SCA Galleries Sydney College of the Arts University of Sydney, AUSTRALIA
Production Company: Strange Cities Productions Director/Producer: Geoffrey Weary Produced in association with Screen Australia (AFC)
Cast: Tatiana Pentes, Leakhena Sy, Rose Tang
PORTRAITS is an experimental digital work that explores three contrasting experiences of war and conflict in the middle and late 20th century. A woman living in Shanghai is expelled from China after the Communist Revolution in 1949. The ghosts of the Cold War appear and disappear in the crumbling ruins of the Berlin Wall in 1990. A young woman suffers a crisis of identity around the circumstances of her birth at the end of the war in Cambodia in 1978
SCENES FROM A SHANGHAI HOTEL
An experimental film by Geoffrey Weary
A Russian woman living in Shanghai is expelled from China after the Communist Revolution in 1949. Her story begins in a hotel room in Shanghai and ends on a suburban street in Sydney, Australia. Performative, fictional, and documentary elements are blended into a work that is suggestive and open to multiple readings. Extensive use of film leader and scratchy film surfaces add to the sense that what we are seeing resembles something that is illusive, dream-like, just beyond grasp…..or is it just a newsreel playing in someone’s head? Cast: Rose Tang and Tatiana Pentes
An experimental film by Geoffrey Weary
CAPTIVE explores the themes of repression, confinement and escape. These themes are expressed through the incorporation of grainy VHS footage shot in Berlin at the time of the collapse of the Berlin Wall, hand-held camera sequences shot in a maze-like forest and slices of footage composited out of archival Cold War films. As the real historical Wall crumbles under the blows of street hawkers and souvenir hunters, ghostly specters from the past appear then dissolve back into the scratchy surface of a long forgotten newsreel.
A young woman tells the story of her family’s destruction during the war in Cambodia, 1975-1978. Later as a refugee living with her mother in Sydney, Australia she suffers an identity crisis that is linked to the unexplained circumstances of her birth and the mystery of the father that she has never known. Cast: Leakhena Sy
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.
The Menorah of Fang Bang Lu presented/exhibition by Prof Andrew Jakubowicz, China Cultural Centre Sydney http://www.cccsydney.org 2015 in association with Jewish Refugees and Shanghai Exhibition. Curated as an installation in Crossroads: Shanghai and the Jews of China, Curator Jane Wesley, Sydney Jewish Museum, and, Carnivale, Performance Space, 2001. Creative Director, Tatiana Pentes and multimedia designer. Reviewed by Keth Gallasch RealTime issue #46 Dec-Jan 2001. Read online
“What can a single artifact tell us about history? For an archaeologist schooled in deciphering subtle traces, a lone relic can speak volumes. So it is with the 19th century brass menorah at the center of Andrew Jakubowicz’s The Menorah of Fang Bang Lu. Serving as a metaphor for the intertwining stories of four Jewish families living in Shanghai in the late 19th and early 20thcenturies, this object also provides evidence of a community that has since disappeared from the city, having joined the worldwide Jewish diaspora during World War II, only to make their way to Australia. Their stories are told and this history is pieced together through interviews with surviving family members and collections of photographs, documents and testimonies that describe a strikingly similar set of experiences. Jakubowicz’s exhaustively documented site offers a model for constructing a multi-perspectival portrait of a moment from the past that cannot be otherwise reconstituted. The family stories that constellate around the image of the menorah describe a set of common themes emerging from individual experiences with immigration, community and participation in an economic system. At the same time, the stories remain separate and distinct, a subtle evocation of the fact that none of the families knew each other when living in Shanghai; it is only through this reconstruction after the fact that their lives have been woven into a larger historical narrative. As a piece of historical evidence whose origins can only be conjectured, the menorah also functions as a metaphor for Jakubowicz’s investigation. The graceful folk tune that emanates from the music box in the base of the menorah is at once familiar and indecipherable, some of the notes having been long since worn away, but leaving enough of the tune intact to provide a suggestive starting point for historical enquiry. Like the films of Hungarian Peter Forgacs, who constructs historical narratives out of home movies shot by WWII era European Jewish families, Jakubowicz’s work resonates with traditions of oral history and history-from-below, implicitly arguing that the stories of “ordinary” people should not be excluded from the historical record.”
— Professor Tara McPherson and Steve Anderson Division of Critical Studies, School of Cinematic Arts, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Interface still: The Menorah of Fang Bang Lu online documentary
SYNOPSIS “The Menorah of Fang Bang Lu is a brass menorah (a Jewish religious candelabra), probably dating from the late nineteenth century. It was found on a second hand stall in a Shanghai antique market, in October 2000, more than forty years after the last Jews had left Shanghai. In its base is a wind-up music box, playing out a tune that has yet to be identified. Its simple chords evoke the many cultures of Jewish China. The antique market stands near the main entrance gate to Fang Bang Lu (or Fong Pang Road as it was known when there was a Jewish community in Shanghai from the 1840s to the 1950s). Fang Bang Lu is the main street in the old Chinese city (just south of the former French Concession and International Settlement), and leads to a tea house the original that has haunted western fantasies of China since the eighteenth century.
Interface still: The Menorah of Fang Bang Lu online documentary
This computer based project explores the patterns that seven Australian families to Shanghai, families whose paths crossed many times, but who never met there. These four families will be joined by three more over the coming months – their lives entered through the flames of the Menorah. Through common themes of arrival, community, economy, place, interactions with China and the Japanese occupiers, and then the tenuous journeys to Australia, we begin to sense the intertwining of serendipity and design that mark their pathways. From the Moalems, key figures in the Sephardic (Babylonian/Spanish) religious community, to the Krouks, active participants in the vibrant Russian Jewish community, the Gunsbergers, surprising survivors of Kristallnacht and an escape across Europe to Manchuria, to the Weyland Jakubowicz family in their arduous struggle through the USSR and Japan, we begin to understand the rich fabric of cultural heritage of these diasporic people, who came at last as refugees to Australia. We discover the stories of Leisl Rosner (Gerber), a girl from Vienna who became a woman in Shanghai, Rachel Kofman, a Russian woman from Harbin who returned to China from her studies in California, and settled in Shanghai, and the Szekeres, mathematicians living in limbo on the edge of the world. The arrival of all these families in Australia from 1946 was in circumstances of hostility that are not overwhelmingly different from those facing today’s refugees and tells us much about not only where they came from but what they found in the new land.
Writer/ Producer: Andrew Jakubowicz is Professor of Sociology at the University of Technology Sydney; his parents arrived in Australia via Shanghai in 1946 most of their families had perished in the Holocaust. He now works in the area of multicultural affairs, and was the executive producer of Making Multicultural Australia a multimedia documentary (1999).
Creative Director: Tatiana Pentes, a multimedia designer who created the AMY award winner (2000) Strange Cities, an interactive digital work built around memories of Shanghai in the 1930s and 1940s, and the music of her grandfather, Shanghai orchestra leader Sergei Ermolaeff (Serge Ermoll), a Harbin born Manchurian Russian.”
“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.
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.
“…landscape architect and film-maker, Gavin Wilson, was researching the artistic heritage of Hill End and the region for his 1995 exhibition The Artists of Hill End: Art, Life and Landscape for the Art Gallery of NSW. Aware of Bellette’s bequest, and withthe support of Bathurst Regional Art Gallery, Evans Shire Council and the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Wilson invited a third wave of artists to respond to Hill End. Contemporary artists including Richard Goodwin, Anton James, Tom Spence, Wendy Sharpe, Peter Wright, Geoff Weary, Peter Kingston, Mandy Barrett, Emma Walker and James Rogers participated in a series of pilot residencies at Haefligers Cottage in 1994 and 1995. Works from these residencies were exhibited alongside historic works in The Artists of Hill End exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW.
“The historic Haefliger Cottage at Hill End and the spectacular surrounding scenery are prividing an ideal location for artist in residency, Geoffrey Weary, who is finding it a welcome respite from Sydney. Mr Weary, who describes himself as a video artists also working with more ‘traditional’ mediums, is the latest participant….Hill End artist in resident, Geoffrey Weary and Tatiana Pentes who are, living and working with the spirit of Paul Haefliger and Jean Bellette in the famous Haefligger Cottage…The house has all their things still intact, the cottage is pretty much as they left it…” in Inspiration For Visiting Artist: Hill End Artist Residency: Geoffrey Weary: Bathurst Regional Art Gallery Advocate, 24 January 1995.
Photograph: Geoffrey Weary & Tatiana Pentes
The foundations of the Hill End Artists in Residence Program were laid. In 1999, under the auspices of Bathurst City Council and Bathurst Regional Art Gallery, the Program was officially launched. In 2002 Murrays Cottage was refurbished with the assistance of the NSW Ministry for the Arts and added as a new studio residence alongside Haefligers Cottage in 2003.Since 1994, a total of 283 residencies have been awarded to artists from a diverse range of disciplines including painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, ceramics, textiles, new media, writing, animation, film, sound and performance. Over 150 works by 70 of the artists participating in the Program have entered the collection through donation and purchase. The selection presented here represents just a small portion of the work produced in response to the landscape, history and heritage of Hill End.”
“Celebrating 20 years of the Hill End Artists in Residence Program,works in this exhibition are drawn entirely from BRAG’s permanent collection. Featured artists include Jean Bellette, Ray Crooke, Russell Drysdale, Donald Friend, Ben Quilty, David Strachan, Rosemary Valadon, Greg Weight and Nicole Welch. A Bathurst Regional Art Gallery exhibition.”
An Australian Jazz Interactive Treatment for Broadband funded by Screen Australia (AFC/ Screen Australia)
New Media Writer/Director TATIANA PENTES
Photography/ Cinematography GEOFFREY WEARY
Original Jazz Music SERGEI ERMOLAEFF
Dramaturg Prof BRUCE JOHNSON
1. STORY OUTLINE
Expermimental Online Documentary
BLOWIN’ AT THE ROCCO: Saturday Night is an experimental interactive work that seeks to exploit and enhance the creative potentials of digitally produced music, sound, image and text relationships in an interactive online Broadband environment. In this context, the delivery of interactive work online provides an innovative approach to the conventional narrative & documentary forms. In BLOWIN’ AT THE ROCCO: Saturday Night, the participant/player will experience new possibilities produced through the slippage across a series of interactive screen surfaces, engaging the participant/player in a spatial relationship with the program. The participant/player discovers the origins of Sydney Jazz milieu through the eyes of Serge Ermoll Jr. (Jazz Pianist/ Private Investigator) during, smoky sophisticated bohemian, Sydney circa 1968. In addition the user is revealed eight tracks of original Australian jazz, recorded live at the El Rocco Jazz Cellar, 1968.
2.1 COPYRIGHT INFORMATION
Serge Ermoll Jr (Sergei Ermollaeff) owns the copyright on all original compositions and recordings of his music. The production Budget would incorporate research fees and broadcast fees for the use of all other archival image, sound, text materials.
3. THEMES OF THE PROJECT: Pathway Elements BLOWIN’ AT THE ROCCO: Saturday Night is composed of eight storylines, a series of interactive immersive screen environments, characterising the narrative structure of the program. The pathways are named by eight musical movements recorded by Serge Ermoll Jr (Sergei Ermollaeff). The recurrence of musical allusion and composition (a) in the form of musical iconography and (b) in the rendering of musical score in sonic fragments – will resolve in each storyline as the realisation of these eight jazz tracks. From the surface of the computer screen each story unfolds inside a series of frames, inspired by (Black American) Blue Note modern jazz album covers and early Russian constructivist assemblages. The jazz tracks name each storyline expressively, evoking the emotive state of the compositions and shaping the narrative structure of the pathways.
OVERVIEW Story (Musical) Tracks Opening Titles
Each story pathway is triggered by an visual icon in the music cellar. The Detective foregrounds each pathway with an image/text sound transition
Pathway (1) Movement # 1 – VALSE Kings Cross & Bohemian Sydney
Pathway icon: montage of Alamein fountain & a trumpet
Visual trigger: : movement across a cappuccino coffee cup
This story conjures the memories of the musicians, music entrepreneurs, and patrons. The pathway is inspired by written texts by Bruce Johnson, John Clare, Kenneth Slessor, statements by jazz musicians remembering the milieu, and news stories reporting on the phenomena of the jazz cellar.
Pathway (2) Movement # 2 – FREE KATA Crest of freedom
Pathway icon: montage of Free Kata group
Visual trigger: movement across a Karate figure
This story explores the FREE KATA jazz ensemble of the 1970s, evolving from the seeds of El Rocco jazz culture. This pathway is composed of photographic portraits of the musicians, album artwork, record labels, music publicity material, text from news article coverage of the ensemble, and locates the music in the context of images of urban Sydney in this period and references the larger jazz picture.
Pathway (3) Movement # 3 – JUNGLE JUICE International Influences on Australian Jazz 1968
Pathway icon: montage of Uluru & Wattle matches
Visual trigger: movement across a portrait of a soldier
This storyline contextualises Australian Jazz & the era in archival moments that iconicise the sixties and world events shaping the Australian spirit: (i) the anti-Vietnam war protests (ii) the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr, (iii) Robert Kennedy’s campaign against Lyndon Johnson and the Vietnam war. The imagery evokes the generational complexity & tension that produced the fresh and vital early Australian jazz. This pathway is composed of original photographs, digital reconstructions, news articles, archival photographs, digitized moving image and sound.
Pathway (4) Movement # 4 – CLOUDS Australia 1968 – Iconic cultural imagery
Pathway icon: montage of hands on a keyboard (piano)
Visual trigger: a framed portrait of a blonde tourist in the red centre
This story evokes Sydney circa 1968, and juxtaposes the Eastern seaboard city with imagery of the Australian red center, (white tourists) a family visit to Uluru in a light plane, in the context of political movements (the anti-Vietnam war protests – students) and populist imagery – Shrimpton wears the legendary mini-skirt. This pathway is composed of original photographs, digital reconstructions, news articles, archival photographs, digitized moving image and sound.
Pathway (5) Movement # 5 – PASSION DANCE Serge Jr. & Stamatia meet on the Patris Ship
Pathway icon: montage of young Serge & wife Matina)
Visual trigger – black & white portrait of an emigre couple on the deck of a Greek ship
This story is personal and exposes in a series of black & white photographs and interviews two immigrant Australians broadening their horizons and making the journey back to Europe.
Pathway (6) Movement # 6 – RASPUTIN Diasporic Music Memories
Pathway icon: black & white montage of parents
Visual trigger –movement across a portrait of Rasputin
This story charts the movement of Serge Ermoll’s forbearer’s diaspora from Russia in revolution through to Harbin, Manchuria and then international capital of the East – Shanghai, China where his father worked as a jazz bandleader. Serge and his Russian parents then immigrate to Australia with assistance from the International Refugee Organisation. Serge Jr reflects on the influence of his China born father on his contemporary jazz endeavors in Australia. This pathway is composed of dramatized interviews/statements & original photographs.
Pathway (7) Movement # 7 – FALLEN FLOWERS Private detective – Sydney underworld
Pathway icon: montage of a dancing girl over Kings Cross
Visual trigger –movement across a portrait of a dancing girl
This story envisions Kings Cross and Sydney, 1968. The participant/player enters into the space of clubs and strip joints, café culture at night. The participant/player is provoked to uncover a criminal situation, revealed through the character of the detective (Serge Ermoll Jr/ jazz pianist) in a series of reconstructed & simulated photographic & filmic sequences that expose Sydney’s underworld.
Pathway (8) Movement # 8 – SERGERY
Pathway icon: young Serge with band on piano
Visual trigger –movement across a keyboard
Blowin’ At the Rocco 1968 – Serge Ermoll Jr Quintet
Visual trigger; movement across the keys of the piano
This story is a temporal montage of Serge Ermoll Jr music career from his emergence as a musician to 1968. The pathway is composed of news material – newsprint articles, magazine reviews
And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat…And the eyes of them both were opened… Old Testament, Genesis Chapter 2: 6 & 7
A sublime female body descends from the heavens, illumined upon the black painterly digital surface. These selected prints from Geoffrey Weary’s photographic series
TIME WAS…emerged from his residency at the British School at Rome, in 2000.
Exploring notions of the flow of time through cinematic representations of the human form, the artist presents and reveals both the precious object and the visceral shape of the corpus. The images represent the flow of time in the photographic realm. Time passing through and enveloping the body in frozen motion. The concealed female form transforms and reveals a knowing subject. The dualism of the clothed and the unclothed woman allegorise for the viewer the Biblical myth of the Fall. However, the artist transcends this idea through the repetitive exploration of these motifs, exemplified in this series.
Weary’s practice in the field of video art has shifted in the taking up of creative new media technologies and multimedia processes, to incorporate digital media, photomedia collage, where photography alchemically mingles the interplay of historical visual traditions: referencing sequential narrative film, modernist expressionist picture space, and the dark void of mannerist aesthetics. In a self-reflexive mode, Weary calls attention to the materiality of the paint on canvas
and pixels, the legacy of early avant-garde experiments. However, in true multimedia fashion, the fusion of stylistic impulses coalesce on his electronic surfaces, forming both abstract and figurative motifs, the convergence of art historical traditions, media types and knowledge.
And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. Old Testament, Genesis Chapter 1: 3 & 4.
From the darkness emerges the virtual play of light sources, signifying the shift from perspectival representation to the creation of an imaginary horizon, floating world.
Tatiana Pentes Doctor of Creative Arts (Digital Media) Communications, University of Technology, Sydney, 2006.
Lara O’Reilly’s ABSENCE PRESENCE installation on the Kotlin Island, St Petersburg
site specific installation 2007, International Body Navigation Festival, St Petersburg, Russia http://www.bodynavigation.ru
Text by Tatiana Pentes
“Anyone who wants can look at my films as into a mirror, in which he will see himself”
Documentary photo Lara O’Reilly’s ABSENCE PRESENCE installation on the Kotlin Island (2007)
Lara O’Reilly’s ABSENCE PRESENCE installation on the Kotlin Island, an abandoned built and natural environment is a doorway into present and the past, and between the visible and the invisible. Upon encountering site-specific multimedia performance and moving image installation, a dialogue between the psychological states of abandonment (a remoteness) and seduction (an intimacy) is opened inside and outside the architectural spaces – mirroring our interaction as visitors/viewers with space and memory in a site-specific environment.
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 within the Chapel of the Naval Hospital Kronstadt, (built 1717), the earliest medical establishment in Russia.
Map of St Petersburg & Kotlin Island
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.
The Kronstadt work integrates real-time 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 radio-phonic 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 tragic and violent Kronstadt Revolution of 1921, the sailors of Kronstadt staged an uprising and issued demands for free elections. The Red Army was sent in and crushed the rebellion: thousands of people were killed.
The filmic sequences are primarily performed by O’Reilly’s Russian model /dancer/muse Olya, in the locations of Konstantin Fort; the Kronstadt Cemetery; and Summer Gardens. These cinematic performances are overlaid with film sequences of the ascending movement through the interior space of the Chapel, conjuring the bodies (victims) of the revolutions that passed through.
O’Reilly transcends this confrontation with death through her cinematic mediation and documentation of the reality of this past. She does in the articulation of her feminine subjectivity through the representation of Russian performer Olya’s presence in these spaces. These dissonant montages of film footage evoke Dziga Vertov’s Kino-Eye cinema experiments “…as slow motion vision (reading thoughts in slow motion)…The Kino-Eye is conceived as “what the eye does not see”, as the microscope and the telescope of time, as telescopic camera lenses, as the X-ray eye, …cinematic images…processes capable of revealing and showing truth.” (Written 1944). In these ‘island’ experiences, the visitor/ participant must cross a psychological threshold upon entering the work, because like Eurydice’s mythic journey to the underworld, we must re-play the allegorical journey across the river styx from the mainland onto the island and into a simulated nether-world.
This cinematic imagery is projected in the first dark room of the installation, providing a threshold between the outside (real) world and the (imaginary) dance/performance work. Upon viewing the film projections, one enters through a doorway and looking into, an interior space where lived memory is a present state.
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 O’Reilly’s 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 lies 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, an Admiral in the Tsarist Russian Navy, my grandmother Xenia emigrated from St Petersburg 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).
In a world saturated by mass communications delivered via mobile device, cable, PDA, Internet, television, radio, and virtual experiences, ABSENCE PRESENCE grounds the visitor through the stillness of wandering through a physical space, where live performative theatrical, musical and filmic elements are apprehended in a real time spatial location. As media consumers, we can be likened to the shackled slaves mistaking the representations/shadows on the walls of Plato’s mythical Cave as reflections of a real world. The truth is always mimetic and portrays the outlines of puppets projected from the shadows of the fire – not of the Real as articulated in Plato’s philosophical Cave myth. Illuminated from their shackles those imprisoned in the Cave raise the truth of their situation and are liberated by the light of the Sun. The simile of the Cave is apt in the contemporary context, while it needs to be complicated. The Real and the Imagined have collapsed into the Virtual. One could argue that virtual engagement is a lived and real experience, whilst mediated by digital technology. Frederic Jameson’s argument that pastische, or empty parody (mimicry) is the order of the day. Thus representations, virtual reality, 3D animations, text chats, and Internet collusion’s – in traditional media terms would be considered fake, artificial, a lie…. in post-modern terms equal a real hybrid experience.
The opposition between the artificial and the natural have also collapsed in the same way. Jean Baudrillard espouses after Jameson in his texts Simulation, and Seduction, that the post-modern condition articulated in contemporary art, technology & communications have enabled new cultural forms/practises and have influenced the way in which we view our environments. In the famous words of Jacques Derrida
“…Disenchanted simulation: pornography – truer than true – the height of the simulacrum. Enchanted simulation: the trompe-l’oeil – falser than false – the secret of appearances. Neither fable story or composition, nor theatre, scene or action. The trompe-l’oeil forgets all this and bypasses it by the low-level representation of second-rate objects. The latter figure in the great composition of the time, but here they appear alone, as though the discourse on painting had been eliminated. Suddenly they no longer represent, they are no longer objects, no longer anything. They are blank, empty signs that bespeak social, religious or artistic anti-ceremony or ant representation…they describe a void, an absence, the absence of every representational hierarchy that organizes the elements of the tableau, or for that matter political order….”
The emptying out of representation of any original meaning creates the situation of the inability to comprehend the difference between the original and the copy. Which is the fake? O’Reilly’ s installation defines a lens through which perceive nature and suggests the way in which this understanding tames ‘nature’ for us. ABSENCE PRESENCE calls attention to the way in which we think, represent and conceive of ‘the natural’ as construction site. The artificial and the natural exist in a dialectical relationship to one another and the post-modern project is to create a third term outside this dialogue produces a meaning supplementary or in excess of this duality. ABSENCE PRESENCE simultaneously explores the gender/ sexual subjectivity relationship, which can be viewed through the psychoanalytic theories of Sigmund Freud (Vienna 1930s). Freud’s theory of the ‘unconscious’ and the psyche revolutionised conceptions of human behaviour and theories of human sexuality. His posthumous text “Three essays on the Theory of Sexuality” (trans. 1949) pinpoint the significance of sexual subjectivity and factors influencing the anxiety and neurosis in the individual and the cultural. The implication being that the individual repressed experiences that were intolerable and these formed an unconscious ‘well’ of experiences that come back to haunt as memories, their very repression necessitating their return, unannounced and triggered by certain signposts and expressed in slips of the tongue, psychosis, sexual subversions, creative articulations (poetry, painting, literature etc.) or escaping as dreams and un-realised wishes…but the return of that which had been repressed particularly in childhood. ABSENCE PRESENCE is like a return of that “well” of memories re-surfacing and haunting.
Lara O’Reilly’s ABSENCE PRESENCE installation on the Kotlin Island, an abandoned built and natural environment is a doorway into present and the past, and between the visible and the invisible. Upon encountering site-specific multimedia performance and moving image installation, a dialogue between the psychological states of abandonment (a remoteness) and seduction (an intimacy) is opened inside and outside the architectural spaces – mirroring our interaction as visitors/viewers with space and memory in a site-specific environment.
“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 sound-scape allude to….” Lara O’Reilly artist
Acknowledgement and special thanks to all who assisted me with the making of Absence Presence: Kronstadt. I am most grateful for all your support and assistance with the project
Special thanks to:
Podberjozkin Igor Vitaljevich / Подберёзкин Игорь Витальевич –
Chief of the Naval Hospital, Kronstadt
Stupar Michael Petrovich / Ступар Михаил Петрович –
Deputy Chief of the Naval Hospital, Kronstadt
Kuzhel Alexander Michailovich / Кужель Александр Михайлович – Deputy Chief of the Naval Hospital, Kronstadt and everyone from NCCA (National Centre for Contemporary Art) St Petersburg, Russia
Valeria Korotina and Rowan Ainsworth from Australia Embassy, Moscow. Lara O’Reilly’s exhibiting of ‘Absence Presence’ in Body Navigation III is supported by the Commonwealth through the Cultural Relations Discretionary Grant Program of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Performer in film imagery:
Olga Amromy / Ольга Амромы
Performers in installation:
Olga Amromy / Ольга Амромы
Tatjyana Luzai / Татьяна Лузай
Olga Ivanskaya / Ольга Иванская
Darjya Khlapova / Дарья Хлапова
Alexandra Aksjonova / Александра Аксёнова
Video memory of installation with assistance:
Viola Vorobyova and Anna Kolosova
Prop Builder/ Install Team:
Ruslan Atrokhov / Руслан Атрохов
Alexander Stadnik / Александр Стандин
Ruslan Shohirev / Руслан Шохирев
Denis Dzubin / Денис Дзюбин
Assistance with Photographic documentation of installation:
Marina Goulyaeva with assistance Nikolay Vladimirsky