14 September–18 September 2011
Following our recent screening of short films by Motoharu Jonouchi, this exhibition presents six recent works that resonate with the filmmaker's layered treatment of image and sound
Video works from Helen Benigson, Lulu Li, Jimmy Merris, Brenna Murphy, Emma Sheridan and Richard Sides.
Gewaltopia Trailer is a 1968 film by the Japanese filmmaker Motoharu Jonouchi, which he used to promote a screening of his work. It splices together new footage with scenes from Nosferatu and King Kong as well as material from several of Jonouchi's other films.
The title itself is a collage. Gewaltopia is a compound of German and Greek, a place of violence or revolt; while 'trailer' has a double meaning in Japanese, both a cinematic trailer and a prediction or prophesy. Forty years later the film retains the feel of a premonition and its violence, though rooted in a specific political context, remains evident in Jonouchi's treatment of images. There are no harsh cut-ups or strobing, the editing layers and fades the material together, it is the changes in scale that give the film its disturbed mood; from close shots of human skin to newsreels of atomic tests, the screen is never settled. Clips from disaster movies give his footage of political protests an emotional force but sit queasily against more mundane images of children rushing to be caught on camera and a couple stood outside of their house. The film's soundtrack is there to further draw together the images. Clearly a human voice, but mechanically distorted, it mixes with discordant frequencies that heighten the sense of threat and discomfort of the film.
The six works in this exhibition share with Jonouchi and each other an approach that layers and collages images to make a whole. This can be seamless, as with Emma Sheridan's MANNA SUGAR or left exposed as with Helen Benigson's Why U Shouldn't Date a Soldier. Footage is taken freely from anywhere, and its origin is not hidden. Pedestrian subjects are worked with in exactly the same way as those selected from mass media; parts which build up a larger meaning, a sense and an intensity. Image layering is present on all the works, whether in the full distorting intensity of Jimmy Merris' Portraits of Domestic Bliss (b) or the more measured composition of Richard Side's Gracing the Earth (without ethics). Yet while Jonouchi's film distorts our perceptions of the depth of image, with these six recent films, the use of montages, layering and scaling leaves everything on the surface. The kaleidoscopic geometry of Brenna Murphy's skyeye renders the complex subjects of the original material as mere surface, while the other videos openly mock the absurdity of pictorial illusion and the impossibility of producing a three-dimensional space. With Lulu Li'sChinese Message, the images slip smoothly across the surface, and the highly constructed source footage is used solely for its qualities as a slick, shallow image.
The flatness of the videos has a strange effect on the viewer. We bounce off the screen, rather than being invited in. Mood is constructed and affective but there is no space for lived engagement with the subject matter. Politics, where it appears, is only ever used as image, a note in the construction of a feeling, however compelling and visceral that feeling might be. The techniques of montage and layering are parts subsumed into the whole; appropriation as a political action is itself appropriated as a formal element.
The works are all their own places of violence, internal places and places of distance. The isolation of the films is violent, disconnected from a lived experience. The surface traps the images and captures the viewer, searching for escape in connections that are only ever internal.
Also showing in the Mind:
John Latham, Unedited Material from the Star, 1960, 11'30
Gewaltopia and other places is curated by John Hill
With thanks to all of the artists and Elisa Kay, Julian Ross, Yuri Pattison, Paul Pieroni, Rob Prouse, and Alex Ressel
Gewaltopia Trailer was screened at Flat Time House in July as part of Motoharu Jonouchi - Three Short Films