Experimenta Speak To ME

5th international biennale of media art
The Block, QUT Creative Industries Precinct, Brisbane
7 April - 2 May 2014

Experimenta Speak To Me is the 5th edition of the International Biennial of Media Art, which tours Australia nationally every two years. The theme of this exhibition is connectedness, and it invites us to reconsider how technology and social media shape our social interconnectivity. In the exhibition catalogue curator Abigail Moncrieff writes, ‘Artists often begin at the place where language is most limited, identifying its gaps and using the technological vernacular of our time, to unpack and investigate systems of language and cultural meaning’.1 The selected works tease out the discontinuities, failed connections, unspoken meanings and blurred translations inherent to the media vernacular, along with its corresponding vulnerabilities and insecurities. In a time of such deeply pervasive social media interconnectivity, why do we feel more alienated than ever?

On entering the darkened gallery space one is immediately overwhelmed by Shih Chieh Huang’s Slide To Unlock (2012) featuring three suspended octopus-like creations, gyrating and flickering in ghoulish wonder. Huang is fascinated by the peculiar evolutionary adaptations of deep sea creatures: an adaptation known as bioluminescence enables such creatures to emit iridescent light as a means to communicate, attract and detract. Adapting mundane consumer products, such as tupperware, computer cooling fans, cone shaped plastic bags and LED lights, Huang creates animated robotic organisms. Triggered by the viewers presence, the otherworldly creations begin to flash phosphorescent colours as the appendages expand and collapse in whirring and clicking gyrations.

Archie Moore’s Kinelexic Tokyo (2012) was made in homage to Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris (1972), and draws on a key scene, shot in Japan, of futuristic freeways and tunnels. In Moore’s digital video he replicated this visual voyage, but stripped away all visual presence, leaving only Japanese signposts and signals floating on a green surface. Vision becomes no longer navigable or intelligible. In correspondence with Tarkovsky’s film, our minds conjure up ‘presence’ to fill the gaps and voids.

Jess MacNeil’s Sparrowhawk (2012), specially commissioned by Experimenta, is based on a game of tag played by ice skaters. In this instance, the presence of the skaters was digitally removed from the images leaving only the criss-crossing of phantom shadows, corporeal vestiges and the scratching sound of the skates in the ice. The knotted and entwined traces left in the ice, resemble a map of network interconnections. In Sparrowhawk, human touch is emphasised as vulnerability, whenever two skaters touch, their bodily images flash in exposure, indicating that the skater has been captured or tagged. Presence and absence also play a part in the interactive projection work Human Effect (2012) by Yandell Walton. The projection resembles a verdurous leafy laneway, animated with butterflies, but as the viewer encroaches, the foliage and butterflies wither and die. The closeness of human presence is again associated with vulnerability and danger.

Kate Turnbull’s Modern Vanitas (2012) is a hybrid of the pre-cinema phenakistoscope, the modern turntable and an overhead projector. The original phenakistoscope only allowed one user at a time, however Turnbull’s remake allows multiple users to share and interact. The work delights with the fascination of spinning transparent disks and lights in a highly modernist and appealing aesthetic. However, the ‘vanitas’ of the title suggests that something more macabre lurks behind our attraction to the shiny spinning disks of meaningless distraction.

In Grant Stevens, If Things Were Different (2009) we see a couple, sitting on opposite sides of a couch, in the midst of a break-up. Stevens adopts many of the well worn clichés repeated on daytime soap operas—the averted gazes, the protracted silences, the sustained tension without resolution. ‘Are we going to have this conversation, again?’ one of the pair asks. Stevens suggests that we repeat these mediated tropes in our own social interactions. As the dialogue progresses, a disembodied slippage starts to occur, as the couple begin mouthing each others words. Their designer lifestyle furnishings suggest expectations of trust and commitment that have become unattainable, or at least were not included in the package.

We see the cultural machinery of social media shaping and infiltrating our lives more and more. ‘Everyone goes through the necessary motions at the conveyor belt…’: the expression is sourced from the cultural critic and film theorist Siegfried Kracauer’s essay Mass Ornament (1927), which is also the title of Natalie Bookchin’s video installation. Bookchin’s Mass Ornament (2009) takes hundreds of YouTube videos and synchronises them, side by side, to parade across the screen. Hundreds of young dancers—skilled, amateur, erotic and embarrassed—in a multitude of bedrooms and lounge rooms, from origins worldwide, are all perversely imitating one another. Kracauer argues that the geometrical synchronicity and mechanisation of dance patterns mirror the factory assembly line in an unsettling way.

Scenocosme are the French artist duo of Grégory Lasserre and Anaïs met den Ancxt, whose work Lights Contacts (2010) consists of a shiny metal ball situated on top of a plinth. Interaction with the artwork necessitates touching the metal ball while also touching or stroking another person’s skin. It is curious to watch the awkwardness of strangers inviting participants to see what happens. The electrostatic potentials are transformed into sound and visual stimulus, transforming participants bodily connectivity into a musical instrument.

As an adjunct to the exhibition, Philip Brophy performed Kissed (2008) at The Edge Auditorium of the State Library of Queensland. Brophy’s Kissed is a live score to Andy Warhol’s silent film Kiss (1964), using synthesizer and processed percussion in quadraphonic sound. The original Warhol film features twelve takes of couples kissing up close. Absent of rhythmic cues, the prolonged silence of the original film accentuates the forced intimacy, awkwardness and boredom. Brophy’s soundtrack intentionally decontexualises and breaks with the original film by layering over it lip smacking, puckering beats and slithers of jazzy palpitations. In contrast to the more robust drones that underpin John Cale’s 1997 version, Eat/Kiss, Brophy almost makes Warhol’s ‘marionettes of meat’ dance.

Katie Turnbull, Modern Vanitas, 2012. Photograph Mark Ashkanasy. RMIT Gallery, 2012. Image courtesy the artist and Experimenta.

Shih Chieh Huang, Slide to unlock, 2012. Image courtesy the artist and Experimenta.

Installation view of Experimenta Speak to Me, featuring left to right: Yandell Walton, Human Effect, 2012, Interactive projection installation. Image courtesy and © the artist, Shih Chieh Huang, Slide to unlock, 2012 and Sylvie Blocher, 10 Minutes of Freedom 2, 2010. HD video installation, sound 41’00”. Image courtesy and © the artist.

Scenocosme, Lights Contacts, 2010. Image courtesy the artist and Experimenta.

notes: 

1. Abigail Moncrieff, ‘Speak To Me’, Experimenta Speak To Me 5th International Biennial of Media Art, ex. cat., Experimenta Media Arts, Melbourne, 2012, p.7.