SITE EIGHT / Tuesday 7 December to Friday 17 December
Honours graduates from the Media Arts and Sound Art studios present the diversity of their practice through performance, installation, drawing and narrative.
All of the artists represented here are engaged with video as a social media, as a medium of identity, as a medium of sight. These are artists engaged with video as a social force and phenomena. This knowing engagement with video's potential may mean their work does not fit within the mainstream of contemporary video art practice—thank goodness.
I think it is a mistake to characterise Mark Reid's work as yet another study of the aesthetics of decay. My sense is that that this is a contemporary landscape practice engaged with very traditional concerns, chiefly the nature of beauty and the good old-fashioned sublime. Perversely the search for visual pleasure in art is now a marginal practice. As Susan Sontag so clearly articulates, the 'interesting' has supplanted the beautiful in contemporary art1. This can be placed alongside other failures of judgement that have fallen victim to the tyranny of relativism that has left us completely unsure of what pleases us and why. To paraphrase Sontag, interesting has become a catchall that excuses us from knowing our mind. Mark's work has no didactic, no explanation: one is asked simply to judge our experience of the work on our experience of the work. Like capital 'P' photography, this is a practice that continues to engage with observation and the lush naturalism afforded by contemporary imaging technologies. The suffusion of detail and the tension in his work between presence and absence offers us a transcendent experience. As in the best of landscape art we look out to see in.
David DeCarteret has searched the misty borders of his childhood memory and he keeps finding the Brady Bunch in there. As we leave the golden age of television's cultural dominance behind, David's work evokes a certain, perhaps perverse, nostalgia for a time when we watched rapt. The internet is surely overtaking TV as the visual hub of our culture. This change has implications for video art's role as a point of resistance. Indeed video has long since been co-opted by the seduction of the large-scale, big-budget moving image. Witness the scale and bombast of contemporary video at your local ICA. The DIY aesthetic of early video art is largely eclipsed by the industrial power of the biennale business. David's work returns us to our problematic relationship to the screen and once again poses one of video art's central questions, 'what are you looking at?'
Katie Collins' subject matter is clearly at the margins of acceptability and social norms. The last stand of the censor is the erect penis. Her disregard for these norms and the power structure they enforce couldn't be more clear than in the work presented here. Katie's interventions have taken various forms over recent years but usually centre on melodramatic narratives of social identity as they manifest in social media. Here, however, we see anti-drama: Katie will not play her role. The classic power dynamics of hetero-normative sex ask that she be shocked or titillated—and in the ultimate fantasy for these guys a little of both—by these internet flashers that pop up in chat rooms. Katie however is neither, and her simple act of chatting amiably to these guys or eating her cereal and talking to a friend on the phone subverts the entire interaction. The power of the phallus is completely deflated by her Gen Y ennui.
If I may bend the notion just once more, Emma Rochester's work operates on the margins of credulity. Emma's stories challenge our hyper-rationalist age. With great earnestness and overwhelming detail Emma escorts us through peak experiences from the existential to the spiritual. Her stories are told in such a breathless and disarming manner that we are by turns carried along, then sceptical, then re-engaged and ultimately left questioning our own beliefs around matters as diverse as schizophrenia, past lives and prescience. The whole experience is made all the more uncanny by Emma's glamorous and impeccable presentation which seems very show biz but not so new age.
As a teacher there is nothing more gratifying than working with a group of artists as they shift from students to peers. That has been the case with the artists here united as the Media Arts Honours cohort for 2010.
1. An Argument about Beauty: Susan Sontag: Daedalus, Vol. 131, No. 4, On Beauty (Fall, 2002), pp. 21-26 Published by: The MIT Press on behalf of American Academy of Arts & Sciences
The artists would like to acknowledge the support of Dominic Redfern and the RMIT Media Arts staff.