The art of in-between
Art + Film exhibition staged at Melbourne’s Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP), curators Natasha Bullock and Brendan Lee explain that they aimed to explore “the pervasiveness of the cinematic medium and the dynamic effect it has had on contemporary art in Australia.” Yet in his catalogue essay Adrian Martin sees the exhibition not only as a response to the ubiquity of the cinematic image, but rather an acknowledgment that cinema can no longer stand alone as a fetishised cultural object. Paraphrasing Raymond Bellour, Martin characterises the contemporary era as a time of “between-images”, comprising “an audio-visual culture based less on the properties of any specific medium in isolation, and more on the passages and exchanges between them.”
Martin’s observation is important. The works in Art + Film don't indulge in the kind of postmodern appropriation of cinematic forms and conventions that characterised the work of artists like Cindy Sherman in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Cinema for these artists has become an increasingly indistinct part of an all-encompassing cultural milieu characterised by the continuous exchange of images between mediums, contexts and technologies. Given the limited confines of the CCP, Art + Film was only ever going to interrogate this cultural terrain in a modest fashion, but the works on display approached the theme in several thought-provoking, concise and often amusing ways.
The first room contained a series of works examining the intersection of cinema and other forms of technology. Brendan Lee’s Shoot Me for example, employed a simple idea to effectively explore the connections between camera technology and military tools of destruction. A series of black lines on a white wall formed a rectangle, reminiscent of a camera viewfinder. A small disk in the middle immediately shifted the impression to a gun-sight. Upon closer inspection, the disk revealed itself to be a tiny circular screen, showing computer-generated images of a pistol discharging a bullet in slow motion.
In the second room, the viewer entered a hushed, darkened space encouraging the contemplative state usually associated with the cinema experience. In one corner was the exhibition’s largest work, SOWA, by David Noonan and Simon Trevaks, an installation comprising a partitioned space, with a large screen along one wall. The other walls were lined with wallpaper. On screen a video loop depicted a young woman sitting in a room lined with the same wallpaper as the viewing space. At first she read a book, but soon stood and moved across the room as if responding to a call. She paused briefly on the edge of the room, before crossing into a forest, where she was led through the trees by a wolf-like creature. Although SOWA’s dream-like imagery was somewhat cliched, the woman’s constantly recurring passage between domestic space and forest dream-scape, as well as mirroring our physical viewing space on screen, intriguingly suggested cinema’s ability to simultaneously evoke both a material “real” and a state of imaginative dreaming.
However, it was a pair of paintings by Lily Hibberd, from a series referencing iconic sci-fi classics like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, that most successfully explored the inter-penetration of cinema and other art forms. The first, Blinded by the Light [see cover], depicts a young woman grimacing as she shields her face with her arm. In Perpetual Dream-State, a woman with her back to us looks towards a white screen. In her arms she holds a young child, who she seems to be half attempting to shield from the screen. The child nervously clutches its mother’s dress. Both these works were hung in darkened spaces, powerfully lit by a spotlight, which periodically faded to darkness. When unlit, the white screen of Perpetual Dream-State appeared dull and yellowed, but as the lights reached full strength, the screen glowed with a burning white intensity that was difficult to look at. Similarly, the young woman in Blinded by the Light became bathed in a white glare that forced the viewer to squint.
The oil and phosphorescent paintings captured the hypnotic illumination of the cinema screen, as well as cinema’s reliance on the ephemeral qualities of light to bring its images to life. More crucially, at the level of form and content, these 2 paintings illustrated the concerns running throughout Art + Film. The workings, conventions and iconography of cinema have penetrated every form of image-making, while the parameters of what we call cinema have been shattered in turn by the pervasiveness of images and image-making technologies across every aspect of our daily lives. Hibberd’s paintings convey the spellbinding allure of the image, as well as its blinding ability to overwhelm us through its sheer pervasiveness in the contemporary world.
Art + Film, Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne, July 24-Aug 24