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@, the title of this exhibition makes reference to the grammar of an unmarked email address, pointing to the concerns of the show (which was part of Melbourne's Next Wave Festival).
One enters the main space at 200 Gertrude Street gallery through a white passage. Inside the light is dim, with only the flickering glow of six separate screens shared between three artworks. These pieces are effectively autonomous, but the whole exhibition space is infused with the same nameless, placeless desire associated with synchronisation. Artworks involving escalators almost constitute a genre of their own, and there surely is something surreal about the cyclical repetitions of a mechanical pathway. Meri Blazevski's City Loop consists of three monitors showing the same short generic escalator scene. Cut into the white gallery wall at eye level, the video images radiate from the wall as if dissolved into it. An anonymous commuter (an elderly man with a fedora hat and a shopping bag) goes up, disappears, and then returns to go up again. This same micro-narrative of our modernity is presented at three different speeds. On the left monitor, he moves at 60% of real-time speed, in the middle at 40%, and on the right at the painfully slow 20%. The space thus acquires an uneasy temporal dimension, articulating a relationship between body, time and space and a desire for difference in repetition.
David Noonan's film-video piece, M3, consists of two large adjacent video projections, split by a corner wall. One side shows a frontal view of a young man driving a car, and the other a young woman. In both, the portraits of the drivers are overlaid with their views of a freeway scene at night seen through the windscreen. We see the familiar white median strip and street signs rushing by, and the red tail-lights of cars and trucks bleeding and splintering ahead. Like the escalator, the freeway is an in-between space of transit, of pure distance - generic, placeless, and, unlike the malls or streets it connects, untraced by its own history. Despite its London motorway address, Noonan has captured this sense of non-space even more effectively than an lndi-500 arcade game.
One appreciates the constructedness of M3 in a wonderful production photograph in the catalogue accompanying the show. It is a carefully stylised psychological cinedrama (displayed behind the gallery counter is a mock film poster), twice exposed on 16 mm film before being transferred to video, with cuts shifting from medium to close up views of our actors' faces. Zooming along in the intensely private and secure mobile zone that is the inside of the modern car, our drivers wear bored, tired expressions. Only the distant hum of the road outside their glass-metal capsules is audible (or is it the video projector?). And though devoid of the sexualised violence of Ballard or Cronenberg's Crash, M3 is inevitably linked to those precursors by its automotive boredom. Our narrative expectations draw us in, and at one point the doll-like woman-with pale skin, a straight black fringe, and glossy red lipstick-turns her head, flirtatiously gazing for a few seconds in the direction of the young handsome man opposite (or at least, on the other screen). While there is the hint that he has spotted her earlier in his side view mirror, this exchange of non-verbal signs frustratingly leads nowhere as we and our drivers rush towards yet another underpass. All we are left with is coy, knowing expressions under flickering shadows. Is she the femme fatale of Araki's The Doom Generation? Is that a wedding ring on his finger? The subjective/objective play in this fiction offers plenty of room for projection, and this is precisely its appeal. At the same time as undercutting its girl-boy romance narrative, the clichéd pleasure of the sideways freeway-glance endlessly intensifies the drive of desire.
Leslie Eastman's The Contracted Field hovers at a rather too general conceptual level. It is a piece about technology, and specifically about Webcams, in which, via a small camera connected to a computer, 'live' digital still images are uploaded straight to the World Wide Web. Unfortunately in this case, it is more interesting in theory than practice. Not only does the fact of its Internet transfer remain a matter of (catalogue note) faith, but there are so many more interesting examples of 'unedited reality' already flourishing on-line (everything from ant farms to couples' bedrooms - Jennicam being only the most famous of the latter). Since what is projected is the gallery itself and its visitors - cast at an angle on a screen covered with sparkling coloured dots and inhabited by the intruding computer cursor - on opening night this work dissolved into a narcissistic nightclub spectacle.
In the absence of any experiential evidence of connectivity, perhaps the most interesting aspect of this work is the microsecond gap between the capturing of the image and its digitally reproduced display. It is a fragile afterimage: the screen is continually replenished and light is 'captured' at a speed in which movement elicits a dark blurry blob. Through constant mobility one is able to blur the phantom data image - suggestive at a time when digital video cameras armed with face-recognition surveillance capacity are being progressively installed in airports and other institutions.
The age of the world as 'information flows', presents several very interesting issues for artistic practice, most obviously with regard to the further 'annihilation of space by time' in the much heralded 'victory' of so-called 'real time'. Speaking on Radio National 's Arts Today, Next Wave director Wendy Lassica enthused about the theme of distance that loosely links the festival - 'the space between two points'-interpreted broadly as emotional, temporal, or spatial (physical/geographical). These three interpretations are all in play, but not place, in @. Distance is no longer an Australian tyranny, no longer conditions the determinations of place - according to its general publicity. But what is threatened in the process is culturally specific critical distance. Beyond considerations of individual perception, we would do well to ask how digital texts are constructing us as consumer-netizens in a globalised exhibition space. More than ever, the question is: whose time is victorious; or better, who runs the distance?