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Un Magazine 10.2

Jimmy Nuttall, GINA, and an erotics of loneliness

Lauren Burrow

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Jimmy Nuttall’s 2016 short film, GINA, is a reflection on contemporary malaise that borrows its structure as much from the haphazard mode of home movie-making as any historical avant-garde. Shot in Melbourne and its surrounding rural landscape, the video tells an experimental post-breakup narrative of Gina and Jules that begins with a cast of Jim’s friends and artist peers, and moves outwards from and through them. Placing these non-actors in largely improvised scenes, Jim’s directorial hand invites the performers’ agency and participation to develop the story through its filming. For Jim, the making of work necessarily coincides with a concretising celebration of his immediate community. His idiosyncratic approach to editing, replete with jump-cuts to footage of various animals in repose, cobbles together morbidly comedic scenarios in which social reality and fiction blur, time is dysphoric, and the space between subjects is avowedly uncertain. Wielding humour as its sharpest tool, GINA affects an unease that reveals how identity falls out with ‘community’ as often as it is forged by it. I met Jimmy at art school in 2010, where I once witnessed the painter John Nixon tell him that his videos were YouTube, not art. This interview is intended to enact a close reading of GINA, which was the crux of a solo show of the same name that Jimmy presented at Bus Projects in Melbourne in March, 2016.

Lauren Burrow
Can you describe where we are?

Jimmy Nuttall, <em>GINA</em> 2015/16. Video stills of single-channel HD video. 13.48 minutes. Image courtesy the artist

Jimmy Nuttall
We are sitting under the jacaranda tree. This is where Mick Roe’s character, Jules, comes and sits during his break or it’s the end of the day. I was living just across the road from here, and it was gushing these purple petals for a couple of weeks, and there were lots of jacaranda trees around, it was just so over the top. The shot of the jacaranda became like a bouquet on the pole in the gallery.

Jules comes under here and it’s a very basic reflective moment where he looks at his phone, he goes through old images and finds a very poorly shot, blurred image of Gina on his phone. That’s the moment Jules is connected to Gina. Jules is meant to be a former lover.

LB
Photos of characters on phones are a recurring focus in the film — alongside the actual ghosts of deceased characters that we see in the film, there’s an implication that when it comes to intimacy, through technology, our bodies are already like ghosts, in that they are dispersed across time.
JN
We can just flick through a phone and there’s screenshots of, I dunno, your bank balance, and then a picture of yourself, and then a picture of someone who is profound, and it’s just in your phone. Nostalgia is just a really prominent thing in my pocket. And in my head.

I liked casting myself in GINA as a possible friend or lover of Jules … like I wanted it to be erotic in a way, but it’s not erotic.

LB
Blooming is erotic. That’s the tree’s sex.
JN
It’s erotic but also very romantic, it’s bursting with colour. The film ends on this opulent image of a blooming jacaranda tree, and me and Jules sit underneath it. Jonono Neva’s piano music begins and ends the narrative. It joins together a very loose narrative, of potentially a soap operatic thing. The club was meant to be another spot of beauty just like the way that the jacaranda is. A kind of punctuation. I love that we indulge in those spaces because they are spots where we want beauty and sexuality. We want it pounding.
LB
I didn’t realise until you made that connection between the tree and the club, that the club itself is purple.
JN
Yeah. The purple kept coming back.
LB
In your exhibition at Bus Projects, you burnt frankincense on the floor at the opening. Is frankincense purple?
JN
No, it’s an amber.
LB
Maybe it smells like purple.
JN
The frankincense was a bit of an afterthought. It’s a really rich smell and one of its uses is in the Catholic church.
LB
In the Catholic sense it’s meant to be about veneration, but now I’m thinking of it more as being like an aphrodisiac, wafting through and encouraging all the different spaces in the rabbit-warren Bus gallery to fuck. In literature, romance is a fundamentally digressive structure — it’s not linear, that is to say, phallic. In GINA we are met with nothing but digression. There’s an inexplicable sense of suspense at the start of the film, which brims over in really unexpected and anti-climactic ways. The burying of the ‘dead’ twin bodies, for example, happens really quickly and mysteriously, within the first few minutes. They are buried in a ditch, but they are still visibly breathing, and it all happens very unceremoniously…
JN
There are laws in Australia around burial. You’re buried in a coffin or you’re cremated. But dealing with human remains varies around the world. I wanted that to be weird in GINA; Gina would get a phone call, ‘Oh, your friends are dead, our friends are dead, and now you have to deal with their deceased bodies.’
LB
I’m interested by the way that GINA evolved out of itself, or was generated from itself through your interaction with the actors. Could you talk about how that happened?
JN
I had an idea of the narrative, which was that it was kind of meant to be a story of mourning while coming into oneself. It was like an emotional remedy — about an individual coping with ennui, and a lack of sense of self. Maybe heartbreak. That was the starting point. Then it loosened as I made it and became more abstract. The whole thing was about Gina, played by Sheena Colquhoun.

Gradually, as I had more people in it, I realised that the more bodies I was using, it became less about Gina and ‘Gina’ became like a title word for all of the moving figures. That speaks to something that I find really interesting and wanted to focus on; just like having a small handful of different bodies around the same age as me — forming a figurative work and playing out different emotions.

LB
There are countless moments in the film where a doubling or tripling of identity happens. The play on ‘Gina’ and ‘Sheena’, and the blonde twins, are clear examples of this. Yet another kind of doubling occurs, between the actors and their characters — such that the line between self and character is blurry and the seamlessness of character is foiled. How did you cast the film?
JN
Fuck, I really love that observation — the doubling. Some of that was really intentional, like Nick Smith and Ella Sowinska as blonde twins. Lily King’s line about dressing like Kim Kardashian was improvised. Everyone worked in pairs, too. And I used friends to perform roles. I wanted people who were comfortable in performing, and saw fun in building an artwork with me, but under my direction. I didn’t want it to be an ‘invite art project’, where we all participate together. They are willing and they are all kind of muses. This idea of using people’s bodies, owning people’s bodies in your work, but then also them owning the work in a way too because their body’s just there.
LB: They are given a certain agency, in the nature of it not being totally scripted, and a lot of their them-ness — the way that they move, the way that they speak, and the spontaneous things that they might say that then get included in the film — breaks your authorship.
JN
Absolutely. I think everyone is very sexy in the film. Gina’s potential … standing with a guy, a boyish masculine body — Vaughan Quinn, whose character and his masculinity is just there to sit next to Gina’s femininity. Same with Jules and Jules’ boyish young tone, I wanted that to bounce on the other half of the film — away from Gina’s half. He’s on a bicycle, under a tree, then eating haloumi. Indulging.
LB
At one point in the film your character says, ‘I think I just constructed the whole thing in my head. I was imagining me falling in love with me. I was imagining him looking at me, and falling in love with me.’ Which leads me to think about the extent to which when we perform ourselves, we also perform to ourselves.
JN
That was me improvising but it was me speaking on, like, my own history or experiences. Me positioning my mind into someone else’s. I want to know what someone else’s perspective on me is. How could someone fall in love with me? What does it look like to fall in love with me? I like love as an idea of becoming part of someone else. Not doubling or pairing. It’s the closest vessel to being connected to someone else, and bailing yourself out of self-victimisation…
LB
Animals have a peculiar place in the film. Bees, cows, a herron, dogs, crows … they all crop up quite inexplicably. A cut away to an animal almost always happens when there is a gap or difference between each characters’ understanding of what’s going on. I am curious about the way that the animals then come to signify an outside force … or a reprieve … as stand-ins for the inability of the experiences of these characters to neatly line up?
JN
I have collected footage of animals on my phone. So that’s from me beholding animals in day-to-day life. It’s quietly contemplative — decorative. Cows in the paddock mooing, quietly, just part of this expanse of rural country versus all of the other parts of the film which are urban. The dog coming out of the car, and then you never see the dog again, it’s just…
LB
In that particular scene, Gina’s connection to the dog is positioned as being stronger than it is to those two people, in a way, because it’s like, ‘Oh, I’ve got to go bury my friends. I know, I’ll take the dog with me,’ in the same way that you might take the dog when you walk to the shops.
JN
It adds to the domesticity of just ‘burying your mates’. Animals and flora are beats in Gina. Beats which hook a viewer’s gaze. GINA is such a loosey goosey ‘art video’ — it’s like, oh, I don’t really know what’s going on, oh, look, a bee. Or the herron, which breaks really aggressively from the club. There’s the club scene, then a herron in scrub, and it’s a very poised bird. I like garish symbology. Like, the lone bird. Like Gina, the lone bird.

Lauren Burrow is an artist currently living and working in Melbourne.