2017: Issue 8: Article: Forgiving Night for Day: Jacobus Capone: PICA
Jacobus Capone, Forgiving Night For Day, 2017, Installation view at PICA, detail, 7 Channel synchronized video installation, Site determined dimensions, Courtesy PICA – Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, Photo: Jacobus Capone
Jacobus Capone, Forgiving Night For Day, 2017, Installation view at PICA, detail, 7 Channel synchronized video installation, Site determined dimensions, Courtesy PICA – Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, Photo: Jacobus Capone
///// Something good lunch bar and café sells what I consider my favourite falafel, in their simple yet somehow extremely good souvlaki. I have never worked up the courage to ask them if they make their falafel, or if they buy it in. I like to imagine the family that run the café, who I also think are emigrants from Greece, make their own falafel, and I don’t ask, so that I can continue to believe this.
‘He’s got your autodidactic orator’s way with emotional dramatic pauses that don’t seem affected. Joelle makes another line down the Styrofoam coffee cup with her fingernail and chooses consciously to believe it isn’t affected, the story’s emotional drama.’ (David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest p.710) ////
It is strange to find a Romantic poet in the contemporary age, but this is what Jacobus Capone is, and what he performs – or at least models himself, un-ironically, in this character of ‘Jacobus’ as. His work is characteristically Romantic, mostly due to his interest in Nature, particularly the sublime landscapes of snow and mountain, and including the vast breadth of Australia, as well as his fascination with fundamental familial relationships. If anybody in our city can be said to embody a Romantic idea of the artist perhaps it is, despite his modesty, Capone. Though his recent forays (as in this work) seem to have been into removing himself from the frame of his videos, his legendary status (that even PICA cannot help but draw on – crossing Australia with a suitcase filled with water to transport it from one ocean to another, rowing around an island for a day, etc.) remains tied to his performance basis – and his extreme endurance performances remain his strongest, most poetic works.
Forgiving Night for Day is empty of Capone’s presence, and he has enlisted the help of performers of the traditional Portugese Fado. In this work about time, the only element that seems preserved of Capone’s earlier works is that spirit of endurance and duration. The installation’s videos are all single static shots, no edit, just a fade in and out. In Capone’s earlier works images seemed to serve as a mere document, a testament to an action undertaken. Yet he has not shied away, after Dark Learning, from editing and manipulating his image. Despite this, we the audience are still the witnesses to a performance. The human figure is a remarkable image, one we recognise and emulate constantly on a bodily level; I attempt to pull the same expressions as people in films, and always pull the expressions of people in books. Capone is, like these characters, our imaginary medium. He is a consummate performer, while this work, that features the voices of excellent singers, also features their images – controlled and acted rather than performed. Eventually, through time, they become themselves again, like Warhol’s films, the glamour of the camera, like that of fame, fades after the first few minutes. These beings become once again our medium, or company in the gallery halls.
The point of being witness to a performance is that I read something, perhaps unintended, that is instructive in Capone’s work. His presence, and now the presence of these performers, is to offer us a mirror of a certain sort of engagement. This is an engagement that is antagonistic or at least unsympathetic to the sort of engagement I am performing right now: this mish-mash of words and text, undercutting itself, looking back at itself, at other texts. Capone’s work always seems to be offering us a vision of engagement with the world in a more honest (meaningful) and bodily manner.
//// ‘We are familiar with people who seek out solitude: penitents, failures, saints or prophets. They retreat to deserts […] they wait months, years, for their solitude to be broken by some divine message that they hope then speedily to broadcast among mankind.’ (Patrick Suskind, Perfume, p127)
‘Deserts possess a particular magic, since they have exhausted their own futures, and are thus free of time. Anything erected there, a city, a pyramid, a motel, stands outside time. It’s no coincidence that religious leaders emerge from the desert […] Given that there is no time past and no future, the idea of death […] has a doubly threatening force’ (JG Ballard, The Atrocity exhibition, p138).
‘Hoping still, if from the deserts the prophets come’ (A.D Hope. Australia.) ////
It is not wrong to say that art is like the church of contemporary existence, and Capone is the perfect image for the prophet – returning from the desert with silent wisdom. The fact that our religion is an absurd one, based on the operations of time, and the orbit of the earth, with the mathematical and numerical values of time that Capone works with, is not to the detriment of its spiritual goals. Like Camus, Capone is the poet of a world that continues, despite everything, to turn.
Most of the time, Capone’s work is differentiated from a simple, superficial Romanticism by his extreme physical engagement with landscape. The essential lie of Romanticism (that there is a natural world, and that this is the true world – or at least the world most worthy of our attentions [as opposed to the industrial world and emerging world of commodities that surrounded its foremost artists]) is still there in many of Capone’s work – yet the character of the images he constructs is different. We can imagine Capone in Casper David Freidrich’s paintings, but his feet submerged in the mud and filth of the gothic fields and graveyards, or wandering above a sea of fog, but staying there from sunrise to sunset, the fog dissipating in the warmth of the day. Romaticism, for Capone, seems not to be the sunsets on instagram, but the enacting of what it might be to invest totally as a witness to the earth’s rotation. And here, in forgiving night for day Capone does not shy away from showing the cranes in the sky of Lisbon, while the sentiment of the work, and its form in the Fado, seems extremely nostalgic, perhaps wistful for the romantic landscape. However, while the spectres of god and nature almost inadvertently haunt his works, his performances are often reminiscent of something more Sisyphean and absurdist than Romantic.
//// There is something I recall of watching The Artist is present. One of the most interesting facets of the film was how innapropriate every gesture seemed to be that faced Abromovic’s performance over the table. While the stupidity of everyone else’s actions and reactions are certainly due in some way to Abramovic’s actions, she throws them into sharp relief. It is the thorough intensity and absolute devotion with whish she observes everyone who moves around her that results, in what is otherwise a terrible film, a truly poetic moment: that Abramovic’s performance, in its attempt to transcend the separation of human beings, in some way succeeds. ////
This genre of endurance work, with its emphasis on repetition and its absurd implications, yet seems to capitulate into simplistic romanticism from time to time. The absurd has become something of a spiritual quest. It is perhaps the error of Camus and Sartre – to imagine that existentialism was enough to set us (or condemn us to be) free, or that Sisyphus was happy. It retains enough optimism onto which to attach belief, and meaning. The redemption of this work however is that it is romanticism in the minor key. There is a loss in this work, and this element of his works must be read in opposition to the feelings of awe, terror and the dreaded sublime that echo still, and also the more recent acceptance of nothingness and pointlessness as repositories of meaning. The loss that Capone mourns extends outward from loneliness or mere homesickness, into a larger loss: of the self in the systems of the world, and of the romantic dream itself. One cannot help but feel that Capone is mourning the loss of an old Europe, the loss of an older Lisbon. Capone’s attempts to find whatever he is searching for appear to be attempts conducted in the realisation of a world with limited opportunity for meaning, but that is none-the-less undertaken in the present, rather than in a nostalgic image of the past.
This acknowledgement is part of what prevents Capone’s ongoing search from falling into some genre of new sincerity. I would define Capone’s stance as that of the attempted authentic. Though he has taken on the character of a performer, it is not a post-modern shifting of identity Capone seems to seek in taking the name ‘Jacobus’. Through it, instead, he appears to approach a more authentic, and quite different, engagement with the world. In a curious reversal, through his mirrors, Capone sees the truer world. Because of this, he balances on the fine line between true and false prophet.
The seven screens are not rooms of a house, or different spots in the wilderness, they are separated by time as well as space. Here it is hard to believe that it is a changed sun that rises over the city in every screen. Unlike the simultaneity that is the gimmick of many multi-channel projections, the consistent element here is only the constancy of time’s change, not the fact that things happen at the same time. Perhaps it can be better expressed as: the same time happens again, just differently, just as the singers change the lyrics of the poem.
There is an element to this work we come to understand: an ellipsis. In the nature of filmmaking, an ellipsis is the period of time we imagine to have elapsed between one frame and another frame. A character closes a door in one room, and reappears on the other side of the city in one twenty-fourth of a second. Yet Capone gives us the ability to time-travel in space, jumping from between one day and another, or seeing them all stacked up to the roof like leaves in a book. Like a dream or a film, it is an intensification of time, but a rarely seen one: a repetitive simultaneity, where the days fold into one another, where they lie together. The dawn is always breaking. It puts me in mind of something Jeanette Winterson wrote: ‘Our inward lives are governed by something much less regular – an imaginative impulse cutting through the dictates of daily time, and leaving us free to ignore the boundaries of here and now and pass like lightning along the coil of pure time, that is, the circle of the universe and whatever it does or does not contain… there is no reason why we should not step out of one present and into another’. (Jeanette Winterson Sexing the Cherry, p.89-90)The seven screens have no visible cuts between them. Like walking through the streets of the city, we can choose which path to take, and which screen to watch. This absence of a cut is also a testament to a duration of time. As they wait, the singers change their stance, blow on their hands, face the opposite direction. They are, when not directly performing, ghostly presences, keeping us company in the early dawn of Lisbon. The screens ascend in space like enormous steps, and hang by thin wires from the roof and walls. Couples with the haunting aufio, it becomes a work that unavoidably seems to invite spiritual comparisons; one visitor commented to me that it reminded them of Hildegard von Bingen’s Feather on the breath of god. Von Bingen herself is another prophet, experiencing visions in her monastic life.
If I can offer some criticism: the city of the work is out of focus – bokeh where its streetlights are. I cannot help but feel that it is a haze that covers what is surely the subject? – Where are Capone’s bare feet, the origin of the song? Where are the cigarette butts of the melancholy gutters of Lisbon? The very bodily origin of the poem seems missing, slipped out of focus.
Forgiving night for day is an uplifting artwork, though it will always be hidden by the language and form it has taken. It wears its drama and its sentiment on its sleeve, and remains thoroughly dedicated to itself. It is not self-consciously clever or entertaining. It is an unashamedly Romantic poem, overflowing with sop or spirit, I really can’t tell. It has some magical linguistic moments, and reminds me of the strangely attractive yet awkward moments of Arthur Russell’s Another Thought. I have heard criticism of it on the basis of being boring and lacking the poetry it attempts. It is certainly a work that demands your time, and its poetry is both extremely obvious, but also sequestered away in the auditory, and out of sight and not in this language. On top of this, the spiritual content of the work is perhaps even alienating in today’s world. It is, whether or not the spiritual approach is a path we would like to take, quite frankly an honour to be present to see Capone’s work unfold.
written by Graham Mathwin
2017: Issue 8: Review: Auto Da Fé and Vertigo Sea: John Akomfrah: John Curtin Gallery
John Akomfrah , Auto Da Fé, 2016, Two channel HD colour video installation, 5.1 sound, 40 minutes 30 seconds. © Smoking Dogs Films; Courtesy Lisson Gallery, London.
The last few years have seen many three-channel video works exhibited in Perth. Chen-Chieh Jen’s Echoes of a historical photograph at Success Gallery was particularly powerful, as well as AES+F’s Feast of Trimalchio, at Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, as were many of the other works that displayed themselves across three screens. But this format seems unacknowledged as the classical form and trope it has clearly become. Three-channel projection is the new format of history painting.
There is something that is classical beyond art about the three-screened projection. Consider ‘polyvision’, and even before this, going back as far as Abel Gance’s 1927 film Napoleon, or the more recent ‘cinerama’. Perhaps most appropriately, of Windjammer, presented in ‘cinemiracle’, using three cameras to allow an immensely wide angle of view. Windjammer itself is clearly intended to be some populist spectacle, yet it should be noted that almost all such multi-screen movies have fallen from grace in the cinematic world. Cinema is constantly searching to fill our vision, immerse us in the vast panoramas of its sets and costumes, but its innovations have almost all been gimmicky and quickly found to be too expensive and/or unpopular to be successful.
The endurance of multi-screen projection in the art world can probably be accounted for by art’s persistent interest in physical space, and, since the middle of last century, with non-linear alternatives to cinema – that can take advantage of using three separate screens. However, more specifically, it is the form of the three-channel projection that raises some questions. It is one of contemporary media art’s most prevalent and consistent tropes, and it often demands a question – what purpose does it serve? Does it ‘colonise our attention completely’ as Clair Bishop writes, merely filling space, and leaving us perpetually distracted, from one screen to another, but remaining within the overwhelming onslaught of information – A ‘times square’ effect?
The problem, as I see it, is that three-channel projection is the default for making artwork appear to be artwork, and to separate it from television and cinema, but that is paradoxically as standardised as either. Yet Akomfrah’s work does occasionally provide the crescendo moments that warrant its use, where he has edited across space, the three screen of Vertigo Sea, cutting a narrative that stretches centuries and the whole of the globe at once. Akomfrah’s influences here are old: montage (not editing itself, which in almost all commercial production is getting quicker) is an art form that is rarely popular in mass cinema today, and it is the classical forms that Akomfrah takes: Eisenstein and Tarkovsky. Montage constructs the ‘third meaning’ between the flashes of images, and in the case of Vertigo Sea and Auto Da Fé, in between the two and three screens, and the flickering images. Despite this, the choice of three- and even two-channel installation is one that seems almost arbitrary, as if Akomfrah decided he was making an installation, and that it therefore had to be on three and two screens.
Akomfrah’s work, other than perhaps not capitalising fully on its multi-channel projection, does fulfil the promise of its epic historical background – both about migration and about our relationship with the sea. Vertigo Sea is particularly interesting for its catalogue of quotations and sources that have been masterfully edited together, from the BBC natural history unit to other, less well-known archives. The images presented are an incredible linking of elements. From extreme views of ice-bergs to the killing of whales and polar bears, from the depths and heights of human visualisation to our propensity to kill and skin and climb upon the carcasses of what we’ve conquered, it is a vast and sprawling epic that negotiates terrain often left to rot, and hidden from sight for the cruelty it exposes. It remains a particularly specific history – it is a filmed history, and one that is therefore quite limited, but within this limitation the work finds enormous depth.
Auto Da Fe, Akomfrah’s epic of the history of refugees, stretches beyond filmed histories, and his direction shows us everything in tableaux. The work is a deliberately alienating and dispassionate costume drama. Though Vertigo Sea was occasionally intercut by similar tableaux shots that Akomfrah had filmed himself, rather than appropriated, Auto Da Fe seems to be his attempt to make an entire video installation without employing archive footage. In Vertigo Sea the shots were the least successful – among the fascination of appropriated historical footage and the awesome technical abilities of the BBC, the tableaux were comparatively uninteresting, using a largely symbolic language as opposed to documents and testaments, and resting still like paintings – a flat note in the motion and pacing of the work. In Auto Da Fe, one can sense the progression of Akomfrah’s vision. Though they remain stilted (perhaps deliberately), in Auto da Fé, the images begin to breathe. The acting and video work of Akomfrah remain non-naturalistic – though the costuming and a few other symbolic elements of naturalism (on site shooting, etc.) seem to be present. The actors in Auto Da Fé are often throwing their hands up, in an ambiguous signal. Either it is to signify that they have let go, that they are shrugging, or that they are throwing their hands up in surrender, or hopelessness. It is probable that its connotations relate to the Act of faith of the title, yet the absence of expression in the characters offers a more pessimistic take on what each group of refugees is doing, throwing their hands, and their lives, up into the air. Symbolic gestures and portents – particularly bags – like this are present in every age reflected in the work. This preference for the symbolic and affectless over any attempt at naturalistic acting is an approach that Bertolt Brecht took in his theorising and practice of Epic Theatre. Akomfrah, in interview, suggests at the need, along the lines of Brecht, to generate alienation in his appropriation of costume drama, which is typically about the internal workings of characters, rather than historical and material circumstances. He points to the paradox of people in the present emoting about the past. This interiority does tend to suspend disbelief, no matter how crassly it is performed. Akomfrah’s manipulation of this genre takes the ‘trappings’ of the costume and removes the drama.
John Akomfrah, Vertigo Sea, 2015, 3-channel HD video installation, 7.1 sound, 48:30 mins. © Smoking Dogs Films; Courtesy Lisson Gallery, London (installation view).
However, in the moving image, the sort of alienation generated by the use of tableaux and stylized gesture functions somewhat differently from Brecht, and in the cinematic tradition it brings one to mind more of The Colour of Pomegrantes than The Caucasian Chalk Circle. The tableaux of arrangements and actors performing poetic and symbolic gestures are the language that The Colour of Pomegranates masters. Unlike that film, Akomfrah’s work does not reach similar poetic heights – it’s linking of the visible and the symbolic is too literal, descriptive despite its non-naturalistic appearance, and the most frustrating element of Akomfrah’s works is their adherence to this style, that is ultimately lacking the poetic it needs to succeed totally at its rhetoric. The works are consistently and totally serious, and consistently remind us of how serious they are in their pacing, slow-motion effects, movement and sound design. In Auto Da Fé, Akomfrah’s admiration of Andrei Tarkovsky (whose work he describes as the ‘limit of cinema’) is most obvious, yet the slow motion of Akomfrah’s film is excessive, the shots that are reminiscent of Stalker go without the lightness of sound and motion that leaves Tarkovsky’s images at the edge of dreams. Akomfrah’s works are also without humour or affect (if one takes away the sense of foreboding and ominous airs that we get from the consistently ominous soundtracks) or even a sense of play – something even Brecht allowed his characters; particularly his infamously mad and just judge Azdak. Perhaps it is meant to alienate us from the typical plight of costume drama, but it appears like vague, symbolic gesture has been used instead of an idea and an approach. This is finally the most trying part of a work rich with history and narrative and that is carefully, indeed beautifully, constructed and edited together.
The context of this work is also vital to consider: as we sit here, a crisis unfolds on a global scale, where people are displaced in refugee camps and in foreign countries. Auto Da Fé is timely, and while I have my doubts about Brecht’s techniques operating any more successfully in video than they did on stage, the work remains, like Brecht’s own oeuvres, an important artistic plea for justice and sympathy for those who are driven away from their home by violence, oppression and hatred.
The strength of Akomfrah’s work though, is his ability to reimagine historical research, and his ability to draw archival footage and historical events together with a filmic and artistic sensibility that seeks less to assure us we can know what these events were like, than to challenge what we know about our relationships with migration and the sea. Above the staging and the cinematography, the histories that Akomfrah uses, the narratives that he tells are the most potent parts of his work – and extremely relevant to our own country in this time and age of closed borders and isolationism. The archives he trawls to find these most incredible images are also part of this. Akomfrah is, from what I have seen, an excellent editor of time, and edits history into story and narrative, powered by the engines of music and silence and narration. This is where the importance of his work lies – in its careful weaving of history, events and circumstances into a cohesive and powerful cinematic-artistic odyssey, and one that is sensitive to the contemporary refugee crisis.
written by Graham Mathwin.
2017: Issue 8: Review: Tom Freeman: Small time: Paper Mountain
Tom Freeman. Small Time sculptures. Studio documentation. 2016. Photo by the artist.
Tom Freeman’s Small Time, exhibited at Paper Mountain, is a collection of works, accrued over years of making, that are imbued with an infectious generosity toward everyday life and time and the act of making itself. A gentle cacophony of hand sculpted and assembled objects and delicately painted works on paper, most no bigger than an outstretched hand, perch on the railing that runs the length of Paper Mountain’s gallery, on the purpose made tables that run down the centre of the room or on the hand-made shelves or hanging apparatuses on the facing wall. And although it is tempting to read these works, arranged as they are in a linear fashion, as tracing some kind of narrative or evolution, the effect of the whole instead leads me to encounter Small Time as a kind of collected monument to everyday life and time spent making, and to enter the gallery and encounter each one individually is to encounter a pocket of time, small time, everyday time, made material.Time, as the title of the exhibition suggests, is a key consideration, or perhaps component of this show, and as I move from one work to the next I find a measured progression, and an egalitarian dispersement of attention (time spent), and I think, affection, so that there is a steady ebb, from one work to the next, that speaks of the experience of the ‘time’ of everyday life. According to theorist Rita Felski, the everyday as a term “conveys the fact of repetition” and this repetition is born out of “diurnal rhythms that are in turn embedded within larger cycles of repetition: the weekend, the annual holiday…” so that an essential trait of the everyday is its cyclical nature. For many early theorists of the everyday this cyclical nature was a deadening force, a closed-loop of habitualized time, to be broken free of in the pursuit of progress, time in a linear form. However, Felski suggests: “the passing of time surely cannot be grasped in such rigidly dualistic terms. Thus acts of innovation and creativity are not opposed to, but rather made possible by, the mundane cycles of the quotidian.”
Considering Freeman’s works, arranged as they are, I think of the rhythms of everyday life, and consider that it’s his immersion in the time of everyday life that have brought these things to fruition. By allowing one day spent in the studio to inform another, allowing generative echoes and reverberations (visible in the works) to pass through them, he embraces both the cyclical nature of everyday life and time, and the possibilities it affords. As each day arrives and takes its place alongside the last, and is followed by another, they form a steady and reliable repetition, a comfortable vantage point from which smaller moments and details can be attended to. This is what I understand Freeman’s Small Time to be, or where I imagine it to be found, in the small moments provided by daily time.In this way Small Time finds Freeman extending a spirit of generosity and receptivity not only to daily time, but also to the content of everyday life, as well as the act of making. Just as he allows the most rudimentary, craft-like of materials, things like cardboard, diamantes or glitter, to mingle with those we more readily associate with high art, he allows his everyday life to fold into the studio, and find its outlet in the works that subsequently leave it. Life is not put on hold in the face of making, not suspended or left at the door so that an artistic practice might exist, but rather the two coalesce, the moments and pace of everyday life feed into the works, and the works in turn memorialise them, lending them a material form. This form, I believe, is not descriptive so much as intuitive, and is perhaps led as much by an enthusiasm for materials, or the discovery of relationships between them, as it is by a moment, or the look, feel or sound of one, that might have lodged in Freeman’s mind that day. In this way each work; a clay object, a delicate painting or a playful mélange of materials, can be seen as both an embodiment of a lived moment and an expression of the artist’s enthusiasm in translating it materially.
Embodiment is perhaps a fitting idea to conclude with here. So many of the works bear Freeman’s fingerprints, not to the detriment of the finished product, but as evidence of the lived body, of the real life and time poured into them. As I find the shape of his palm replicated in clay, or read the mechanics of a work’s construction, available to the viewer rather than polished into invisibility, I am once more reminded of, or transported to, small moments, pockets of time, that are available in the everyday and have been grasped, attended to and made material, and so visible, by Freeman. As such, Freeman’s Small Time engenders an attitude of attentiveness, and exists as a kind of holistic merging of life and artistic practice that is both a material reflection of Freeman’s own daily life, and a gentle invitation to the viewer to re-attune to their own.Tom Freeman. 2017. Small Time Installation shot. Image courtesy of Paper Mountain. Photo by Desmond Tan.
Written by Mardi Crocker
Rita Felski, Doing Time : Feminist Theory and Postmodern Culture, 2000, New York University Press
2017: Issue 8: Review: The Park: Toni Wilkinson: Perth Centre for Photography
Toni Wilkinson. Lovekin Raven. 2017. 103 x 81cm. Giclee Print.
Parks are not, on the whole, a good urban design plan; appearing initially to be a utopian idea – green rolling hills in the urban environment – that are soon revealed to be the first space delinquency and crime appear. Jane Jacobs in The death and life of Great American Cities notes the penchant for urban planners to insert parks as some kind of stopgap, in lieu of multi-functional, multi-use space. This kind of practice results in the playground that becomes, at night, the habitat of other, unintended participants. Yet, as part of this unintended consequence, parks remain one of the few locations where people of all demographics, from homeless and disadvantaged to youthful picnic makers, gather in a largely un-stratified space.
This very double nature, however, permits a different form of engagement from that of the street or mall, which necessitate perpetual movement and move-on notices. The kind of un-stratified and static visibility afforded to all people in parks is rare in Perth due to the lack of common public meeting places – an absence of town squares with a plurality of economic and social functions, etc. Parks necessitate cohabitation, or a dwelling with the other. It is precisely this fecund and paradoxical potency in this space that Wilkinson’s show deals with. It opens to us the undergrowth and loam that build our principle public park.Kings Park does not fit precisely into the general principles mentioned above. It does have strata – stolen in the name of empire, with all the statuary that entails, that feature prominently in Wilkinson’s show. It is at the heart of our town, high above those skyscrapers and businessmen, a park topped by a monument to fallen soldiers. This park is both at our heart, and peripheral to our true activity. It is the spiritual enclave of our city. No formal gardens like the Tuileries or Kew, no grand Versailles, yet just as planned and arranged, with rolling landscapes of green grass and water. The ubiquitous gum tree is here sacralised in colonnades, great ivory or marble trunks like the feet of an endless pantheon of the sky. King’s Park is a dream that floats above this city, a great earthen kingdom beside the shimmering glass towers in the heart of our town. The function of parks in urban spaces is as the symbolic image of what the city as a body imagines the natural world to be. If gardens are the images we hold of how the world should exist, then Kings Park presents us with a broad and vast area of open space (we are, after all, obsessed with land), reminiscent of a vast, untouched continent filled with the possibility of exploitation – a dream that has fuelled our fraught relationship with the landscape of this country. It is the manifestation of a state and national dream of our spiritual origins – in land conquest and borne in bloody battle.
Yet King’s Park changes form at night, and this is when most of this show takes place. One can go walking from the Perth Centre of Photography and peek at this darkness, so aptly captured by Wilkinson’s camera eye. Robert Cook’s fabulous essay delves into the readings of colonial and national pride, outlining the work’s crux in ‘the moment when candy-land brightness switches to grimace, and where postcard picture ‘we’ want to see, and show off, of ‘our place’, ‘our culture’, is revealed to be based on a lurid mash of racial power and libidinal reality.’ The darkness of this dreamscape is persistent and powerful – covert sex, overt displays of national pride and power, and a certain tannin-infused waste in the gutters. These images are powerful depictions of the troubling aspect of this enormous fantasyland.
Yet as well as this very troubling aspect, this show is also a useful mirror for the park, and infuses it with a heterogeneity of presences (young women wearing headscarves, tattooed and shirtless macho men, a young man playing with his dog, the ubiquitous crows). The works are printed large, but deservedly so (even if they suffer a loss of sharpness and clarity from time to time), a large swathe of land is bound to cast large shadows, and Wilkinson’s enlargements speak in a language that matches the aspect of their subject. They are dramatic and powerful, and push themselves up against the surface of their prints. Cramped in this space, they are windows you could trip and fall through.
There is an article tangentially related to this work I would like to mention here: Matthew Gandy writes, in Queer Ecology: nature, sexuality and heterotopic alliances, of Abney Park, a well known cruising ground of London’s North East, that is also a biodiversity hot-spot. Similarly, there is some element of collusion of the bio-diverse, the inaccessible, and base human desire in King’s Park that often goes unacknowledged. Kings Park legends extend well into the murderous as well as the sexual, and as one of the largest inner-city park in the world, it offers a vast swathe of land to fill with such imaginings – and occurrences. Gandy interestingly posits the potential of an alliance in his article, between the perception and activity of cruising in Abney Park, and its ability to retain endangered species and ecologically vital fungi and trees. While this is only a tentative argument, and one with, as Gandy states, limited ability for application to spatial theory, it does give us a model/metaphor in which to try and stake Wilkinson’s photographs of King’s Park. The photographs, in a way, are weapons against the false sweetening of what can be a dark and dangerous, but also vital place in the city.
This article cannot be read exactly in relation to this body of work, but there is a concept that is useful, to the park and to the work: that of alliances. One senses that Wilkinson’s camera has unwitting collaborators in the people and scenes that play out before it. These images might reveal darkness, but they also help to retrieve Kings Park from being made a wholly acceptable and controllable space. It is a vision of both the liberation and oppression that can be found in the shadows of its trees – the common meeting ground, the patriot’s playground, the sexual possibilities in the park. People seem always to travel to King’s park and take photos of flowers and people in dappled shade, but Wilkinson, to her credit, is able to retrieve photographs from the supremely photogenic – even one of a wildflower – and create images that undo and turn against other images, and reveal the contention within the park. And perhaps the ecology, social and political and environmental, of the park has an ally in Wilkinson’s camera, which burrows like a worm through the soil, leaving it richer.
written by Graham Mathwin,