‘Occulture: The Dark Arts’ at City Gallery Wellington

Last weekend I flew down to Wellington for the day so that I could attend the opening of ‘Occulture’ at the City Gallery. I have never been at such a busy opening day with so many packed-out floor talks! It was seriously heartening for me to see so much interest in work with this kind of content as it is so close to my own heart and art practice. The success of this show is testament to the work of both curators Aaron Lister of the City Gallery and Robert Buratti of Buratti Gallery, Perth.

Robert showed some of my video work at his gallery last year so it was lovely to finally meet him in person. He is an erudite and well-considered speaker who brought the works of Aleister Crowley and Rosaleen Norton to life for the crowd, while orientating them in both a magickal and art historical context. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to properly hear the floor talks by all the artists due to the rather large crowds, meaning I was sometimes only partially in the gallery space or around a corner!

I had a good spot during Dane Mitchell’s talk so I was able to take a lot of notes which I can share here. The process involved in the works is very interesting: There are 3 different works within the larger grouping he has chosen to show; ‘Non Verbal Gestures 1, 2, 3 & 4’ a set of hanging silk banners, ‘Celestial Fields’ a series of metal stanchions and a set of 7 glass globes and ‘Ceramic Fields‘ a series of 12 ceramic objects.

 

The four banners depict mudras that can be seen in use throughout the world, often with magic, religious or superstitious meaning. They hang above a maze of metal stanchions that Dane Mitchell describes as a constellation rendered in a rational museum language. It describes a universal system of knowing or belief – in this case the stars – that charts a wayfaring system that then corrals visitors within the gallery space. Dane talked about his desire to explore the scope of the invisible and how he sees himself as an anthropologist or tourist navigating these realms with the assistance of practitioners. In the case of ‘Celestial Fields’ his guide was a Korean shaman who, it turned out, had some quite complex requests. Dane told us how the shaman had decided at one point that he would no longer communicate with him verbally and would now only work with him on the astral plane. In response Dane sent him an empty water bag into which the shaman passed his breath and sent it back. The glass objects were created by the co-mingling of the 2 breaths blown into glass and encapsulated within. The preparation of this kind of object is equally as important as the presentation of the ‘finished’ art work.

‘Ceramic Fields’ is comprised of 12 objects representing the zodiac. The clay objects were baked in an oven with hallucinogenic plant-matter provided by the shaman to imbue the works with it’s properties. There is something in this use of very organic materials that investigates the seeking of the supernatural through the natural, transcendence through the everyday. There is a groove running around each object that was made with a cast of the artist’s tongue. Dane talked about the nature of taste as exploration, and the way that children ‘stick the world in their mouths’ in order to understand it. I love this because I have quite an interesting relationship with taste myself. When I experience an object or a texture that I particularly enjoy I find that my mouth starts to water and I get an associated taste, or more accurately a ‘mouth feel’ to go with the texture. There is also often an accompanying ‘tone’ that goes with the texture and the mouth-feel. When I see an object I really like I have an overwhelming urge to taste it! Not something you can really get away with in a gallery or museum.

There was another comment that Dane made which I found related very closely to my own art practice; the exploration of revelation and concealment. This pairing of ideas follows me around everywhere and I think it must be due to the very meaning of occult; to be hidden or concealed. Exploration of the occult is a constant process of hiding and revealing, finding and losing. I find that in Dane Mitchell’s practice the conceptual thought and complexity of process within the work provides that depth of concealment and continued revelation that draws you in and keeps you curious.

Some of my favourite contemporary artists were also showing; Mikala Dwyer, Fiona Pardington and Yin-Ju Chen’s incredible ‘Liquidation Maps’ that I was raving about at the Sydney Biennale. Not to mention the Aleister Crowley and Rosaleen Norton works. My intention is to take more notes on my return in September so that I can write about the many other works and the show as a whole. Very much looking forward to a second viewing!

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Installation Strategies

Working with moving image produces it’s own specific range of display challenges. As well as thinking about the method of display you also have to consider the installation in the space and the experience of encounter. I have a number of moving images that I can include in my installation in January and I’m thinking around which ones to use, which ones to edit out, how they should be encountered, what size they should be. I’m working with an AV company to come up with the best method for the work, the best method for the space and the best method for my budget! I looked into technology that was way beyond what I can afford right now (like fog screen technology) but it’s good to have that in my arsenal for when I have works that might suit those display techniques and I have budget to make it happen.

I’ve spent some time researching methods of display using projection and LCD displays as these are the 2 most likely display methods I would use. I have also built a 1/20 scale model of the gallery space with removable internal walls so I can have a look at the size of LCD monitors in the space, positioning of projectors, which images could go where. This has been incredibly useful for me as well as for my collaboration with the AV hire company. Yolanda and I had a look at some of the images projected in the lecture room and I feel that the large-sized presentation is definitely right for 3 of the images at least. My challenge then is to create a darkened space for the projection by building a lightweight false ceiling over the back half of the gallery space. My thinking then would be to have 2 more moving images in the entry spaces on either side of the doorway and to display those slightly differently on large LCDs. I like that order of encounter and the size difference – the areas of moving image are related but different with speed, movement and composition.

16-01(152)Frecklier, D (2014) Littoral (single channel video installation, paper strip screen, electric fan)

I like this simple projection strategy that uses a paper strip screen and movement from a fan. It’s a god way to break away from the traditional screen and bring movement into the work. I thought about these sorts of unusual screen ideas for my work but I felt that the content and detail of the imagery was too integral to the work to be split apart and diffused in this way.
20141112_beijing_faurschou_foundation_bill_viola_00003_hi-resViola, B (2014) Inverted Birth (projection)

Martyrs_(Earth,_Air,_Fire,_Water)Viola, B (2014) Earth Martyr; Air Martyr; Fire Martyr, Water Martyr (Screens)

bill-viola2-600x399Viola, B (2008) Small Saints (Screens)

It’s useful for me to look at Bill Viola’s installation strategies as he is also using singular iconic figures, performing to camera against an amorphous background. The single, large projected image in Inverted Birth is impressive in it’s size and looming position of the viewer. The 4 martyrs are displayed like a modern altarpiece which is a nice conceit but I feel they are a bit small at this size and would benefit from being more imposing. The Small Saints series is a different approach, making the images more intimate and photographic, like something you might have on your mantelpiece at home. It’s a really different approach from what Viola usually takes and I’m keeping it in the back of my mind for future consideration when I have works that might suit a more intimate approach.

transmigrations1Alexopoulos, Y. (2012) Transmigrations (Screens)

I love Yorgo Alexopoulos’s use of multiple changing screens. The above work Transmigrations uses screens grouped into clusters. It made me think about using screens of differing sizes, orientations and placements.

Enrich, P. and Harper, B. (2008) Crude Carrier (3 channel video installation)

This is an interesting method of installation, creating an enveloping ‘room’ from the video. In Crude Carrier the video moves around the 3 screens so it can be viewed as a continuous movement. The images can be viewed from within and without of the ‘room’. The screens are moveable and can also be opened out or mounted flat onto a wall. There is a naturalistic soundtrack with the sounds of water, boats, seagulls and traffic. I’m looking into this sort of installation strategy for my current work although it may not be possible or right for the work.


conical_meri+ross_06Turnbull, M. (2009) From and Into the Light (double projection video installation)

Projecting onto sculptural objects or uneven surfaces (rather than the traditional screen) is another option I have considered. I think that for this series of works, much like with the moving paper screen, the content of the videos would be broken up and distorted too much with this method but it’s something I could consider for future work.

Chronogram_Malena_Szlam-03Szlam Salazar, M. (2014) Chronogram of Inexistent Time (Multi projector video/stills installation)

I was interested in the chaotic nature of this work, from the multitude of randomly hung screens and frames on the walls so the overlapping and changing projections. Obviously this isn’t a suitable strategy for my current work, but it’s so different to what I would usually think of doing myself that I got really drawn into it.

So here are some examples of the strategies I’m considering using my scale model. I have more videos than I need which gives me scope to change and edit the installation.

Option1

 

Option2

 

option3

 

Option4

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