artist by megan backhouse
When Brendan Lee released his first compilation of video art in 2002 he wanted to capture the medium as it started to boom. He squeezed five works (most dating from a couple of years earlier) onto a 30-minute tape, but from the outset he knew five tapes would follow. He'd even chosen each of the artists he wanted to represent in the Projekt catalogue, though they only got their six-minute slot once the chosen work had been exhibited in a gallery space. “Nothing was made specifically for Projekt,” Lee says. “It was an archive of what was already out there, it was a matter of trying to capture the essence of the times.” Lee, himself a video artist (though he didn't include himself in Projekt), says the compilation was borne from a passion for knowledge about what other artists were making in his own medium. “It's very hard to work out what a video artist is trying to say from photographs in a magazine,” he says. It was while interviewing video artists for the Channel 31 art program Public Hangings that Lee embarked on Projekt. He says that putting the catalogue together, not only allowed him to see a lot more art than that exhibited at any one moment in time, but also influenced his own video works. “Speaking to the artists I got a feeling about where the work was coming from, the aspirations and inspirations,” he says. “And my work responds to other peoples' work." Though not always favorably. His latest video Takin’ a Shot takes a swipe at Melbourne's contemporary art scene, and, like his work, Shootin’ from the Hip, deals with film culture. Both videos have a single three-andhalf minute sequence that is repeated with only minor differences over about an hour. “I am not keen on film loops, with a pre-conceived start and end,” he says. “I like to leave it open.” While Takin' a Shot will be shown at the Institute of Modern Art in Brisbane in April, Shootin' from the Hip will be at the Perth Insitute for Contemporary Art in August.
The Projekt catalogue will also tour Australia this year and next, with projections planned for gallery spaces in Perth, Darwin, Adelaide, Hobart and Canberra. The final installment of Projekt was released last December. It was at this point – as Lee puts it – video was becoming mainstream. Most of the artists such as TV Moore, Guy Benfield, Shaun Gladwell, Monika Tichacek are now represented by commercial galleries, with many of them also regular fixtures on the public-gallery circuit. Lee says the catalogue documented a specific time in video art, a point where artists were particularly comfortable with the medium, especially in comparison with “video booms” of the past. “Every 10 or 15 years the technology comes up and makes it accessible for new artists to work in the medium,” Lee says. “It was booming in the '70s, going crazy in the early '80s and then again around 2000 with digital technology.” “Around 2000, it showed a level of sophistication that went beyond the technology itself, it wasn't people just grabbing a camera and filming anything. They had actually considered every aspect of the work before they made it,” he says. Nothing was censored for Projekt and the subject matter can often have lurid leanings – cats are cooked and eaten (Kathy Bossinakis), dates are secretly recorded (Robin Hely), the violence verges on the extreme (Stephen Honegger & Anthony Hunt, Aylsa McHugh, among others). But by the end of the decade, Lee says he will be back for more. He is planning to put together another six-part catalogue of video art. “By then it will be another generation doing it.”