Barbara Kapusta, Desire and What You End up Doing, RMIT Project Space, Melbourne 27 August – 16 September 2010
Dying in Spite of the Miraculous, Gertrude Contemporary, Melbourne 8 October – 6 November 2010
Things I Wish I’d Known, West Space, Melbourne 29 October – 20 November 2010
A work of art produces its own space of representation, whatever form it takes. In 2010, I experienced three art works in Melbourne: Desire and What You End up Doing by Barbara Kapusta at RMIT Project Space, Ulla von Brandenburg’s Singspiel 2009 at Gertrude Contemporary, and The son begat the father by Dominic Redfern at West Space. All of these works negotiated, in very specific ways, the boundaries of video’s relationship to the exhibition space.1
The discussion of space in video installation is not new, having been deconstructed via the notion of Expanded Cinema in the late 1960s and 1970s, explored through its cinematic properties,2 and considered in relation to the viewing conditions and modes of fictional film.3 In their work, Kapusta, von Brandenburg and Redfern reaffirmed the proprieties of the exhibition space by creating a dialogue between video as a fictional space and its condition of viewing in the physical space of the gallery.
Each of these videos presented their own fictionalised worlds, the most memorable of which was von Brandenburg’s Singspiel, filmed in the Villa Savoye just outside of Paris. Here, the camera tracks an uncanny tour of the house and its inhabitants, who perform everyday actions: washing dishes, sleeping, or looking though a window. There is no clear, linear narrative and the work concludes with a drama staged on an open-air theatre outside the house. Before reaching the video projection, the viewer had to navigate a maze constructed from soft, fabric panels. Recalling colour palettes one might see in a child’s room, the muted tones of the panels connected to the lullaby-like nature of the video’s song, whilst the structure of the maze echoed the camera’s journey in the video. As a result, von Brandenburg’s work was the sum of its parts: the maze and the video informing one another. Only when taken together did they constitute a whole.
Kapusta’s work at RMIT Project Space presented a series of fictionalised scenarios performed by three characters. Remaining anonymous, the characters corresponded to the three panels of colours — white, red and black — represented in the video and positioned in the gallery space. In Redfern’s video at West Space, the artist performed a song that had made an impression on him during his childhood, but which he could not fully recall. This forgetting led Redfern to research the song’s lyrics and the video showed the artist performing the lines in the exhibition space.
The distinction between reality and fiction is questioned by these works: the real space of the Villa Savoye is set against the constructed performance of its characters. The dialogues in Kapusta’s work have a prosaic character, but are performed in a setting made of fabric panels and theatrical lights which act as an ‘enhanced construct of reality’.4 Finally, the performative act that is the central element of Redfern’s video is recorded in the space where the viewer stands.
For film theorist Noël Carroll, the act of recognising the author’s intention of imagining the content of the film as fabricated — the ‘fictive stance’ — is a necessary condition for fiction and points to the importance of its reception by the viewer, rather than on the work itself.5 However, in the traditional mode of viewing film in a cinema, the space of representation — the screen — is completely separate from the space of the spectator. Carroll defines this space as film’s medium-specificity. The clean separation is what allows the spectator to read the screen as fictional — activating the fictive stance. Conversely, the three works discussed here, exhibited in a gallery context, deconstruct the cinematic conventions of film. The mise en abyme, or self-mirroring, in these works particularly pressures the borders of the screen, questioning its relation to its surrounding environment — the exhibition space where the viewer stands.
Consequently, the strategy of creating a continuum between the physical space and the space of representation is antagonistic to the filmic apparatus that Carroll describes. A liminal zone is created at the threshold between real and representational space. In this liminal zone, the artists question the function of the exhibition space as the representational space par excellence, governed by its own set of rules. The viewer is at the centre of this intricate apparatus, under the spotlight of the exhibition space transformed into a stage.
Anabelle Lacroix is an emerging curator and writer based in Stockholm. She recently undertook internships at Gertrude Contemporary and RMIT Project Space and School of Art Gallery.