christoper köller

aberrant
69 Smith Street, Melbourne
7 – 25 May 2003

In his latest exhibition, Aberrant, Christopher Köller departed from a purely photographic art practice to make his first foray into the seductive domain of digital photomedia.

Comprised of a series of short films and photographic portraits, Aberrant re-enacted five documented cases of ‘abnormal’, compulsive behaviour performed by individuals through their bodies within conventional domestic spaces. Implicit within these behaviours, which are otherwise disparate and individualised, is their common motivation—it is only via the ritualised performance of certain actions that their protagonists seem able to achieve a sense of normality. Thus in Spike a war veteran habitually puts himself ‘into a trance’ by literally pinning medals to his chest; in Shrink a man counteracts his conviction that his penis is slowly retracting into his body by binding himself; and in Loop two men share a fetishistic and implied sadomasochistic relationship incorporating the multitude of socks littering their home. Photographs featuring the subjects from the films have been shot out of sequence so that we are given another point of reference in our understanding of them.

Köller exhibited these confronting images in a space that mimics a domestic interior, thus heightening the viewer’s initial sensation of intrusion and discomfiture with the incongruity of this pairing. But the artist does more than simply juxtapose the bizarre with the banal. He forces the viewer to question the way in which aberrant behaviours are perceived and represented in art and the media. He does this by ostensibly placing his subjects within the disaffected framework of documentary media (through the use of film and text) while simultaneously and subtly subverting our perception of their ‘otherness’ by drawing us into a sympathetic connection with them through the tender intimacy of his images.

Text bears a fundamental relationship to this body of work. Köller has sourced his cases from actual media reports and, like concrete poetry, he integrates and overlays re-worded snippets of these articles onto his films, lending further meaning to the images. Köller positions himself as narrator and outsider by adopting a third person voice. This device disarms us against his actual intention, to cause us to identify with his subjects.

While Köller’s use of nudity might seem gratuitous, it is not an appeal to voyeurism, but rather enhances his subject’s vulnerability while emphasising their unselfconsciousness and ease with their ‘abnormal’ behaviour. This is the point at which we as viewers suddenly find ourselves in an uncomfortably familiar place as we are forced to acknowledge that there is an inherent humanity in the very notion of deviancy and that the line between ‘aberrant’ and ‘normal’ behaviour is perhaps much finer than we suppose.