Peter Kozak: Know Your Neighbours: Cool Change Contemporary
It is difficult to write about this work in any great length. Not because it is a work that does not encourage engagement – to the contrary, it is one of the pieces I have seen recently that excited me the most – but the choices that Peter Kozak has made seem especially resistant to excesses of linguistic overlay, to the work of lots of words. It deserves something as short as I can make it, and that I have already failed to make, and will fail to make. This is because it is hard to make something concise, and to make it with the restraint not to make it longer or exaggerate it or couch it in hyperbole.
Kozak’s work at Cool Change Contemporary consists of a single television screen of a few shots of a street light flickering on and off, that Kozak recorded in his home city of Brisbane. It is quite short: two minutes and forty-three second, and mostly silent, except for a subtle humming sound. It is a work that can be read in many ways, due to the ambiguity of its simple gesture and subject. In the accompanying interview, Kozak suggests that the work is associated with fragility, and the externalisation of an internal struggle, that we can witness the frailty of physical objects as analogous yet less encumbered (again by language) admissions of difficulty. This poetic turn provides an understand the work as a portrait of sorts, perhaps opposed to a field recording.
I am reminded though, of the field recording films of James Benning, and his ability to notice very particular things about environments, and bring their magic to the fore. This is another reading that Kozak’s work is particularly open to. One of Benning’s most extraordinary films, Ruhr, (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MVXuEi3tau4 around the 22 minute mark) has as one of its four major pieces of footage, a stand of trees in autumn, over which a plane will ever so often rise from an unseen runway. Almost thirty seconds after its departure from the frame, the plane causes the trees to shiver and release their leaves.
This moment reminds me of the moment that Kozak captures as well. It is not a moment that is ‘decisive’ as Bresson may say. Nothing climaxes or reaches a zenith, rather there is a gap and a silence into which things fall – and the moment is extended through time. Like an ellipsis or a cursor, there is a punctuation of ongoing life with the appearance of something that seems to be keeping its own time. The magic occurs in the space left, between the plane’s appearance and the leaves falling in James Benning’s work, and the streetlight’s illumination and darkening and subsequent repetition of this action in Kozak’s work.
The zine that accompanies the video consists of a series of photos of twilight scenes, and anecdotes of people who were passing and stopped to watch Kozak work, and asked him what he was doing. As ever, the appearance of a camera in a place that people don’t expect it – despite our supposedly photographic world – causes consternation, puzzlement, even accusation. While most of Kozak’s interactions are benevolent, or at least inconsequential, the curious hesitating speech of people engaging with a ‘foreign agent’ in the field brings something else to the work. What at first seems a hermetic work is opened to the traversal of other people who inhabit this twilight realm, wandering around, perhaps going home, perhaps going out. The questioning of this secondary audience (or perhaps primary audience) of Kozak’s gesture seems to mirror the questioning of Kozak’s practice towards the things that he photographs and videos: half glimpsed shadows in the evening light, when the figure and the ground merge into some undefined third entity.