invisible empire

next gen video
Metro Arts, Brisbane

Video so pervades contemporary society as to be rendered almost invisible. Today, the omniscient presence of televisual imagery dominates the home, workplace and public domain alike. The unprecedented efficacy with which electronic imagery may now be accessed worldover is blurring the boundaries between the broadcast and the actual, the innocent and the sinister and the for-sale and the free. For these reasons, writes Don Delillo in White Noise , screen culture is at once 'all the more impressive', and yet 'all the more disquieting to deal with '. For years, art video's proximity to television-a medium whose sole, degraded purpose is to promote capitalism- has proven problematic. Many still experience video's utilisation of TV as a blow to its artistic integrity, and its predilection to mesh disparate communications media as its pitfall. The nineteen artists involved in Next Gen Video, however-by positively celebrating video's capacity to traverse the diverse visual forms of today's multimedia space, that is, of art, design, advertising, computer graphics and entertainment media-help debunk this archaic concern. Their work wears its proximity to television on its sleeve, embracing video's unique chameleon capacity to exploit all kinds of visual technology. It is this eclecticism, this punk-rock-DIY -ethos that makes much of the work included in the exhibition so vital. The forty-odd experiments included in Next Gen Video are indicative of contemporary society's obsession with technologies of vision, with how they are used, and the concomitant concern of how we are used by them. According to guest curator Mark Webb, these works imaginatively link the worlds of art, media, technology, pop and counterculture in a way that 'confront(s) the contiguity between commerce and art, education and entertainment, production and consumption, fiction and fact and between the virtual and the actual'. This exhibition, he says, 'signals the increasingly complex role developing between the artist and audience via new technologies, as well as the expanding commodification of the art market'. The works' intimacy, imaginative improvisation and floating-ear-and eye representations of the present-day mediascape, through their sheer scope and powers of synthesis, do indeed shed light on contemporary artistic, social and subcultural visual trends. Their installation turns the gallery into an arcade-style shrine to the moving image, into a site for the unfettered fetishisation of today's wide gamut of visual imagery. Next Gen Video consists of three television sets, each beaming the same spliced-together sequence of short video pieces, albeit a-synchronically. Scattering the sets throughout the gallery helps downplay their physicality against a sense of the videospace. As the soundtracks accompanying the pieces bleed into each other, echoing eerily from one set to another, the gallery is filled with drones and pips, all out of time and out of tune. Like Oedipa Maas in Thomas Pynchon's surrealist satire of 1966, The Crying of Lot 49, once in front of one of the three telemonitors, I find myself paralysed before its gaze, a strange sense of alienation taking hold of me as I am 'stared at by the greenish dead eye of a TV tube'. Viewed collectively, one-after-another, the works included in Next Gen Video mount a direct assault on TV time. Constantly changing images fleet across the screens in a manner analogous to the choppy editing of mainstream television. By appropriating and accelerating the 'microtime' of commercials, this edited sequence of short pieces pushes the implosion of time to its logical conclusion, creating an array of images dazzling enough to complete with TV. Of all the short pieces included in the exhibition, few could surpass the biting political sensibility of Christine Gamer's Holzer-esque 'Polspeak 2 and Polspak 3', a textbased piece with an insidiously clever edge. Simone Hine's beautifully shot, sci-fi 'Stills' is another standout, as is Clare Chippindale's 'Better lnfo', which pictures a number of mute faces nonsensically chewing the cud to a brilliantly disturbing soundtrack. Repeated viewing evinces the generosity of the looped tape's repetition. Unsurprisingly (considering their short duration), many of the pieces offer neither climax nor conclusion, but when viewed repeatedly, prove strangely consuming. Since the 1960s, when the Portapak first became available to consumers, the ubiquitous assimilation of video into contemporary life has proceeded at breakneck speed. For many, video is the quintessential new art. Consequently, there is a tendency to look at it with the slightly patronizing gaze reserved for the forever young. But whereas most of the artists represented in Next Gen Video are young, each displays an advanced visual vocabulary and polished production technique. The newness here is in the event, in the slick assemblage of over forty works from more than a dozen artists. Webb's Next Gen, 'a group of artists .. . not necessarily defined by any particular subculture', invokes a vast variety of aesthetic influences, drawing on everything from film noir eroticism to arcade-style comic violence. Only an exploration sensitive to the diversity of contemporary visual discourse can begin to fix their import.