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Trapped in space
The new Tin Sheds gallery in Sydney is not tin any more and not very shed-like either. The polished concrete floors and open space suggest a certain foyer-like ambience or a place where you might go to find stackable chairs and a foldaway table. The Corridor Project by Margaret Seymour and Virginia Hilyard shown there recently reinforced this sense of indeterminacy with the two works appearing almost as if they had been left rather than installed.
On the outside (or was it the inside turned out?), Toilette Indiscrete by Virginia Hilyard resembled a huge packing case that had been partially dismantled and then abandoned for a tea break. Margaret Seymour's The Mirrored Room was not a real room at all but rather a large screen angled away from the interior of the gallery, as if encouraging the formation of a dead end. Together they invited digression, creating a space where footsteps must slow and the viewer is tempted to loiter without and within. Viewing, in this instance, becomes a matter of standing and moving away and coming back, trying to find a place from which to see what is there. The works are all motion pictures, movies in which the viewer must play a role.
The tall plywood walls of Toilette Indiscrete permit one small opening through which the viewer is able to perve, as if through a hole in the fence, at what is happening inside. There, grainy footage of a woman endlessly brushing her hair is projected through the twirling blades of a fan onto the far side of the space. Like a domestic cyclorama with the viewer shut outside, it offers an evocative glimpse of a private act but one that is safe to watch, comforting; the woman will not stop, no-one will get caught out. The woman is self-contained, absorbed in her act, rather than constrained by the space. The narrow gap in the walls suggests a way in but refuses it too. At the threshold where inside becomes outside and everything is reversible, the gap itself becomes almost tangible, something solid to lean against and while away some time, idle moments marked by the rhythms of the brush, the rotating blades and the silent running of the film.
Stand back from the gap and the work takes on a new perspective. Now the woman appears at a distance through the narrow aperture projected onto the blades of the fan, flickering like a stroboscope or an end-of-pier peepshow. This new view, hauntingly enigmatic, comes as a surprise, a salutary reminder that the viewing position we habitually adopt (up close, face pressed against the opening) is not necessarily the way into this work.
The Mirrored Room is similarly engineered to frustrate and provoke. In this instance, the viewer must position themselves within the work in order to see it or experience it. Cameras simultaneously capture and project onto a screen both the screen and the space in front of it-the room is mirrored, doubled, but not reversed as it would be in a mirror-and in order to see what is projected onto the screen, the viewer must occupy that space. What the viewer actually sees is themselves watching themselves, always viewed from behind, disappearing into infinity in a virtual corridor that traps the subject in a one-way linear maze. A further twist is added by the use of 30 imaging glasses that appear to project the viewing subject forwards into the same space they occupy, an ethereal doppelganger or shadow that mimics the movements and gestures of the viewer. This ghostly dance partner remains elusive and aloof; advancing and retreating, always maintaining a safe distance between itself and the subject. The virtual twin assumes its own life, frustrating the attempts of the viewer to catch up or capture it. What the work neatly describes is how the impulse to move towards the object of desire is paradoxically the same one that impels it to withdraw.
Together, the two works pose a series of scopic challenges that bewitch and ensnare like the lightest of invisible webs. The incorporation of older film technologies-the Super 8 footage, 3D glasses-hints at a nostalgia for something lost, belonging to an indefinable past. But perhaps what this recuperation of the past and the longing it invokes is actually referring to is that of the viewing subject alienated from whatever it observes. All we are left with is a phantasm, a fleeting sense of what it might be like to regain something that can never be repossessed.