: Pictorialised, Constructed, The Act of Seeing With One's Own Eyes
Curated by Mike Stubbs
ACMI Screen Arts Gallery, Melbourne, Australia
Australian Centre for the Moving Image
A review of this exhibit
must deal both with the architecture of the Screen Gallery at the
Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) as well as mention the
articulation of the artworks, some left as gallery "pieces" or "paintings",
against their explicit cultures and politics.
PROOF is an ambitious exhibition (22 international artists) drawing
together many superb, (rarely seen in Australia) new media and
film works across
the critical art spectrum. The main thrust of the exhibit, as its title,
after Stan Brakhage's film, suggests, is to question the legitimacy
of image-making, the "eye", the seen and the unseen within parameters
of the construction of stories, news, comment, and art. There is, however,
additional meaning to this exhibition given the strangely conservative
time that new media is facing in Australia amidst otherwise notoriously
well-funded arts culture - that is, no funding, or little direct funding,
with the eradication of the New Media Arts Board at the top Australia
PROOF succeeds in raising the specter of the political state of new
media art, itself, without overtly intending to do so and the Screen
in the context of PROOF, becomes a space in which one queries the
parameters of critical new media and its function in an exhibition
PROOF "manage" critical
work as opposed to being critical? By this I mean that the Screen Gallery,
the largest space of its kind in the world (1) and a short walk-in off
the street wherein one descends by stair or lift (usually accompanied
by installations) into a darkness punctuated by several dozen illuminated
screens of all sizes and locations, tends to "theme" Screen
viewing and as such, leaves little room for artists to work 'with' the
space. It appears largely predetermined.
Likewise, visitors make the complaint that critical artwork, displayed
in this manner, robs it of its vital contexts and dresses it up for
the *fine art* audience like so many paintings. Despite the *free*
and the "avant-gardism" of the architecture, the ambiance of
ACMI is one, largely, of an "arts management" institution.
Is politically charged work, then, and the possibilities inherent in
that work, damped down for exhibition? Does the Screen Gallery make 'display'
and 'interaction' a function of the institution rather than the art?
This is an architectural question.
It was a disappointment to find such excellent political films and
documentaries as 'BIT Plane' (1997, Bureau of Inverse Technology)
and 'Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y'
(1997, Johann Grimonprez, for example, projected in a noisy, public
installation space where it was difficult to hear. Curiously, the
Critical Art Ensemble's
own video, 'Evidence' (2004), in which Steve Kurtz's brush with
the law is the subject, appeared to have been made as a series
with the expectation that few would sit through its entirety.
PROOF's strength is that it seeks to cross over, though not explicitly
stated as a theme, aesthetically, with networked cultures and the kinds
of socio-critical issues found in the public commons. Australian-made,
'My Woomera Project (What do you fear?)(2004), by Peter Hennessey, which
looks at the Australian "refugee crisis" in the context of
the cultural imagination of Woomera detention centre and its history
as a missile-testing ground, was particularly successful in drawing together
many related ideas. Ross Gibson's, 'Street X-rays' (2004), and New York
filmmaker, Jem Cohen's 3-screen projection, 'Chain Times Three' (2004)
meditated on the truth of pictures to represent what they do and this,
in relation specifically, to place.' Cohen's film essay on "superstructural" utopia/dystopia
of the so-called "global" new economics; the architecture/non
architecture, inhabitation/non-inhabitation of sprawling malls, techparks,
multiplex hotels, spiritless poverty and highway infrastructure creeping
the globe amidst haunting audio commentary, was particularly alluring
and comprehensive. With voiceovers from the lost, walking insane, marginal,
and misbegotten, this new work echoes his most wonderful of all films,
LOST BOOK FOUND (1997). And, finally, net critic and Latina cultural
critic, Coco Fusco's piece 'Dolores 10 by 10' (2004), which examines
the exploitation and surveillance of real Mexican female tech workers,
was a pleasure, finally, to see. However, it is felt that this work deserves
infinitely larger and more visual attention in the gallery setting so
as to force viewers to deal with the truth of the content.
Can, therefore, critical new media and net.art move beyond its own
boundaries if future funding is reliant upon institutional support
artists funds are cut?
PROOF incidentally stimulates thought on these issues, while retaining
its questioning-of-reality theme, but, in truth, the excellence of individual
works is what held the exhibit together. One wonders, even, if there
wasn't too much work and if we could not have gone deeper. All in all
a good show to see before it leaves.
PROOF: catalogue with essays by Mike Stubbs, John Hartley, Steve
Kurtz, and Clair Pentecoste on sale at ACMI.
(1) PROOF program notes, 2005.
fig credits are:
1. Miranda July, 'The Amateurist'
2. Walid Ra'ad, 'the deadweight of a quarrel hangs'
3. Peter Hennessey, thumbnail, 'My Woomera Project'