE GAP CREATED BY THE SPACE UNDER THE BRIDGE WAS CRUCIAL TO THE SUSPENSE OF THE GAME.

It’s not such a long bow to draw together the visual of Pooh and his friends with the intention of Robin Petterd’s latest installation, Drifters. In a small project space, Petterd has mounted three flat screens on the floor, each in slight misalignment with a wall. A form of blackout has been achieved with a dark fabric ceiling and door. Across each of the screens drift amorphous, foggy shapes, objects, flotsam—it’s hard to put a name to this stuff. Silently, the soft shapes move at different speeds, sometimes beginning slowly and accelerating as if affected by rapids. Shape shifts takes place, with the foggy forms dissolving, emerging or changing like curls of smoke. While the flow of objects in water is the most direct visual reference, I’m reminded of particles travelling through blood, perhaps because there is an increased viscosity to this animation. After some time, it’s possible to identify a sense of continuity between the screens, as if the floor space between monitors were like Pooh’s bridge—hiding, then revealing—and capturing this connection demands you shift position.

From Petterd’s artist statement, I understand that the work is intended to be immersive, to duplicate the bodily experience of floating in a flowing stream. With an installation where you must look down at each of the screens and stand for lengthy periods to appreciate the content, I would also suggest that the work is intended to prompt a meditation. An experience of this work could take us to that place or moment where we stare into the stream and allow inner thoughts to be unlocked by the observation of continuous movement.
Robin Petterd, Drifters

Robin Petterd, Drifters

While other factors impacted on my capacity to focus on the work—the bleed of fluorescent light from the gallery entry and an adjacent tenant’s radio noise—I think it was the choices made for the installation of Drifters that foiled the potential for immersion. The animation in itself is quite beautiful and I could have watched it for some time, but the constriction of the small screen and monitor frame seemed to be contrary to the loose flow of the work. A projection of the animation onto the floor that I could walk through, or onto a wall where I could move closer, may have helped to take me somewhere. As much as I wanted to be, unfortunately I was not Pooh, captivated by the vagaries of the stream, chasing between views, nor was I lost in the act of contemplating the flow.

Robin Petterd, Drifters, Inflight Project Space, Hobart, June 2-23

RealTime issue #80 Aug-Sept 2007 pg. 38

© Judith Abell; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 August 2007