The blind leading

Sasha Grbich experiences some shifts in perception

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A shift in perception

A Shift in Perception presents an interesting contradiction; a film made by sighted people about the experience of blindness. Herein lies the desire to communicate an unknown state, an intention with the potential to fall—not short—but somewhere deliciously far from the mark.

The film is part of Living Dreams, an exhibition growing out of a community cultural development project of the same name, initiated by Michele Fairbairn and the Port Adelaide City Council. As part of the program, artists Dan Monceaux and Emma Sterling developed the film and a series of photographs in response to time spent with 3 women with impaired vision. Initially the project was intended to empower the women through involving them in the creation of touchable sculptural works. It eventuated that while the group was interested in engaging the broader community in their experiences, they were less interested in becoming sculptors. The project was adapted, and at this point the artists volunteered their time to work with the women to create a filmic translation of their memories, dreams and everyday experiences, and thus began the series of conversations that underpin the exhibition.

The film is a visual treat. The fun starts with the use of Super 8 film, which brings a unifying softness and dreamlike quality to the work. Occasionally we look into the faces of the women, but these shots are either taken close up or in silhouette, preventing the women from being objectified; instead we are more often encouraged to take their positions as their words are imagined in film.

The tactility of Super 8 also makes it an appropriate choice; much of the film’s content brings close attention to the work of hands and the sense of touch as the women undertake the daily activities of cooking, sewing and playing the piano. The film negatives are dusty, with the contrast blown out in places, reminding us that this filmmaking was also the work of busy hands. The unpredictability of the medium is embraced, while instability is a constant theme. One woman states that “a thing you have to learn when you lose your sight is not to move things around.” The camera flickers and objects quietly do the stop-frame shuffle while sounds are experienced as dangerous things that might pounce. New techniques for ordering are developed as another woman recounts her technique of singing her way along a bus route, knowing at which chorus to alight.

A Shift in Perception features a soundtrack by Alex Carpenter which is a constant element and almost distinct enough to be considered as an autonomous work. There is interplay between the stories being spoken by the women, the visuals and the soundtrack. The soundtrack is loud; often the women’s voices are drowned out. I find myself closing my eyes to focus intently on their words and smile with the discovery that more than ever I am placed in their position. In the warm darkness I crane to hear the gentle humour of the storyteller as she describes a dream in which she plays piano with Rachmaninoff. I open my eyes to see the playful animated version of the dream recede into the constant tumble of images on screen.

The photographs presented in Living Dreams are not video stills but function like postcards from the documentary. They are not captivating on their own, however when considered with the moving images they become an interesting adjunct to the viewing experience—moments plucked out and held still for our slower contemplation rather than the means of introducing new elements.

Living Dreams is being shown at the Higher Ground venue as part of the SA Living Artist’s Festival (SALA). This is an interesting choice of venue as the exhibition is one of the many shows on in the foyer. When I dropped in, it was competing with Michael Franti over the stereo, loud conversations and coffee. Disappointingly, the projector had stopped working and the full wall projection was subsequently replaced by a television monitor. However, Monceaux says the choice of venue was determined by Higher Ground having disability access, enjoying a huge traffic of interested patrons and being open long hours. This seems—quality viewing conditions pending—an appropriate choice for the outcome of a community project. Higher Ground has itself been steadily developing as an arts community venue and resource from its origins as the 2006 Adelaide Fringe club.

Living Dreams, images Dan Monceaux, Emma Sterling, sound Alex Carpenter, Higher Ground, Aug 4-20.

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg. 50

© Sasha Grbich; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 October 2006