Experimenta Vanishing Point
Reviewer Robert Nelson
September 28, 2005
Venues include BlackBox, 100 St Kilda Road; NGV International; VCA Gallery; ACMI, Federation Square
Contemporary art is often seen as inaccessible, especially by people over 40. It seems too hard, too obscure and too intellectually remote. But children find installations and new media intelligible and stimulating.
This year's Experimenta, menacingly subtitled Vanishing Point, is engaging and curious for children.
Directing moves on screen is almost a native language for children. You might experience some trepidation grabbing hold of a doover-lackey that generates 3D pictures of a chick on a page and makes the poor creature run away from a Molotov cocktail. But, for children, even when they don't know what a Molotov cocktail is, the proposition is inviting.
This and other scenarios arise in a witty digital eruption of a story book, called Do Things You Shouldn't Do to Baby Chickens, by Two Heads Productions and Hit Lab NZ.
Another charmingly interactive piece is the Tool's Life by Minim. Domestic tools and instruments are arrayed in an illuminated disc. When you touch any one of them, they come to life: an animal or a mechanical action is projected onto the field. It provides much joy, as the tools become toys.
Some of the works appeal to theatre. In David Macleod and Narinda Reeders' The Shy Picture, a sharp photograph comes to life when your movement is detected. The actors seem scared of you and run around a little house facade, curiously located in the interior of an august institutional building. They're apparently a family of yesteryear; but their behaviour suggests that they're scurrying mice and you're the cat, prowling around their naive abode.
The family seems guilty to be caught posing in the photograph. They could almost be imaginary beings in a psychiatric asylum, but their startled shuffling is more cute than mad. It turns the photograph into a game, where the protagonists don't necessarily have the right to be inside the photo.
Not all pieces rely on the latest technology. Some are simple videos while others are low-tech machines. Wu Chi-Tsung's Wire I is an elegant and beautiful sculpture, a light-projector with a revolving armature that draws a lens to and fro. The travelling lens intercepts a beam of light that shines through a fragment of mesh. The lens thus gathers a view of the weave at different points, as its focus slides over the rough lattice. The result is more than a physics lesson, because the projection rolls in and out of form, with the sharp network of mesh fluxing in and out of focus.
John Howland and Robert McCulloch also use old-fashioned mechanical and optical logic. Their Ucicu involves a board of spinning discs, each one of which has primary colours plus black in wedges. At intervals, the discs spin in groups, like voices joining a choir, and produce a single earth tone, which is the optical mixture of the wedges.
Beside this "painting", a large drum with metal strips revolves gently, providing the timed electrical contacts to drive the motors. Cables between the two indicate the number of motor circuits, which is the same as the number of metal bands on the drum.
Yang Zhenzhong's Let's Puff transports you through the busy streets of Shanghai. As you enter the room, you see the commercialised precinct in staggered rhythms. On the other side of the room, a woman blows towards you, to the point of exhaustion. Her breath doesn't push you forwards in the opposite scene; it pushes Shanghai backwards. So you navigate in reverse by means of her lung-power, strangely gentle and frantic. She verges on hyperventilation but maintains the energy indefinitely. You're almost like a paper bag that she huffs along, the only one in the impeccable hub. It's remarkably seductive as you passively watch the city and let someone else get puffed.
Some of the works are slight, such as Journey to the Moon by William Kentridge.
Given the title of the exhibition, it's surprising so few works handle perspective and architecture. The most elegant is Formless by Leslie Eastman and Natasha Johns-Messenger.
It echoes the forms of the Arts Centre, but plunges the visitor in a deep mist upon entry. With its sense of metaphor and reference, this work provides a euphoric experience for children who hurtle blindly through the fog and emerge damp and laughing.