Big Square Eye

Brisbane Festival
Tamara Alderman, Michelle Cimino, Georgia Grainger, Ahmad Halimi, Bronwyn Julius, Kelly Luo, Zoe McNeany, Carl Menke, Ryan Presley, Eliot Rae, Tyson Saylor, Daniel Shelton, Chloe Trim, Tahlee Walsh, Stephany Ward Producer: Vivian Hogg
The Block QUT and Sixteen Retravision outlets across Queensland
20 July – 3 August 2008

‘Big Square Eye’ deals with big, ambitious themes by young and emerging artists between the ages of fourteen and twenty-one. The average age of participants suggests that issues prevalent in their recent compulsory reading may persist at the forefront of their thoughts. Specifically, the all-seeing surveillance of Big Brother in 1984 and the empathetic words of Atticus Finch detailed in To Kill a Mockingbird. Many of the artists are grappling with their own identities and immediate comprehension of the world; rather than walking in anyone else’s ill-fitting ideologies, they tie their laces together.

In Big Square Eye’s diverse collection of works there exists a preoccupation with the eye’s privileged position in an ordering of the senses. This is exemplified in the work of Carl Menke, Daniel Shelton, Tamara Alderman and the visually resplendent kaleidoscopes of Bronwyn Julius, who proclaims her love of crazy colours and patterns. The project focuses on the nature of perception, inward/outward-focused chaos, and the articulation of ostensible realities.

Perception is explored in private and public psychological spaces: in the inner surveillance of Stephany Ward; the optical mirrors of Georgia Grainger’s portraits; the bouncing Chinese zodiac animals of Kelly Luo; Eliot Rae’s clay animation, in part a fractious response to his lack of videos at the time; and in Michelle Cimino’s work, which specifically focuses on switching perspectives with the pet dog. Or where Ahmad Halimi and Zoe McNeany further blur the distinctions between body and screen environments. Furthermore, the fifteen ‘chapters’ or works, separated by each artist’s slowly blinking eye, were screened within multiple exhibition designs or contexts. At The Block, this included small galleries with collaboratively developed bright pixelated-graphic wallpaper or amidst a tower of monitors and a haze of smoke, reminiscent of a Nam June Paik installation.

Grounded in 1960s and 1970s collective video art practices, the project was also about its processes. The fifteen ‘chapters’ are the resulting products of video workshops initiated in January 2008 and a four-day residency. After which participants were provided with a handy-cam, a modest budget and a month to realise their video works, supported by one of six mentoring media artists: Kate Geck, Andrew Gibbs, Ross Manning, Archie Moore, Alan Nguyen and/or the project’s producer Vivian Hogg. Its outcomes not only delivered the quantities inevitably demanded by state funding, but genuinely facilitated regional community-focused outreach, democratic access to technology and creative expertise, advocacy and budding new media practices.

Commissioned and produced as part of the Brisbane Festival’s typically dense performing arts programme, the Big Square Eye processes and locations invited increased interaction. The project strategically negotiated platforms to develop and exhibit media artworks, particularly in regional centres. Most notably, Hogg is rightly proud to have temporarily provided Mount Isa with its first regional gallery, which was no less than a contemporary new media space. The local Retravision store was the only venue with the equipment required for the technology-based exhibition. In effect, the project addressed geographic, cultural, economic disparities, while challenging the dominant paradigm of group exhibition design.

Clearly empathising with young people as media consumers and creators, the project nurtured the balance between collective and autonomous impulses. Big Square Eye did not retreat from subtle social commentaries or shy away from a gleefully blunt political statement. Works such as Tyson Saylor’s and Tahlee Walsh’s evoke the perhaps quaint belief in the artistic power to communicate and translate human experiences wholeheartedly through the expression of family and social life, Indigenous and cross-cultural identities. As an abrupt and irreverent counterpoint, Ryan Presley created a brief appraisal of former Queensland Premier Beattie’s further disregard for stolen wages. The grotesque clay Beattie sits in a decorated out-house, gobbles, touches every orifice, wipes excrement with and vomits onto dollars pulled from multiple fat piggy-banks filled with the plundered wages.

In addition to exploring a world mediated by screen culture that increasingly shapes the physical and psychological spaces we occupy, some of the works deal directly with the conflicts between reality, dystopia and artifice. Palpable critiques and impossible to inherent ideologies are offset by humour. Chloe Trim’s Harold Arthur Hook, in particular, questions the confusion and omnipresent influence of commercial media environments through a surreal reality television program where the subject shape-shifts into a smoking fuzzy pink bunny.

As a whole, Big Square Eye explored the dichotomies that exist between understanding and affectation to create a synthesis of the optical and a kind of low-tech reverberation: reverb that resembles the pronounced self-sufficient contributor on u-tube. In fact, everything about the project is the epitome of, and almost nostalgic for, what is now considered old and low-tech: the printed invite and its 3D image—the kind that calls for the old red and blue plastic lenses—the use of video and television, rather than plasma and mobile infra-red technologies, not to mention the process’s actual face-to-face communication.

Even the Big Square Eye class photo is further proof of its collective community impulses. Or perhaps it is a kind of Breakfast Club detention where instead of quoting David Bowie before the opening scene, Hogg references an equivalent, Brian Eno; where revenge of the nerds meets the cool kids who, in this case, metamorphose into new savvy media artists exploring the iconic signatures of the low-wired.