Still travel

Seth Keen

David McDowell, The Passenger

David McDowell, The Passenger

David McDowell, The Passenger

In The Passenger David McDowell explores the contrast between still images and time-based video as a way of demonstrating the traveller’s experience of time. These 2 media forms remain separate in this large installation, in which the artist sets up a tension, yet narrative connection, between motion and stillness.

Large panels hang around the gallery like makeshift walls in a theatre set. Each panel comprises a grid of separate stills. Printed on transparent film stock, the back-lit images resemble projected moving images, only they are motionless moments caught in time. The fragmented surface is deceptive, with each still like a David Hockney photograph, capturing part of a larger image. With different depths of field for each fragment, it takes some time to focus and decide whether the panels in their entirety capture the vista of a passing mountain range, the view through a travelling car windscreen, an aeroplane wing on a tarmac, or sleeping passengers in a transit lounge. It is as if you have lost your focus in that moment of travel through unfamiliar places.

The artist seems to revel in the romance of older forms of apparatus used to capture and display images, alongside an acknowledgement of modern technologies like the domestic handycam. The lighting set-up on the panels recalls the bygone era of slide projection and the family display of slides from overseas trips. The stills, printed in muted tones, have a warm old-fashioned feel, with the light seeping through from behind. Each image looks like an old monochromatic photographic plate that you hold up to the light to see detail. They reminded me of a very old clunky projector that my father had, which required the viewer to slide in each precious glass plate to bring the image to life on the wall. The notion of projection in these static images intersects with the 2 centrally placed video works when you enter the gallery.

The first video work you encounter is screened on a monitor. The second is projected onto a hanging panel constructed from the same materials as the panels of photographs. The video on the monitor has a highly compressed quality, making the image blurry and again hard to focus on. The projection seeps through the hanging panel and can be seen in fragmented parts on the back. Both videos capture a moment of travel; a plane leaves the tarmac on the monitor and a car drives through a tunnel in the projection. These moments of time are slowed down and looped in an endless monotony. There is a connection with the still imagery combined with a sense of dislocation, of the world passing by while you are standing still and going nowhere. I got caught up in the tunnel and found a connection with the low droning audio track that permeated the space of the gallery. The soundscape seems to use treated environmental recordings, which can only occasionally be synched with the moving images. There is an instant where the sound of truck brake exhaust can be linked with truck headlights gliding through the frame. Placing these sounds with the moving images resonates with our attempts to focus on the wider image on the panels and form some kind of connection and escape from the shifting terrain of being a moving passenger.

In The Passenger, David McDowell uses the differences between stasis and movement to play with our perception of time, questioning the progressive narrative of the moving image. The viewer reading the panels pieces together static fragments to create a scene. The viewer watching the moving imagery arrives in the looped narrative and travels only part of the journey, never really going anywhere.

The Passenger, photo and video works David McDowell, sound Somaya Langley; Canberra Contemporary Art Space, March 26-May 1

RealTime issue #61 June-July 2004 pg. 45

© Seth Keen; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 June 2004