ETERNAL BEAUTIFUL NOW CURATED BY TANIA DOROPOULOS
eternal beautiful now comprises three artists, representing photography, film and video – media linearity, or so it seems. More fittingly, this collective presents a temporal contradiction. While straight forward cinematic narrative, photographic still lifes and documentary-style video suggest an uncomplicated survey of new time-based art, the works compel the viewer to re-think this preliminary interpretation. Perhaps the exhibition’s title speaks most appropriately about its intention, and about the works as a collective whole – trapping1 the viewer in a dreamlike state, where the very experience of the moment engenders the sense that the feeling can last forever.
At the outset, the aim of the exhibition was to involve three artists, to engage in an intimate conversation through and via their work, and for the works to converse within the gallery space.
Rather than organise the project based on a thematic, the exhibition was to establish a dialogue by linking several artists whose work I had come to investigate through my own research and who engaged with the idea that representation of the world takes precedence over the world we experience in reality. I wished to consider the individual’s unique interpretation of the world and the idea of fiction in reality and reality in fiction. In essence, artists working with altered perceptions of reality and time. In particular, I was interested in the concept of a frozen moment, a suspended present, and the concept of mirage as metaphor for a world that vanishes eternally.
My desire was to create a temporary world for an audience to inhabit, as well as create another world, or new context, for the three artists – the works also functioning to ’activate’ one another. An experiment, a Possible World2 – that could trap or suspend the viewer in a fantasy space. The space could create ‘an impression of the eternal present, the sense that what is happening, will always be happening’.3
These three discrete projects – as a collective – seemed linked through the idea of portraiture and, particularly, the traditional notion that portraiture renders its subjects immortal. Albrecht Dürer, for example, devoted his life to painting his image as Christ – as in the famous self-portrait of 1500.
Given this premise, might the portrait be seen to exist outside real time, in the same way that the concept of the eternal present exists outside real time? In choosing portraits, these artists, in essence, choose to create reverent beings of their subjects; the subjects become god-like. The audience too is suspended, existing outside real time and, in suspending their concept of time (a suspension of disbelief) they also become god-like, enabling the images to achieve immortality with their gaze.
delighting the senses or mind
There is nothing linear in Daniel Crooks’s Imaginary Objects. As soon as their puzzle is solved, the solution slips away – like an expression on the ‘tip of your tongue’ that disappears as the mouth opens to make a sound, or, returning to the concept of a mirage, the oasis that disappears as soon as it is reached. These imaginary objects exist only as photographs, like holograms, trapped on paper that makes time touchable. They are video loops in two-dimensions coming into existence when activated by the viewer’s gaze. Constructed via slices of time, for each image represented on paper, there exists a possible 575 additional versions. 576 Possible Worlds.
Crooks’s imaginary objects have life. Although they begin with the tradition of still life they end as portraits. In capturing the motion of static objects and suspending them on a photographic surface, Crooks’s process gives ‘ being’ to the inanimate and bestows them with a soul, a past and future.
at the present moment
In another version of stillness that renders motion, James Newitt’s two-channel video portrait utilises a stationary camera to observe its subjects in a documentary-style linear narrative. Unstable Ground began with Newitt’s investigation of the shifting purpose of a building in Hobart – bequeathed to the Tasmanian Government in 1940. The former Peacock family mansion became a home dedicated to the care of people with incurable illness.
After spending many months at the house – involving himself in and instigating countless social activities for the residents of the centre – Newitt chose to depict the lives of two individuals and create a parallel existence for them through the choreography of a two - channel video.
Moving through public, private and fictional spaces, Newitt places his protagonists in multiple contexts, confusing reality with fiction and vice versa, until we are trapped in a space that is neither reality nor fiction, confused and disoriented.
Newitt attempts to draw attention to the protagonists’ psychological instabilities through the stability of both the video camera, and the fantasy space he creates. He immortalises these characters in their own dream-space, where they are allowed to remain, temporarily or forever. As an audience, we are allowed to connect with them in a very real sense, as we discover their personalities and quirks.
Through the artist’s connection with them, we too connect. When the video cycles finally reach their dream-space, we reach our own dream-space with them, imbued with a sense of justice, or resolution. A journey initiated by the artist is shared by both subject and viewer.
In contrast, Jesper Just conjures portraits of fantastical characters; universal archetypes, who induce a response on an emotional and psychological level. Just’s films initially appear as linear, cinematic narratives, though the longer we engage with them, the more ambiguous they become.
In Just’s works there is a sense of great loss – permeating a death-like state. In the instant of connection to a future loss Just acknowledges, through human relationships, that as soon as there is life, death has been determined. Perhaps the ambiguity in Just’s plots is simply a reflection of life in general. As the film loops and the end becomes the beginning, the viewer is caught up in their world, now and forever.
It Will All End In Tears, like all of Just’s works, depicts a set of human relationships and we are never actually sure of what The work throws out so many questions – an eternal stream of possibilities, Possible Worlds – and yet in its ambiguity remains utterly compelling, drawing us in all the more closely and holding us, suspending us in a moment that keeps rotating as it unfolds. Is one character the alter ego of the other? Or is this a real relationship between two people? Does the action unfold in real time, or is this a dream-space? What is the role of the choir? Is it a chorus in the Greek tragedy tradition? And if so, to whom does the chorus refer? Are the screams the roaring thoughts of a protagonist’s mind? When the chorus jumps to its death are we presented with the finale of a real relationship? Or is it the protagonist merely acknowledging the death of his fantasy, his dream? Does he kill his ‘other’, his dream boy, or is his dream boy another fiction of his long lost self? Does youth stand for immortality, as the protagonist prepares for his own life finale?
The work throws out so many questions – an eternal stream of possibilities, Possible Worlds – and yet in its ambiguity remains utterly compelling, drawing us in all the more closely and holding us, suspending us in a moment that keeps rotating as it unfolds.
Each character – whether real or other wise – is rendered immortal, captured and suspended in thousands of frames of 35mm film. And as an audience, we live through these moments. The characters have their own stories and we bring to them our own experiences – whether real, or whether simply residual experience linked to other characters with whom we have engaged on screen. We project experience onto the characters at the same time as we take on the experiences they portray. The screen becomes a mirror and, like Sartre’s Roquentin,4 before we know it we are caught in this mirror ‘trap’ ... for as long as, or forever.
Tania Doropoulos, Curator
1 I use the term ‘ trap’ throughout this text, in reference to the ‘ mirror trap’ referred to by the protagonist in Jean-Paul Sartre’s novel Nausea. See also footnote 3.
2 Possible Worlds Theory is a philosophical concept that considers the actual world to be one of many possible worlds. This can be likened to a ‘choose your own adventure story’, where there are as many different narrative possibilities as readers to make choices. An excellent paper discussing this theory is: David Lewis, ‘ Truth in fiction’, Philosophical Papers, vol. 1, Oxford University Press, United Kingdom, 1983.
3 David Denby, ‘The new disorder: adventures in film narrative’, The New Yorker, 5 March 2007.
4 Antoine Roquentin, the protagonist in Jean-Paul Sartre’s novel Nausea, refers constantly to his ‘mirror-trap’, in a discussion about just being, about spontaneous and limitless sensation. Here I consider this ‘mirror-trap’ in relation to the ‘suspension of disbelief ’ in Just’s narrative loops, as well as a state of ‘present-ness’ or ‘now-ness’.