Ayman Kole, Martin A. M. Gasinger (Eds), Roots Reloaded: Culture, Identity & Social Development in the Digital Age, Anchor, Hamburg, Germany, 2016.
Tatiana Pentes chapter ‘BLACK BOX V3: Painting A Digital Picture of Documented Memory’ http://bit.ly/RootsReloaded (Shockwave Player and Safari browser)
Abstract: ‘BLACK BOX V3: Painting A Digital Picture of Documented Memory’ is a digital art film where the protagonist Nina’s discovery of symbolic objects, ethnic dance, & musical forms (Hindustani, Rembetika, Chinese Jazz) reveal her cultural/ spiritual origins. The digital film is a documentary archiving an interactive version for download & play. LAUNCH: http://bit.ly/BLACKBOX_V3
Keywords: Interactive Media, Digital Art, Identity, Cultural Memory
It is inscribed, as on Pandora’s Box…do not open…passions…escape in all directions from a box that lies open… (Latour, 1987, p. 7)
This article is an examination and critical positioning of my current digital media project blackBOX – Painting a Digital Picture of Documented Memory. blackBOX is an interactive CD-ROM ‘game’ and also an internet work. blackBOX seeks to exploit and enhance the creative potentials of digitally produced music, sound, image and text relationships in an interactive and online environment. This work seeks to reverse, obscure and distort the dominating/colonialist gaze in a playful manner. blackBOX is produced through the hybrid meeting of visual arts practice, digital film production and documentary dance performance. It also interacts with the notion of ‘electronic’ (image/sound/text) writing, that was in fact prefigured in early Russian avant-garde practices. In the words of El Lissitsky:
The new book demands the new writer. Inkstand and goose quill are dead… The printed sheet transcends space and time. The printed sheet, the infinity of the book, must be transcended… (El Lissitsky, 1923)
The protagonist of the blackBOX digital media work, Nina, undertakes a journey, a struggle and search for virtual objects. The idea of mobilising a series of myths cross-culturally is at play both in the inner workings of the game device and in the computer interface strategy. The visual screens are composed of the virtual surface fragments of the archival materials and objects. These spaces form an electronic stage where the narrative elements unfold as part cinema, part computer arcade game.
blackBOX has been devised for gallery installation. The digital story first emerges from the textile surface of heroine Nina’s (a Russian/Greek girl) red velvet dress, adorned with roses, through a bed of oriental cushions, where she writhes in her chrysalis. Sanskrit, Greek and Russian text are projected across her body. Images of the girl move into representations of a modern urban metropolis. The player/participant is invited to explore this interactive metropolis, as filtered through the digital experiences and sensations of the girl, and to discover three metaphorical ‘Chinese Boxes’, which contain three symbolic performances.
The key interface design metaphor at this stage is a Chinese ornamental window, and interaction with this interface frames the central narrative. Inside this framework, the girl discovers performances from three ‘imagined’ Australian diasporic communities; Rembetika (the Greek blues); classical Indian dance and music (Odissi and Kuchipudi traditions); and fragments of Australian jazz performed by musicians with Russian origins.
Interface design metaphor
The interface design metaphor for blackBOX is an electronic stage/screen surface where performances appear as if conjured from the imagination, or a dream. The participant/player moves around the digital surface of the stage, exploring through opening boxes, musical and dramatic performances, interviews with the musicians and dancers, documentary fragments of performances, statements by artists, text documents, newsprint articles, archival radio fragments, televisual and other related material. The action/performances appear within the immersive environment of a series of Byzantine (Greek), Sanskrit (Indian) and 1930s’ Russian jazz in Chinese diaspora.
Chinese-inspired screen frames combine electronic text and images in various assemblages trigger embedded material, a visual/audio hypertext (Hockey, 2001). Traditional modes of storytelling and music are challenged in this interface design, as the player/participant is provoked to engage with the music and performances.
As the player interacts with the screen, they consider the ways in which (traditional) musical and dance forms mix in various ‘compositions’ to create a hybrid of different cultural forms. This ‘game’ also acts as a digital archive and documentation of the metamorphosis of traditional cultural and musical forms, through the creative potentials opened up for cultural producers in the digitally manipulated performance, sound, image and text environment of interactive media.
These ‘compositions’ provide perspectives on the emergence of a uniquely Australian contemporary sound/culture that is an amalgamation and integration of three diasporic genres of music achieved through the creation of ‘electronic writing’, the assembling of an ensemble of fragments into image/ sound/text ‘compositions’.
Through the looking glass
The heroine, Nina, is the character with which the player identifies and observes through the unfolding of the digital media text. Screen events unfold through her eyes, revealing her projected/imaginary dreams and creating a narrative. The areas of interactive program content are mediated through Nina’s voice (Lou-Lou Sy), the voice of an Indian woman (Devleena Ghosh), fragments of a Chinese woman singing (Zhou Xuan recorded in the 1930s) and fragments of a Greek musician talking/singing (John Conomos and Rebetiki Ensemble).
These voices are integrated with archival documents, voice-over material and sound atmospheres, which gives the stories a space for reflection. Visual and sonic devices form signatures marking out the areas of program content. These sonic devices denote both the present (time) and the recollection of previous events. Areas of program content map the music/dance archive: a set of pathways; chineseBOX, which plays a form of jazz music that migrated to Australia with Russian refugees from China; jewelBOX, the dance music culture that has more recently emerged from Indian communities in Australia, people who migrated from Indian diasporas in Fiji, Singapore and Malaysia as well as from the Indian sub-continent; pandora’s BOX, Greek economic migrants/refugees, playing Rembetika, a politically engaged ‘blues’; and two conclusions, an electronic poetic reverie and a visual/audio collage of the various music/dance genres that speak of mixed origins.
Once the player/participant has entered an interactive ‘composition’, the program content is divulged through a series of virtual artefacts. These artefacts become icons that trigger areas of the program content, and through the exploration of these configurations, ideas about the music/dance forms are revealed. Inside the jewelBOX story pathway, the narrative is revealed through interaction with the virtual dance jewels, which become icons representing the different levels of the narrative. Interaction with these dance jewels triggers performative spaces, revealing a number of classical Indian dances and artefacts, embedded into stylised electronic stages…. Read chapter http://bit.ly/RootsReloaded
“Self-portrait with A Lady From Shanghai in Burwood Chinatown” is a digital homage to my émigré (refugee) grandmother Xenia Vladimirovna from Shanghai 1930s. A contemporary self-portrait (Tatiana) collaged with a vintage portrait of Xenia by Josepho Schick in La Concession Française de Changhai juxtaposed with a classic Shanghai Calendar Girl poster pinup. Xenia’s ghostly image haunts the trompe-l’œil wall in Burwood Chinatown, outside an imaginary Paramount ballroom 上海百樂門 Shanghai, and oriental lanterns that light up the modern alleyways, serving traditional Chinese Street Food. An old Shanghai Seagull camera floating over the electric neon reflections illuminates rain.”
This work is the transformation of a chapter my doctoral thesis, UTS, BLACK BOX www.strangecities.net. This interactive paper, an ensemble of image, sound, and textual research emerges from the ChineseBOX passage in BLACK BOX, exploring my hybrid cultural origins through discovery of the Russian jazz music culture from pre-revolutionary Shanghai and the Japanese occupation in China.
An examination of the documents left to me by my grandfather Sergei Lukyanovich Ermolaeff (Serge Ermoll) born 2 June 1908, Harbin Manchuria, reveals a rich insight into the cultural milieu of the Russians in Shanghai, (see V. D. Zhiganov Russians in Shanghai (1936), in particular the Chinese jazz world. Prior to his death, Sergei recorded an historical list of many significant acts (Russian, Chinese, Philippino, Japanese, American etc.) that performed in the nightclubs, cabarets, and ballrooms of quasi-colonial Shanghai.
Like Chinese cinema, Chinese jazz was a hybrid form. “Chinese cinema of the 1930s is believed to be a synthesis of indigenous art and foreign modes of production. (1) This point is best demonstrated by Ma Ning’s influential piece on a famous leftist classic, Street Angel (1937). (2) Ma argues that Street Angel exemplifies the practice of sinification among Chinese leftist filmmakers. During this period, Chinese filmmakers tended to view cinema as a specifically Western invention, yet they also felt compelled to incorporate indigenous forms appropriate for Chinese audiences.”
Yeh Yueh-yu , “Historiography and Sinification: Music in Chinese Cinema of the 1930s”, Cinema Journal, Vol. 41, No. 3 (Spring, 2002), pp. 78-97
SHANGHAI: Eastern Hollywood ?
Serge Ermoll Сергей Ермолаев and His Orchestra, the Astor House 礼查饭店 Hotel Ballroom/ Bandstand with peacock fan half shell and Pathe label collage – Peacock Hall the cities first ballroom, Shanghai, China,1930.
Serge Ermoll and His Music Masters was managed by Dick Hamilton-Mills Vaudeville Entertainments, Shanghai located in Hamilton House and enjoyed residencies at establishments such as the Tower Nightclub in The Cathay Hotel with trio,The Paramount Ballroom (1934-36), Ladlows Casanova, Lido (1936) Astor House Hotel (1930), the big band at Cercle Sportif Français (1938-1943 French Club) and signed with Dick Hamilton for exclusice cabaret the Arcadia club in the French Concession. It is at the Arcadia club (1937) that Sergei met the celebrated crooner, poet and singer/ composer Alexander Vertinsky, during his Shanghai sojourn. The collision produced the immortal A and B side of a record – Чужие города Strange Cities (Chuzie Goroda) – music and words by Alexander Vertinsky, Serge Ermoll and Ira Bloch, and Над розовым морем Over The Rosy Sea/ The Pink Sea – (Nad Rosavuim Morem), music and words by Alexander Vertinsky, Serge Ermoll and George Ivanoff, [Registered Copyright Agency USSR & APRA]. Sergei claimed to have played with Whitey Smith’s band at Chiang Kai Chek’s wedding to Mei-Lie Soong, and held a residency at the Majestic Hotel.
Charlie Chaplin’s sojourn in Shanghai visiting the Paramount Ballroom pictured with Russian jazz orchestra leader Sergei Ermolaeff (Serge Ermoll) c.1936 Paulette Goddard & mother in background.
Vertinsky was the originator of black Russian cabaret, where he embodied the figure of a dark Pierrot. His sojourn in Shanghai 1935 – 1943 via Harbin, China, before his return to soviet Russia (USSR) was a fertile ground. Vertinsky published in the Russian journal RUBEZH рубеж News of the frontier, Harbin, Manchuria, 1939, his great poem ‘Shanghai’.
Чужие города Strange Cities a portrait of Xenia Vladimirovna (Ermolaeff) by Josepho Schick 1935.
This is a portrait of my grandmother Xenia Vladimirovna Ermolaeff. Xenia was a Russian émigré in China. She arrived with her mother Evgenia and sisters in Harbin after the Boshevik revolution in Russia. There are family stories that she met my grandfather Sergei in the Hotel Modern, or was it the Fantasie cabaret, Harbin where she was performing as a singer and dancer, early 1930s. The portrait was taken later in Shanghai by Josepho Schick, a photographic studio that documented many in the Russian émigré community living in Shanghai and Hong Kong.
In 1996-97 I won a development grant to produce a script Чужие города Strange Cities, from Screen Australia, the Australian Film Commission (AFC). I traveled to Shanghai and Tokyo to conduct research and write an interactive script. In search of Xenia’s Shanghai, I became a voyeur, walking the city, writing and shooting photographs/film with Geoffrey Weary. We stayed in the Peace Fairmont Hotel, the former Cathay Hotel, Room 314, I was searching for traces of the old decadent jazz culture. The Чужие города Strange Cities digital media documentary work, was based on a tune by by Alexander Vertinsky, Serge Ermoll and Ira Bloch, a musical illustration, an imaginary vision of old Shanghai (looking back to motherland Russia – St Petersberg), composed and played in the old cabaret’s of 1930s Shanghai. I had found a vinyl record in Sergei’s music collection and the original musical score.
In 1999 with funding from Screen Australia, the Australian Film Commission (AFC), our team photographed the interior of the Peace Fairmont Hotel, the former Cathay Hotel, interior and architecture. We photographed the sound stage, Level 7, where Serge Ermoll and His Orchestra had played as resident band leader and many photographs were taken, the golden dragons & pheonix design haunting the interiors. Looking out of the exquisitely ornamented window panes onto the Bund and across to the Pudong district and the oriental Pearl Tower, I imagined James Ballard’s bloody descriptions of the Battle of Shanghai or Battle of Songhu 淞滬會戰 the Japanese war ships in the harbour. A decade later these audiovisual fragments were shaped into a film Scenes From A Shanghai Hotel, 2008.
The interactive work would ultimately be Чужие города Strange Cities , as reviewed in Asiaweekbased on the tune composed by Alexander Vertinsky, Ira Bloch and Serge Ermoll. Independent radio broadcaster Eurydice Aroney produced the work and Roi Huberman created the interactive sound design. This song and the lyrics, which spoke of the longing for motherland St Petersberg (Russia), encapsulated my search for origins. Later, another film score composed by the Vertinsky/Ermoll would be the signature tune in the Merchant Ivory Hollywood classic The White Countess, 2005. The strange music Serge played, a mix of Russian cabaret, Chinese pop, and American jazz, I would later understand to be the treasured hybrid genre of trans-pacific contemporary music, the renaissance of which is making many a million.(1) and (2) Whitey Smith and L. McDermott, I Didn’t Make a Million, Manila, 1956.
In my grandmother Xenia and the portraits she would show me, I saw a cosmopolitan Eastern woman of urban sophistication, paradoxically at odds with the Australian life we were surrounded by in the Sydney suburbs. Her black coiffured hair and gold jewelery provided endless fascination, she looked so different from the ladies at the local RSL. I wanted to be like her.
“The favoured past of shanghai is that of the ‘modern girl’ in a qipao, the feminine city of exquisite Russian refugees, decadent European expatriates, Chinese gangsters and marlene dietrich in Shanghai Express (dir. Joseph von Sternberg, 1932). These are clichéd character sketches of the city, but they resonate powerfully with the international imagination. Dietrich, in the person of Shanghai Lil, continues to produce affect in cinema-goers worldwide as a persona for shanghai…. if cinema has done nothing else for shanghai, it has convinced the world and the city itself that they are, simply and utterly, superior to any others. Shanghai woman is the epitome of modern China, and the image of 1930s is the enduring foundation of the magnetism of shanghai’s identity. [sic] ” (2)
(1) Donald, Stephanie and Gammack, John G. Tourism and the Branded City: Film and Identity on the Pacific Rim, London: Ashgate, 2007. http://www.iis.uts.edu.au/research/Shanghai_Ch6_Extract.pdf(2) Whitey Smith and .L. McDermott, I Didn’t Make a Million, Manila, 1956. SHANGHAI NOSTALGIA: Old Shanghai Mood Board
Film star & songstress Li Xianglan (李香蘭) a hybrid matrix of Japanese and Chinese modern girl. Born Yamaguchi Yoshiko (山口 淑子) to Japanese parents in Manchuria, Remembered for 1940s film Shanghai Nights 上海の夜), the tune The Evening Primrose 夜來香
MECCA cosmetics corporation has recently launched its “Shanghai Lil” make-up range, a homage to the high fashion (haute couture) & make-up used in Von Sternberg’s Shanghai Express (1932). Image source http://www.meccacosmetica.com.au/
Hui Fei (Anna May Wong) and Marlene Dietrich (Shanghai Lily) in Jospeh Von Sternberg’s SHANGHAI EXPRESS (1932).
Image source MOTO Nostalgia campaign 2004
The Parisian wave (coiffure) and the fur coat over the shoulder evoke the Shanghai gesture, a powerful imaging (and re-imagining) of the Shanghai advertising lady, her urban face charmed the packaging of a plethora of mass products from face powders to cigarettes. She is the face of Motorola’s 2004 mobile phone campaign. These evoke director Josef von Sternberg’s The Shanghai Gesture, 1941 an American film noir starring Gene Tierney, Walter Huston, Victor Mature, and Ona Munson. It is based on a Broadway play of the same name by John Colton.
Reminiscent of a 1930s Shanghai calendar girl, an evocation of the legendary film star Ruan Lingyu (阮玲玉), or perhaps Hollywood’s Orson Welles’ The Lady From Shanghai or Anna May Wong in Josef Von Sternberg’s Shanghai Express (1932) or Street Angel 馬路天使 (1937) starring Shanghai songstress Zhou Xuan (the “golden voice”) and pre-revolutionary film star. Perhaps Motorola’s Shanghai lady resembles the famous Li Xianglan 李香蘭 a hybrid matrix of Japanese and Chinese modern (modeng) girl (!) She was born Yamaguchi Yoshiko 山口 淑子 to Japanese parents in Manchuria, and became a famous Chinese and Japanese film star. She is remembered for 1940s film Shanghai Nights 上海の夜, made by Manchuria Film Productions and singer of the immortal tune The Evening Primrose 夜來香. Nostalgia for decadent old Shanghai and its hybrid brand of quasi-colonial East meets West is articulated in the plethora of contemporary Hollywood, Hong Kong and Chinese films devoted to the Shanghai gesture. Academy Award winning director Ang Lee’s offering Lust Caution (2007), a case in point, Merchant Ivory’s The White Countess (2005), to touch the tip of the iceberg.
The “Motorola advertisement appearing on billboards and in glossy magazines… means ‘MOTO nostalgia’ or ‘MOTO era’, highlighting the Shanghai 1930s feel of the image.” The evocation of the Shanghai lady in this MOTO campaign contains echoes of a contemporary Ballardian neo-landscape, the Bladerunner megalopolis that is Shanghai. This kitsch, pastiched, noirish sophistication is a parody without the humour and articulates Jameson’s postmodern and consummerist project of futuristic nostalgia (Jameson, 1985, p116).
Frederic Jameson, “Postmodernism and Consumerist Society”, in (Ed) Hal Foster, Postmodern Culture, Pluto Press, Great Britain, 1985.
Another confirmation of the currency and commodification of the old Shanghai lady as an aesthetic still capable of marketing a dream about a city that has entered into the postmodern vernacular in “Selling Cosmetics by vending machine ?”, Hong Kong Hustle: Hong Kong nightlife, streetculture, and cool www.hongkonghustle.com/shopping/389/cosmetics-vending-machine/#more-389.
Shanghai! …during the 1930s and 1940s was referred to internationally as the “jazz mecca” (1) of Asia, the Paris of the East, conjuring in the Western imagination a romanticised landscape of coolies, opium, and spies. In reality Shanghai was the pearl of China’s orient, occupying a unique political and cultural place as China’s modern Metropolis. Historically, China had granted concessions to the international powers in Shanghai, British, French, and Americans occupying colonial settlements in the treaty port.
At the level of representation, Shanghai was an appropriated “exotic” location, an orientalist back-drop, and the subject of a plethora of Western novels, literary and cinematic creations. The allure of Shanghai as a mysterious cultural locale wove its way into American Hollywood cinema and popular song as an orientalist fantasy and landscape upon which the West imagination could play out illusions. Shanghai as a colonial International settlement was inhabited and visited by passing Western entrepreneurs, government officials, tourists, traders, and entertainers. American actor Charlie Chaplin’s tour in Shanghai 1936 with actress Paulette Goddard and stay in the Fairmont Peace Hotel (Cathay Hotel) in Shanghai is well documented. He visited the famous Paramount Ballroom where Serge Ermoll and His Orchestra were the resident Russian jazz orchestra. A personal collection of family photographs pictures band leader Ermoll with Chaplin and Goddard. The first exhibition of cinema in China occurred in the Yu Yuan teahouse in Shanghai (2) , eight months after the “…Lumiere brother’s epochal unveiling of their new Cinematographe…December 28, 1895, in the basement of the Grand Cafe in Paris.” (3) The Yu Gardens was a place that I wanted to visit, and would take many photographs.
The black American jazz trumpet player Buck Clayton’s legendary journey to Shanghai was “precipitated by brisk trans-Pacific traffic in record music. Gramaphone records of the music of Duke Ellington and other artists had already reached Chinese shores, spurring a rage for black bands in the city’s nightclubs and dancehalls.”(4) The playing of this black American jazz and its local idiom performed by Russian, Filippino émigré and Chinese bands heralded the circulation of a hybrid trans-Pacific culture. Until very recently, the Chinese academies viewed “yellow music” and its Russian, black American and colonial precursors as not worthy of scholarship. Colonial modernity as articulated in pre-revolutionary Chinese film with its jazzy Chinese popular screen music was understood by its leftist critics as “decadent sound” (mimi zhi yin) (5) and opposed to the modern Republican ideology.
Sergei Ermolaeff (Serge Ermoll) Russian Jazz Orchestra leader on the cover of RUBEZ News of Harbin, Manchuria, 1937
In the contemporary context, this trans-Pacific culture and music is experiencing considerable attention and re-discovery by the Chinese government and international community, as Shanghai overtakes Hong Kong as China’s major trading port city. The cover of the American Time magazine proclaimed “Shanghai! Inside the most happening city in the world” and the accompanying article “Shanghai Swings! The long slumber is over, and Shanghai is grooving to an exuberant beat”(6) Hannah Beech, “Shanghai! Inside the most happening city in the world” and the accompanying article “Shanghai Swings!”, in Time magazine, September 20, 2004. The image of the contemporary Shanghai Bund skyline glittering with electric lights evokes the former glory of Shanghai’s jazz age when the colonial façade of the Bund housed China’s wealthiest banks and trading houses. Indeed it is no mystery a musical metaphor has been woven to paint a picture of the re-emergence of Shanghai as a global destination. The article chronicles the restoration and the re-opening of Shanghai’s most legendary nightclub the Paramount Ballroom. Another Time magazine article “Cholera, Cables, Piano’s”(7), alludes to a Chinese symphony of chaos to evoke the human crisis of colonial modernity in Shanghai. The dischord between images of extreme opulence and wealth, manifest in the architectural spaces of the colonial dance-halls at their zenith: the Paramount Ballroom, Majestic Hotel, the French Club, the Cathay Hotel, Astor House, the Canidrome, Ladlow’s Casa Nova et al – juxtaposed with the struggle of the underclass of Russian émigrés working inside these spaces and the exclusion from these spaces of the desperate and displaced Chinese refugees, reveal the economic, class, and gendered dimensions of Shanghai’s urban metropolis, a cultural entrepot forming the ‘modern’ Chinese man and woman.
In most historical and popular accounts of Shanghai nightlife (post 1930s) the White Russian émigrés, who fled the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, are notoriously depicted as desperate refugees finding work in the bars, clubs, and nightclubs Shanghai as either “taxi-dancers”, “body-guards”, or prostitutes. The project argues that the affinity between “yellow music”, foreign jazz, specifically the Russian émigré jazz and its interpretation as “pornographic” and decadent evolved from the social spaces where this music was performed. The contribution of Russian émigrés to the cultural modernity of Shanghai is considerable. The Russians, many stateless and without citizenship, occupied a liminal place in the city below the oppressed and poor Chinese. The construction of the “White Russian” refugee stereotype founds its way into trans-Pacific popular media culture and has long been associated with “Sinified jazz music”.(8)
This brief account of Shanghai’s history and the role of Russian émigré jazz shows that this underclass of refugees were central to modern notions of urban Chinese identity. Scholarship in the field of musicology, ethnomusicology, media, history and sociology in China, America, Britain, and in Europe has not previously focused on the remarkable contribution made by Russian émigré jazz during the pre-revolutionary period in China, precisely because this cultural history was erased with the formation communist Republic in China.
The recuperation of this history through Russian émigré sources abroad, Chinese scholarship, archives that were moved from mainland China to Taiwan, Hong Kong, France, England, Russia and the United States and an existing archive of material in the possession of this project could recover an inform through interdisciplinary, cultural studies method a new historical case study. (9)
(1) Andrew F. Jones, Yellow music : media culture and colonial modernity in the Chinese jazz age, Durham [N.C.] : Duke University Press, 2001, p1.
(2) Yingjin Zhang, “Teahouse, Shadowplay, Bricolage: ‘Laborer’s Love’ and the Question of Early Chinese Cinema”, in Zhen Zhang (Ed), Cinema and Urban Culture in Shanghai, Stanford University Press, USA, 1999.
(3) Jones “Listening to the Chinese Jazz Age”, op cit p11.
(4) Jones “Listening to the Chinese Jazz Age”, op cit p1.
(5) Jones “Listening to the Chinese Jazz Age”, op cit p8.
(6) Hannah Beech, “Shanghai! Inside the most happening city in the world” and the accompanying article “Shanghai Swings!”, in Time magazine, September 20, 2004.
(7) Foreign News, “Cholera, Cables, Pianos” in Time magazine, September 27, 1937.
(8) Jones op cit p73.
(9) Andrew Field, “Chapter 5: Selling Souls in Sin City: Shanghai Singing and Dancing Hostesses in Print, Film, and Politics, 1920-49 inZhen Zhang (Ed), Cinema and Urban Culture in Shanghai, Stanford University Press, USA, 1999. See forthcoming publication Andrew Field, Shanghai’s Dancing World: Cabaret Culture and Urban Politics, 1919–1954.
“It is inscribed as on Pandora’s Box…do not open…passions…escape in all directions from a box that lies open…” from Bruno Latour’s “Opening Pandora’s Box”, in Science in Action: How To Follow Scientists & Engineers Through Society, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1987, p1-17.
This work investigates and records the production of a digital media artwork blackBOX: Painting A Digital Picture of Documented Memory, generated through the media technologies of interactive multimedia, exploiting the creative potentials of digitally produced music, sound, image and text relationships in a disc based & online (Internet) environment. The artwork evolves from an imaginary electronic landscape that can be uniquely explored/ played in a non-sequential manner. The artwork/ game is a search for the protagonists hybrid cultural identity. This is mirrored in the exploration of random, fragmentary and non-linear experiences designed for the player engaged with the artwork. The subjective intervention of the player/ participant in the electronic artwork is metaphoric of the improvisational tendencies that have evolved in the Greek Blues (Rembetika), Jazz, and Hindustani musical and performative dance forms. The protagonist Nina’s discovery of these musical forms reveal her cultural/ spiritual origins. As a musical composer arranges notes, melodies and harmonies, and sections of instruments, so too, the multimedia producer designs a ensemble of audio-visual fragments to be navigated.
Dance also becomes a driving metaphor, analogous to the players movement in and through these passages of image/ sound/ text and as a movement between theories and ideas explored in the content of the program. The central concern is to playfully reverse, obscure, distort the look of the dominating/colonialist gaze, in the production of an interactive game and allow the girl to picture herself.
One of my objectives is to explore the ways in which social research can be undertaken by the creation of an interactive program in the computer environment utilizing interactive digital media technologies. The study reveals that, through the subjective intervention of the player/ participant (user)* with the digital artefact, a unique experience and responsiveness is produced with the open-ended text. The work is comprised of a website http://www.strangecities.net; an interactive CD-ROM; a gallery installation; digital photomedia images: and a written thesis documenting and theorising the production.
Classical Indian dance music: Bharata Natyam
Nirmal Jena & Odissi Dance Co.
* The term player/participant (user), while widely debated has been in usage from the 1980s to refer to the unique human interaction with the digital artefact, electronic screen work, and computer interface.
A Song of Ceylon, Sydney Film Festival #SydFilmFest Feminism & Film Sun 18 June 2017 @ 10.30am AGNSW http://bit.ly/SongOfCeylon_SFF Jayamanne, Laleen. (Director), Weary, Geoffrey (Film editor), Parr, Adrienne. (Producer), Finnane, Gabrielle. (Photographer), Australian Film Commission. Creative Development Branch – The narcissistic, masochistic, hysterical body in exquisite tableaux. A formally rigorous, visually lush study of gender and possession, referencing a classic British film. Australia | 1985 | 51 mins | In English and Sinhala with English subtitles.
“A formally rigorous, visually stunning study of colonialism, gender and the body. The title echoes the classic British documentary and evokes a country erased from the world map. The soundtrack enacts a Sri Lankan anthropological text observing a woman’s ritual exorcism. Visually, the film brings together theatrical conventions and recreations of classic film stills, presenting the body in striking tableaux. This remarkable film is a provocative treatise on hybridity, hysteria and performance.” WMM Women Make Movies
Film still: Juan Davila
Fim Poster: A Song of Ceylon
“The anthropological text is performed both like a musical score and a theatrical ritual….The film engages the viewer in the cinematic body as spectacle…”
Trinh T. Minh-ha
Interview with director Layleen Jayamanne in Senses of Cinema
Tatiana Pentes, WORSHIP SCULPTURE DANCE, Master of Art (Media Arts), CoFa, UNSW, 1995 [download paper]
Figure 1 Digital montage from A Few Small Snaps digital film artwork by Tatiana Pentes
This study documents the production of a set of digital film artworks installed in the College of Fine Arts gallery as the culmination of the Master of Art (Film, Video, Sound, and Computing), Media Arts. The digital film artworks are comprised of : (i) Worship Sculpture Dance: Odissi : Movements in Stone, the imaging an ancient devotional classical Indian dance form Odissi, from the state of Orissa, India; (ii) Zang Tumb Tumb 1, inspired by the Futurist sound poetry of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, and the Luigi Russolo and The Art of Noise; (iii) A Few Small Snaps, the digital animation of a series of autobiographical self-portraits stimulated by a study of the Mexican self-portrait painting of Frida Kahlo; and (iv) Strange Cities2 an interactive CD-Rom new media script. Strange Cities script (writing) has been included to the Worship Sculpture Dance study as blueprint for potential future research and development. The aim of this creative research has been to focus on new technology as a contribution to a questioning of traditional (analogue) modes of art production.
The approach has been to explore & image traditional classical Indian forms of representation (dance, choreography, & music) and to re-interpret and translate these ancient forms as a new form of engagement. At the same time, the objective of this creative research has been interrogate transforming notions of the filmic, televisual, radio(audio)phonic, sonic and the (digital) computer medium, and to investigate questions of authorship and to challenge the uniqueness of the art object. This creative work is the outcome of conceptual and art historical research, focusing on the potential of an articulation of the philosophical, historical, cultural, formal and spiritual in a digital (computer) landscape.
Technological and Conceptual Framework
These digital films that have been produced and installed in the gallery context: (i) Odissi : Movements in Stone; (ii) Zang Tumb Tumb; and (iii) A Few Small Snaps, for the Worship Sculpture Dance forming a major creative artwork exhibition.
The objective of this creative research has been to question traditional (analogue) modes of art production, and the approach has been to explore & image avant garde European sound poetry, self-portraiture and traditional classical Indian sanskrit forms (dance, choreography, and music culture) and to re-interpret and translate these (analogue) forms (using a new stylus, pen & glue-stick) and to produce a critical engagement with these representations of Other. Simultaneously, the objective has been to interrogate transforming notions of the filmic, televisual, videographic radio(audio)phonic, sonic and moving image (animation) in the (digital) computer environment; to investigate notions of ‘self’ in a cross-cultural environment; to question the Western concept of authorship and to challenge the uniqueness of the art object.
These digital film artworks have been generated in the new multi-media environment of the computer. The installation of these digital films in the gallery context has provided the context for social interaction and engagment with the artworks in the form of an exhibition. The artworks have been produced using Macintosh computer software and hardware, and the following
software digital imaging and editing programs.
Image 2. Digital film still Chitritta Mukerjee, Odissi Dance Company performs Konarak Kanthi at The Performance Space, Sydney 1993, by Tatiana Pentes
The articulation of ‘self’, ‘identity’ and the creation of an innovative feminine vocabulary in the self-portrait paintings of Frida Kahlo.
A dissertation submitted in fulfillment of the requirements of the Master of Letters (Art History & Theory/ Gender Studies), University of Sydney, 1998 (with Merit), book published VDM Verlag Germany, 2009. [download book Sydney eScholarship Repository]
Frida Kahlo, The Broken Column (1944), oil on tin, Source: Herrera, Hayden, Frida : A Biography, Harper and Row, New York, 1983.
Feet what do I need them for
If I have wings to fly. 1953
Frida Kahlo’s Diary 1
Abstract: The Self-Portraits of FRIDA KAHLO
This book examines the self-portraits of Frida Kahlo and explores the way in which they articulate a ‘self’ and ‘identity’ through creating an innovative feminine vocabulary. The aim of this creative research is to explore the way in which Frida Kahlo represented her sexual subjectivity in the body of self-portraits she produced in her short life time. The self-portraits, some of which were produced in a state of severe physical disability and chronic illness, were also created in the shadow of her famous partner- socialist Mexican muralist/ revolutionary Diego Rivera. An examination of the significant body of self-portrait paintings produced by Frida Kahlo, informed by her personal letters, poems, and photographs, broadens the conventional definitions of subjective self beyond the generic patterns of autobiographical narrative, characteristic of an inherently masculine Western ‘self’. In Kahlo’s self-portraits the representation of the urban Mexican proletarian woman-child draws stylistically from the domain of European self-portraiture, early studio photographic portraiture, and the biographical Mexican Catholic retablo art, with its indebtedness to the ancient Aztec Indian
symbology of self.
The Impulse to Represent the Self: Narcissus
The first image was a portrait. In classical mythology, a lovely youth named Narcissus lay beside a pool gazing in adoration of his own reflection…In the Bible St Veronica compassionately pressed a cloth against Christ’s face as he stumbled to Calvary, and found His true image miraculously printed on the material…St Luke became a painter because, having experienced a vision of the Virgin Mary, he was inspired to produce a faithful portrait of her. 2 The self-portraits of Frida Kahlo significantly open up a new horizon in twentieth century painting. The works, created in Mexico in the 1930’s and 1940’s intersect with and extend the tradition of self-portraiture in the West. Contemporary modernist Mexican concerns to conserve, celebrate, and resurrect indigenous Mexican Indian culture were likened to the classical re-discovery of Greco-Roman antiquity in Renaissance Art. The portrait genre existed in Western antiquity and the early Christian world in the form of statues, busts, coins, sarcophagi and wall paintings. 3 The re-discovery of portraiture has been considered a definitive feature of the Renaissance, as exemplified by the artist Albrecht Durer’s project to represent the self. Durer fashions his 1500 Self-Portrait as an emblem of the powers of the individual creator, with the visual allusion to the vera icon of Christ.
“ Durer mythicises the identity between image and maker …endowing his likeness with the “omnivoyance” of a holy icon, he celebrates himself as a universal subject, whose all-seeing gaze is subject to none.” 4
Strikingly, there are parallels with Kahlo’s own impulse to represent the self in a period of Mexican history that has been termed the Mexican “Renaissance”. The legacy of Durer in Kahlo’s art is manifest in the close analogy between (i) bodies and texts, (ii) the artist’s self-portrait and the holy image (in the case of Durer, the body of Christ); and (iii) the Renaissance painter’s ascent from craftsman to artist, celebrating the artist’s art as the vera icon of personal skill. The Renaissance humanist notion of Man as created in the image of God is envisioned in Durer’s idealised 1500 Self-Portrait, where he is both created in the image of God and through artistic production creates as God. Kahlo’s repeated imaging of her incomplete barren body, a suffering and wounded body, places the woman-child at the centre of the universe, as universal all-seeing subject, yet corrupted and incomplete, as in Durer’s later self-portraits. Kahlo’s self-portrait works such as The Broken Column (1944); The Wounded Deer (1946); and The Two Frida’s (1939), recall the representation of the body in pain in Durer’s Self-Portrait as Man of Sorrows and Self-Portrait of the Sick Durer (a. 1512). In these works there is no illusory sense of self mastery in depictions of the wounded and incomplete body.
A shadow flickers across the history of the self-portrait, from Durer’s art in the Renaissance to twentieth century modernism – the original founding myth, the desire for self knowledge and the Fall. Transcending the Biblical manifestation of this myth and at the heart of the desire to regain the paradise lost of immortality is ever-present tyranny of the flesh – Death. Durer analogises his body and self in his self-portraits to the divine emblem of Christ, whose ability to transfigure Death in the Resurrection image and his eternal life, is reiterated in Kahlo’s self- portrait’s which iconocise her suffering body, expressing the interior landscape of the artist, and a psychological space of sensation, emotion, and memory.While these qualities are present in traditional masculine self-portraits, in Kahlo’s self-portrait work it is perhaps for the first time that Western painting has represented the specificity of feminine sexual subjectivity.
Frida Kahlo’s Jewish/German immigrant father Guillermo Kahlo was introduced to photography by his second wife (Frida’s Spanish/ Indian mother) Matilde Calderon de Kahlo, whose own father was a photographer. Matilde encouraged Guillermo to take up her father’s profession. This resulted in Guillermo Kahlo’s first major Commission – by the Secretary of the Treasurer under dictator Porfirio Diaz – to record Mexico’s architectural heritage for the 1910 celebration of the centennial of Mexican Independence. This won Guillermo the accolade of “first official photographer of Mexico’s cultural patrimony”. 5
Modern photographic portraiture had a profound influence on Kahlo’s self-portraits, which she often used as the basis of her paintings. In the work My Grandparents, My Parents, and I (1936) there is visual evidence to suggest that the portraits of her parents are directly based on their wedding photograph. 6
This highlights the legacy of the recent photographic medium upon modern painting, a medium with a tradition spanning centuries. As Roland Barthes writing on photography articulates… ” Painting can feign reality without having seen it. Discourse has signs which have referents… Contrary to these imitations, in Photography I can never deny that a thing has been there. 7
The self-portraits represent Kahlo’s reality, like the folk retablos in which the village artisan pins objects from the accident to the votive offering (a victims hair, samples of a vehicles wreckage), she symbolically rather than physically incorporates traces of imaginary and material objects. In all the roughly fifty five self-portraits produced the lens is turned back upon the viewer who is forced to apprehend the dominating subjective gaze of the model Kahlo, thus the surveyor becomes surveyed.
2. The Bus Accident, “Assassinated by Life”
Figure 2. Frida’s drawing of her accident in Herrera, Hayden, Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo, Harper and Row, New York, 1983, plate 10
Central to the Frida Kahlo narrative of self is a tragic bus accident, the injuries incurred of which she never physically or emotionally recovered. Indeed the physical injuries sustained in the accident when she was eighteen
years old prevented her ability to hold a pregnancy, and in later years, of being able to walk. Kahlo remembered the bus accident on the afternoon of 17 September, 1925: The accident took place on a corner in front of the San Juan market exactly in front. The streetcar went slowly, but our bus driver was a very nervous young man. When the trolley car went around the corner the bus was pushed against the wall…It is a lie that one is aware of the crash, a lie that one cries. In me there were no tears. The crash bounced us forward and a handrail pierced me the way a sword pierces a bull… 8 Frida’s lover Alejandro Gomez Arias described her situation:…Something strange had happened. Frida was totally nude. The collision had unfastened her clothes. Someone on the bus, probably a painter had been carrying a packet of powdered gold. This package broke, and the gold fell all over the bleeding body of Frida…and then I noticed with horror that Frida had a piece ofn iron in her body.” …They thought she would die on the operating table… The steel handrail had literally skewered her body at the level of the abdomen; entering her left side…“I lost my virginity”, she said. 9
The images of suffering, wounds, loss, grief, and barrenness appearing in much of her work could be derived from this fateful accident, an event scarring her body for life. The tears that she claims she never shed on that day seem to be endlessly reproduced in her pictures. The pain that she suffered throughout her short lifespan necessitated the long term and perpetual use of pain-killers and morphine. Indeed, all medical evidence pointed towards this substance as the cause of Kahlo’s suicide 13 July 1954. 10
1 Kahlo, Frida,The Diary of Frida Kahlo, Bloomsbury, London, 1995, p134.
2 Woodall, Joanna (Ed), Portraiture: Facing the Subject, Manchester University Press, New York, 1997, p1. (via the translation of Arabic texts into Latin)
3 Woodall, Joanna (Ed),op cit p1.
4 Koerner, Joseph Leo, The Moment of Self-Portraiture in German Renaissance Art, The University of ChicagoPress, London and Chicago, 1993, p242.
5 Herrera, Hayden, Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo, Harper and Row, New York, 1983, p5.
6 Herrera, Hayden, op cit p8.
7 Barthes, Roland, Camera Lucida, Flamingo, Great Britain, 1980, p76. [my italics]8 Herrera, Hayden, op cit3, p48.
8 Herrera, Hayden,op cit p48.
9 Herrera, Hayden,op cit p49.
10 Kahlo, Frida, The Diary of Frida Kahlo, Bloomsbury, London, 1995, p134.
CosmoShanghai is a growing online portal that launches digital research projects exploring Shanghai’s re-emergence as the cosmopolitan metropolis from its glorified memorial status in the 1930s – part entrepot, part settlement, part escape- that finds expression in the multiple contradictions of the struggle over the preservation and development of Hongkou and other districts of the cosmopolis.
In one online documentary projects The Menorah of Fang Bang Lu – Dee Lay Jao Police district, becomes the focus for the local and international and diasporic forces seeking to define what the Jewish heritage of the city means in the current era. Set against an examination of a number of preservation and renewal zones, current Chinese modernity encompasses an historicised cosmopolitanism that accounts for the variegated social histories of the city and its global positioning as part of the New China on the one hand, and as a city state on the other. However to be effective this will require cross-cultural collaboration over the meanings of cities’ pasts and futures.
In another interactive BlackBox: Painting a Digital Picture of Documented Memory the artwork evolves from an imaginary electronic landscape that can be uniquely explored/ played. The artwork/ game is a search for the protagonists hybrid cultural identity. This is mirrored in the exploration of random, fragmentary and non-linear experiences, where the protagonist Nina’s discovery of musical forms reveal her cultural/ spiritual origins. As a musical composer arranges notes, melodies and harmonies, and sections of instruments, so too, the multimedia producer designs a ensemble of audio-visual fragments to be navigated. Dance also becomes a driving metaphor, analogous to the players movement in and through these passages of image/ sound/ text and as a movement between theories and ideas explored in the content of the program. The central concern is to playfully reverse, obscure, distort the look of the dominating/colonialist gaze, in the production of an interactive game and allow the girl to picture herself.
An interactive digital work/ Musical CD-Rom by Tatiana Pentes (Writer/Director) & Geoffrey Weary (Co-Development/ Cinematography & Photography), Eurydice Aroney (Producer), Roi Huberman (Sound Design), Glenn Remington (Interface Design). Produced in association with Screen Australia (AFC). Online exhibition Australia-Japan New Media Gallery, Australian Embassy, JAPAN http://newmedia.australia.or.jp/artist/info.php?name=tatiana
Strange Cities CD-ROM has been exhibited inter/nationally & winner of Best Arts/Cultural Title/Site, AIMIA Awards, 2000, and Most Innovative/Creative Multimedia Title, ATOM Awards, 2000, Australia. Acquired by the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) Multimedia Collection, Australian Film & Television School Library, University of Hawaii, University of Sydney, UTS, the National Library Australia and many inter/national archives.
Strange Cities was selected for Dart 99 dLux Media Arts in partnership with Sydney Film Festival, the 1999 Experimenta Media national travelling Exhibition, The Red Room, & promoted New Talent Pavilion, MILIA Games, Cannes, France in February 1999
Interface still Strange Cities: A musical CD-Rom (2000)
Strange Cities is an experimental interactive multimedia work authored for CD-Rom release and exhibition. Through the disclosure of evidence, Sasha dreams, discovers and remembers the exotic identity of her grandparents Xenia and Sergei Ermolaeff (a composer and orchestra leader) in fragments and traces of their music and struggle to survive the Russian and Chinese Communist Revolutions. The dulcet tones of the legendary voice of ABC Radio – Tony Baldwin as Newsreader deepen the nostalgia of this interactive drama/history.
The inspiration for the work is a tune of the same name – a musical illustration, an imaginary vision of old Shanghai, Chinese metropolis and international settlement which conjures mythic, filmic, musical and personal images of the city port.
Interface still Strange Cities: A musical CD-Rom (2000)
Coined capital of the international underworld, the city of Shanghai became a seductively strange locale symbolized in the Western imagination. In reality however the city was most often the final port of call for political refugees. The visual imagery for the project was shot in St Petersberg, Shanghai, Tokyo, and Sydney and involves found photographs, film footage, simulated radio archives, and original musical compositions.
Interface still Strange Cities: A musical CD-Rom (2000)
Strange Cities experiments with performance, sound, image and text and their dramatic representation in the interactive environment. Providing a challenging approach to traditional modes of story-telling and music in the interface design, the user is provoked to discover the Strange Cities tune in the graphic portrayal of its musical script, sonic perception of its vocal lyric, and orchestration through user interactivity.
In the exploration of Strange Cities the user will experience a questioning of the relationship between fictional, biographical, historical and musical narrative possibilities produced through the slippage between and across a series of interactive screens. Participation with the interface provides for the user an experience which challenges traditional modes of narrative in audiovisual presentation, the perception of musical structure, storytelling and in historical, biographical and fictional texts in the multimedia environment.
Interface still Strange Cities: A musical CD-Rom (2000)
Strange Cities was selected for the 1999 Experimenta Media Art CD-Rom Exhibition and has been promoted at the New Talent Pavilion, MILIA Games, Cannes, France in February 1999.
NEW MEDIA AWARDS FESTIVALS
Best Arts/Cultural Title/ Site, Australian Interactive Multimedia Industry Association (AIMIA) Awards November 2000, AUSTRALIA
Most Innovative/Creative Multimedia Production, Australian Teachers of Media, (ATOM) Awards May 2000, AUSTRALIA
This project has been produced in association with Screen Australia (Australian Film Commission)
ABSENCE PRESENCE : The Body Navigation, Dance/Video/Performance/Music, 14-18 of July, 2007, St. Petersburg, RUSSIA by Lara O’Reilly (website)
Text by Tatiana Pentes
Lara O’Reilly, an Australian installation artist, residing at National Centre of Contemporary Art in June, 2007 and her works installed at Body Navigation III International Festival of Contemporary Arts on 14 – 18 July, 2007.
A film & performance installation in the Chapel of the Naval Hospital, Kronstadt, forming part of III International festival of contemporary arts, The BODY NAVIGATION, DANCE/VIDEO/PERFORMANCE/MUSIC, 14-18 of July, 2007, St. Petersburg, RUSSIA
“Anyone who wants can look at my films as into a mirror, in which he will see himself.” Andrei Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time, p. 184.
“The installation was intended to be a highly experiential encounter with the space and with oneself. For the viewer to experience their own sense of the space and find themselves in a world between worlds…blurred between interior and exterior realms of built and natural spaces and the interior and exterior states of mind that the performance and the soundscape allude to….” Lara O’Reilly artist
In the contemporary convergent global media environment of digital networked technology, and pastische, empty parody (mimicry), O’Reilly’s ABSENCE PRESENCE returns us to the traditional notion of “multi-media”, suggestive of the shadows reflected on the walls of Plato’s allegorical Cave. The spectacular installation of ABSENCE PRESENCE, is staged on three levels and Chapel of the Naval Hospital, Kronstadt, Kotlin Island, Russia, 48km east of St Petersberg. The naval hospital was built 1717, and is the site of the earliest medical establishment in Russia. The Russian staging follows an Australian site-specific manifestation of the performance on the abandoned industrial Cockatoo Island, Sydney Cove.
O’Reilly creates for us a highly experiential and dramatic encounter, with her spatial, temporal and theatrical exploration of the rupture/suture paradox between marine and terrestrial, past and present, the outside and inside, the remote and the intimate, of seduction and abandonment, experience and the underworld. ABSENCE PRESENCE is infused with the resonance and mystery of what we feel but cannot see. In Lara’s words:
….[I felt] Kronstadt should have a very slowed choreographed movement piece. There was something about the spaces of the Chapel, the ascending movement through the spaces –I imagined that while the viewer ascended through the space, that they passed through these empty spaces as a slowed dance, a rhymic and sensual play between their own existence in the space and the lived memory of the place, a Chapel that functioned as a final farewell for the recently departed…”
The Kronstadt work integrates realtime and the simulated (cinematic) representations of the performances/movement of the bodies of five young contemporary Russian female dancers, professionally trained in classical western ballet and Japanese Butoh dance. The filmic (technological) cinematic sequences of the woman are juxtaposed with the live performance of female forms (reminiscent of netted mermaids) suspended in cocoons from the rafters, and released to move, dance and wander. The chrysalised women are “veiled and lit in a sensuous light, conjuring emotions of sadness, loss, loneliness and reverie and yet a gentle sense of security of our own stilled existence within the incredible space where we find ourselves..on an island….” The installation successfully plays with our notion of place, identity, communication, sexuality, the personal and the political, specifically with the cinematic and radiophonic allusions. The haunting tones of a live music (a cello sound piece) conjure the ghosts of the past, the dispossessed, and those who have passed from this life to the next, in these spaces, the site of the Kronstadt Revolution in the Finnish Gulf. Ironically, the waters off Kotlin Island are also the location of a modern tragic ship collision and indeed the invention of radio-location after Alexander Popov, the lauded Russian scientist (reported to have invented radio).
The filmic sequences are primarily performed by O’Reilly’s Russian model /dancer/muse Olya, in the locations of Konstantin Fort; the 300 year old Kronstadt Cemetery; and Summer Gardens. These cinematic performances are overlayed with film sequences of the ascending movement through the interior space of the Chapel and military hospital (closed in 2005), conjuring the bodies (victims) of the revolutions that passed through.
ABSENCE PRESENCE installation Kronstadt Island RUSSIA
My first collision with a previous staging of the ABSENCE PRESENCE multi-media installation in a deteriorating industrial complex, located on the isolated Cockatoo Island in Sydney Cove, Australia (the indigenous Australian Aboriginal name for this island is Wa-rea-mah). I was touched by her ability to deeply engage those visiting the location. The piece resonates with the dis-location of Indigenous people during the colonial period, when their island home was transformed into a convict prison for those transported across the seas from Britain. Later this place was a colonial & industrial shipping dock.
Therein lyes the connective thread – through the ghosts of the displaced – between the Cockatoo Island (Australia) and Naval Hospital Kronstadt (Russia) re-enactments. My engagement with both O’Reilly’s work and the sites are complex and intertwined. As daughter of Vladimir, a Admiral in the Tsarist Russian Navy, my grandmother Xenia emigrated from St Petersberg with her mother Eugenia & two sisters during the Revolution, they never saw Vladimir again, but found refuge in Harbin, Manchuria, then Shanghai, China & later Sydney Australia. As a child I grew up with these memories and on the Balmain peninsula, my primary school opposite Cockatoo Island.
The dialectic relationship between these two island spaces (curt by sea), both scarred by waves of industrialisation (modernity), migration, military/colonial abandonment – they share a depth of history and speak to each other, as O’Reilly’s work speaks to me (the child of a Russian émigré).
Thursday, April 26, 2007
ABSENCE PRESENCE installation cockatoo island
When encountering Lara O’Reilly’s multi-media installation I was touched by the work’s ability to deeply engage those visiting the location – a deteriorating industrial complex located on an isolated island in Sydney Cove. The indigenous Australian Aboriginal name for this place is Wa-rea-mah, and these people were dis-located during the colonial period, when their home was transformed into a convict prison for those transported across the seas from Britain. Later this place was a colonial & industrial shipping dock. The work resonates with ghosts of the displaced. As visitors/participants in O’Reilly’s work we must replicate the journey [across the river styx] from the mainland and step over a psychological threshold to apprehend the installation. Dissonant digital film/video imagery of a woman walking through spaces of ‘nature’ and water are projected on multiple screens within the massive space, juxtaposed with female forms (reminiscent of mermaids) suspended in silken cocoons from the rafters. The haunting tones of a live cello sound piece, conjure the ghosts of the past, the dispossessed, those incarcerated, and mingling with the feathers from a million birds and industrial detritus.
absence presence installation cockatoo island
A site-specific performance and moving image installation infused with the resonance and mystery of what we feel but cannot see. It is a meditation on space and memory and the ways in which the two constantly interact at specific sites. Composing filmic worlds moving between the abandoned architecture of Cockatoo Island and the remote Australian bush and how this collision of built and natural worlds can mediate between the present and the past – between the visible and the invisible. Rooms with suspended female bodies, veiled and lit in a sensuous light, conjuring emotions of sadness, loss, loneliness and reverie and yet a gentle sense of security and of our own stilled existence within the incredible space where we find ourselves.. on an uninhabited abandoned island that is richly embedded with the history of our colonial and distant past.
“The installation was intended to be a highly experiential encounter with the space and with oneself. For the viewer to experience their own sense of the space and find themselves in a world between worlds…blurred between interior and exterior realms of built and natural spaces and the interior and exterior states of mind that the performance and the soundscape allude to…. Above all it was to be enjoyed and to be taken on a journey to a faraway place…” Lara O’Reilly artist