T J McNamara on the arts

T J McNamara is a Herald arts writer

TJ McNamara: Murders most foul

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A showing of short movies by international artists conveys the power of film as an artform.

There Will Be ...  Photo / Kery Tribe
There Will Be ... Photo / Kery Tribe

There has been a huge expansion of the kinds of expressive activity coming under the mantel of "art". One of these is the short uncommercial video that combines visual, oral and sound material.

Most of these short movies are in some way a call to conscience; they take up causes of one kind or another. They are often political and have a point of view about history, ethics or society and are designed to animate debate about these topics.

Five examples by international artists distinguished in this genre are showing at Te Tuhi in Pakuranga. The works have previously been shown at Tate Modern and the Whitney Museum in New York. They are toured in New Zealand by the Govett Brewster Gallery and selected by its curator, Mercedes Vicente.

The first work you encounter is Criminal Case 40/61: Reverb 2009 by Andrea Geyer. It is necessary to stand in the middle of the room because it contains six screens. On each screen is a character sitting in front of a huge filing cabinet that indicates the material under discussion comes from archival documents.

The case is the trial of Adolf Eichmann.

The six characters are all played by the same performer but differentiated by clothing, attitude and the books and papers on the desk in front of them. They represent the accused, defence, judge, prosecution, reporter and audience. The whole ensemble formalises the historical moment and by implication condemns all violations of human rights

The Holocaust features again in And Europe Will Be Stunned by Yael Bartana. This work is also a memorial but with layers of irony. The situation is Poland and the setting is a huge stadium in Warsaw with all its seating abandoned and derelict. An actor orates in this space much in the manner of Hitler at Nuremberg but somehow without the aggression because his subject is elegiac. He is pleading for the return of the millions of Polish Jews murdered in the Holocaust. They might restore the cultural spirit of the land of their forefathers. Of course, they never can return and therein lies the irony.

Much less polemical but still reflecting discussion - more than 80 years of it - is a very clever work by Kerry Tribe, based on events in 1927 in one of the most opulent houses in California: Greystone Mansion, built by oil billionaire, E.L. Doheny. He was involved in a bribery case called the Teapot Dome Scandal being investigated by Congress. His son, and his son's friend and secretary Hugh Plunkett, were found shot in the house before the case came to trial. Later the house was sold and has been used as the setting for a number of movies.

Tribe's work is titled There will be... with actors playing out versions of what might have happened on the night of the murders. Various scenarios are linked by the single word "OR". Extra piquancy is added by all the dialogue being taken from films shot in the house and the slightly mannered 1920s-style acting of the protagonists. It is a complex and stylish work.

The most elaborate piece is The Casting by Omer Fast that involves four screens. It is based on a conversation between the artist and a young American soldier. The soldier recounts two vivid experiences in his life. The interview is shown on the reverse side of the two screens. Simultaneously, the actions described by the soldier are being acted out in convincingly detailed settings on the other side of the screens. As you watch the action you can still hear the stories being told but cannot see the conversation. It mixes truth and memory.

One narrative is about shooting at a civilian car during the war in Afghanistan and unintentionally killing a passenger. The other is about meeting a young woman in Berlin and finding out when they strip to make love that she indulges in severe self-mutilation.

The nature of the presentation is very real but the intercutting of the episodes raises issues about memories and reality. The jump cuts emphasise that any presentation edits what really happened.

The most subdued piece is by the best known of the artists working in the genre, Liam Gillick, who was nominated for the Turner Prize in 2002. His work, A Guiding Light, gathers eight artists, two curators and a critic to discuss the proposition that there are analogies between an art exhibition and theatre and the preparation for an exhibition is comparable to a rehearsal.

The whole tone of this piece is like the panel discussions that occur at the kind of art festivals that showcase works of this kind.

The time required to watch all of these works is well over two hours. On the way out do not overlook a piece carefully crafted with steel rods by Yona Lee, a young Auckland artist and musician. It is carefully fitted to the space of a small alcove by the back exit called the Drawing Wall. The artist is a cello player and the rhythms of the work with simple lines and complex interaction have something of the abstract delight of music.

- NZ Herald

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