People often ask us about the decorations we wear on our official Art Life uniforms, festooned as they are with gold braid, highly decorated epaulettes, ceremonial lanyards and dazzling, shiny medals. The special gold eagle with oak leaf cluster on the breast pocket is awarded for more than 25 years fighting the culture wars, the red and blue ribbon with the chocolate coin attached is for attending five Biennales in a row and the yellow and green sash is awarded to original members of the Revolutionary Cultural Underground (Artist Run Initiative Division). You might also notice that we have a few “unofficial” signs of service such as the faded tattoos we have on our right forearms that read SUPER EIGHT ÜBER ALLES over a bleeding red heart and under which you’ll find a much smaller Lest We Forget.
We don’t wear our uniforms (they’re only for ceremonial events) when we go out incognito. One recent undercover excursion was to the D>Art.04 screenings at the 51st Sydney Film Festival. The D>Art screenings were a selection of short videos and films from around Australia divided into programs, Australian Screen and Emerging Australian Screen and another of overseas material called International Screen.
As we hunkered down at the Emerging Australian Screen program, a beer in hand and our baseball caps pulled low over our eyes, we felt solidarity for our fellow image makers. Finally, after all those years of wishing, technology is now within the grasp of even the most impoverished of film and video makers to create work, get it distributed and shown all over the world. And it’s all thanks to SONY and Apple and their DV cameras, Final Cut Pro computer widgets and the trusty DVD burner. All you need is the will to make it happen and it can happen.
Launching the screening was Angelika Mesiti who, along with Brendan Lee, was a co-curator of the program. Mesiti got up and introduced the films and videos by saying that there were many interesting videos and films to be seen and wasn’t it great that we were all there to see them because, she gesticulated at us, this was the voice of the young generation and they had something to say! Yay and applause.
We were going to jump up and punch the air and yell YEAH! THE YOUNG GENERATION when we realised with a sudden and unfathomable wretchedness that were not part of the aforementioned young generation anymore, we are instead sad soldiers of yesteryear who have seen too much. Oh, we thought, we are young at heart – and that’s all that really matters. Bring on the films and videos and let the party commence!
Things got off to a very poor start. John A. Douglas had a work called Case History #2 about a pyromaniac and his need to burn things down. It was rendered in impressionistic tones with text, words like FIRE kept popping up and handheld shots of someone wandering around some burnt out bush. Gary Freitas made an exceptionally ambitious work called Hinged that we must confess made absolutely no sense to us. It was impressionistic too, and the program notes told us that the film:
“is a narrative story based on a man experiencing paranoia as a direct consequence of childhood abuse [and] traces three temporal spaces that emerge from the central character forming his own reality; his present-day physical life, his childhood memories and the psychological path of his own mind.”
Both Case History #2 and Hinged had soundtracks that went whooooooooooorrrrrrrrr with low toned synthesizers and had a free and easy use of editing. If computer editing has meant anything in stylistic terms, it’s the ability to repeat footage again and again and ignore most of the rules when it comes to comprehensible montage. We were only two films in and we felt like doing a runner.
Things picked up considerably with The Empty Show, a straight up documentary about some anarchist artists taking over an abandoned factory in Newcastle and filling the walls with stencils, ready-made sculptures and large photocopy posters. The videomaker Emma Jay shot around people’s faces (so as not to incriminate them we suppose) and documented the whole process from first arrival through the process of creating the art to the “show”, a beer and pretzel night lit by candles. It really looked like fun, even with its anarcho-hippy message attached. In a similar vein was Anne Kay’s Walking The Freeway, a documentation of a performance where Kay walked along the pedestrian-free edges of a dusty freeway somewhere in Southern California. And that was it – just a walk up and then a walk back.
We had got pretty excited by the title of Alice Lang’s video called Replicunt and didn’t know what to expect, but we were let down when the work turned out to be another performance documentation, this time inside a room at the Moorooka Motel. Lang was covered in a hand-made silk bed spread with weird baubles attached that made her look like some sort of sci-fi creature as she rolled around on the floor under the sheet and stuck her leg out every now and then. According to the notes:
“The performance involves a woman sensually interacting with sewn sculptures made from doona covers and satin, items usually associated with the private space of ones bedroom. The Motel room may be viewed as a replica of private space that temporarily serves a public function. Hence, the notions of what is considered a public or private space become complicated in this setting.”
And there we were thinking how cute it was that the artist would loll about in her nightie, the video going backwards for no very good reason and the soundtrack featuring a slowed down song by Air – it was all so artistic. Never mind what it means, just go with the sheer chutzpah. The audience certainly agreed, giving the video a big cheer and round of applause. After 2 minutes we had got the idea, but there was still another 8 minutes to go.