Donna Confetti

The authentic placebo
Brisbane Fringe Festival and Institute of Modern Art

Donna Confetti's wildlife pelt drawings blended with the sheep skin rug depicting a map of Australia and the rabbit skin kangaroos in the Skin City (fur and hide) shop window. Their dislocation from the art space brought into question the artist's intention-were they operating as art, lakes or substitutes? This installation was one of a series which formed part of the work, The authentic Placebo, exhibited in conjunction with the Brisbane Fringe Festival. This series exhibited in Valley businesses included: Wildlife Pelts in Skin City, the Placebo Suit of Armour in Station pharmacy, the Mixed Relation Dolls in Best Friends Toy Shop, Ideal Books for Boys and Girls in Red Books and Shakespear's Cunning Stunts (sic.) in Excelsior Meat Co. These installations acted as points of infiltration and also points of surveillance, as Confetti turned the viewer into the viewed, videoing the audiences and re-presenting them as part of an installation at the Institute of Modern Art.

The debate surrounding public surveillance in the community formed one of the central ideas for The authentic Placebo. In Confetti's work welfare is the domain of authority (whether it be governmental, parental, medical or scientific) rather than of the individual. Parallels were drawn here between medical and scientific paternalism, and the practice of public video surveillance. Isolated by pools of light, toy chairs, a children's sleigh, a prosthetic leg and children 's crutches acted as metaphors for subjects under surveillance. These illuminated objects represented the child and the disabled person, who are traditionally disempowered by their placement in the care of an authority. The objects' arrangement was recorded by chalk traced around each shadow, forming distorted portraits. These fixed shadows, like photographs, were evidence of the objects' presence, assurance against their presumed removal at some future stage.

Alongside these shadows of the real objects at the I MA, five video monitors played back tapes of the audience of each external installation linking these to the interior of the building. Each monitor was visually differentiated by the objects surrounding it, indicating which installation site the video was taken in: the Skin City monitor was precariously balanced on a number of stuffed koalas, the Best Friends toy store monitor squashed the bodies and heads of disrobed dolls, the Red Books monitor balanced on Boys ' Own Annuals and other children 's annuals and stories, the Excelsior Meats Co. monitor lay on plastic grass surrounded by magnetic letters, the Station Pharmacy monitor was surrounded by pills and lollies and a half completed jigsaw of surgeons whose patient remained incomplete. While each monitor was decorated with evidence of the installation site it was connected to, the tapes of viewers were displaced by time and space. They recorded the comings and goings of viewers who in turn became the viewed. They marked the audiences' passing rather than their presence.

Confetti's surveillance of the viewer was repeated at the IMA, but in this instance in real time and space, as a discreetly placed camera scrutinised the way in which the audience moved within the gallery. Surveillance maps the position of the body within physical space over a period of time. The video or photograph, whilst representing the body, simultaneously denies and withdraws its occupancy (in time and space), contesting issues of presence and absence.

The differentiation between object, audience and documentation in the authentic Placebo brought into question the actual "site" of the artwork: was it in the work's materiality, its manner of presentation, or its validation by the viewer? This parallelled the series of questions Confetti raised about the function of the surveillance camera: is security present in the eye of the camera, the authorities who operate the surveillance, or the mind of the community? Photography substitutes a person's image for his/her presence, just as public surveillance humours the community with an illusion of security, represented by the camera's paternal gaze. So perhaps the most compelling question posed by The authentic Placebo remains: is belief the same thing as knowledge?