Who wins: video or new media art?

Keith Gallasch

The Anne Landa Exhibition + Award is the first in a biennial series of exhibitions, each with an acquisitive award of $25,000. It’s also the first significant award in Australia for moving image and new media work. The award was established in honour of Anne Landa, a Trustee of the Art Gallery of New South Wales who died in 2002. As Anna Munster’s talk at the January 24 meeting in Sydney held to discuss the Australia Council’s axing of the New Media Arts Board suggested, the juxtaposition of the arrival of this major new media art award and the demise of the board that has had nurtured such work was deeply ironic.

Craig Walsh’s wonderfully witty DVD projection, Contested space, is adroitly installed into the architecture of the main entrance of the gallery (see cover) suggesting an institution infested with giant cockroaches on a horror film scale along with more metaphysical speculations about art and nature. The pleasure of unexpected transformation and the revelations afforded by scale are also to be had in Peter Hennessey’s giant 1:1 plywood recreation of Voyager 2, My Voyager, amusingly installed in the foyer below Walsh’s swarming insects.

In the gallery space dedicated to the Landa exhibition, the first encounter is with a vertical wall screen full of more cockroaches, providing a gruesome level of intimate inspection on the way to Van Sowerwine’s child-scale doll’s house for Play with me. This installation looks quaint until you squeeze in and activate the animation of a little girl, triggering terrible acts of self-mutilation which no amount of panicky mousing can halt. Fellow gallery-goers peer accusingly at you through the doll’s house windows and you move quickly on to Shaun Gladwell’s big-screen Woolloomooloo (night), a contemplative, slightly slo-mo’d video of a Capoeira practitioner performing in a petrol station, as if that’s what you do in the everyday Gladwell world.

David Rosetsky’s Untouchable features 3 video monitors elegantly integrated into a stylish piece of display furniture on which 3 domestic duo scenarios are played out in 3 different rooms, sometimes sharing the same dialogue and, all at once and whimsically, a dance. The pleasures of these short film narratives (essentially monologues, but whose and about whom?), the video clip verve, the challenge of adding up the 3 experiences into one and choosing where to direct your gaze make for an entertaining engagement in the art of interpretation, sharply heightening the sense of one’s subjectivity.

Guy Benfield’s Exploring pain (electric wheelchair boogaloo), is a large-scale action painting work which entails video documentation of its creation onsite in the gallery. It’s a work that afficionados of the form regard as their Landa winner. Peter Hennessey’s Golden record (Fitzroy remix), a companion piece for My Voyager, is a video animation of the craft eerily breaking up in outer space while bland messages from Australians of various cultural backgrounds are broadcast to whoever might be listening out there. The Rosetsky, Walsh and Van Sowerwine works looked like the chief contenders for the award with Rosetsky taking out the big prize.

The award and the exhibition raised a few queries among video and new media art watchers. With only one work that could be called interactive and given the absence of other new media art forms, was the show really about new media art? Why wasn’t there a new media art curator/artist among the selectors? Certainly as an illustration of the current varieties of ‘moving image’ art facilitated by new technologies, it succeeded, and that’s part of the new media adventure, and Rosetsky is widely regarded as an innovator in the new media art scene. It is, however, to be hoped that future selections will move further into the growing new media terrain.

Anne Landa Award + Exhibition, selectors Wayne Tunnicliffe, Juliana Engeberg, Edmund Capon; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Dec 2, 2004-Jan 23, 2005

RealTime issue #65 Feb-March 2005 pg. 30-

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 February 2005