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Something's trying to tell us some things (2017)

The ghost is an inexplicable image or sound without an actual existence, nevertheless associated with a particular space. In the stereotypical ghost story, it is set for repeat transmission into the future; a forlorn loop acting as a catalyst for the living to uncover material clues to an unresolved relationship with the past. The focus of our lives is increasingly disassociated from the physical realm. Algorithms now predict human behaviour better than humans can. Such algorithms, acting as invisible forces from a distance, exert more influence than the places we inhabit. Are we ghosts yet? This exhibition presents a combination of both new and old video works that reflect upon the traces we leave behind.

Playing with an algorithm will haunt you. The realm of the ghost has on occasion been described as residing in peripheral vision, just like the specially selected ads from google that frame the screens we spend many hours looking at each day. A Facebook update claims "I get ads for funeral plans and life insurance. You think they know something I don’t?" You can click to the right, saying "Not interested." and they won't show again. Regrettable though it is to become closed to possibilities, for even in madness may wisdom lie. We all suffer from algorithmia.

The definition for a/s/l? in the online urban dictionary is “What stupid people say on chats to learn who you are and where you live so they can come to your house with a chainsaw and kill you.” Brie Trenerry & Stanton Cornish-Ward present a series of classic haunted house tropes that include doors closing and books that fly through the air before we see a psychic who has foregone channeling ghosts. Through her automatic writing activity across a mirror she appears to have had made contact with an Artificial Intelligence. In turn, the robotic A.I. seeks another plane of existence through lighting candles in a chapel like interior. It is said an unwelcome spirit will not enter a dwelling in which it is uninvited and yet today a plethora of invisible entities are already within it by default via your smart phone. Alexa is always listening and a murder case may test her devotion to you. To be haunted today is to be embodied by a series of incomplete constructs at odds with who you believe you really are. Mirrored on a server somewhere, a detailed analysis of your movements and activities has built up a counterfeit you—like the body that materialized in a backyard pumpkin patch in the 1978 re-make of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The origins of Halloween lie in the pagan response to the transition of the seasons but like the cyclonic assault of Ian Haig’s Trick or Treat (1998) those seasons today are increasingly unpredictable.

Classic Australian prison dramas Ghosts of The Civil Dead and Everynight... Everynight (set in Pentridge Prison) provided inspiration for the character we see in this excerpt from Brendan Lee’s Two Birds With One Stone (2006) who promises a cycle of pain and debt in the future for what has happened inside. The Pentridge cells of course, were transformed into apartments that come at a considerable cost today. While the fortifications of the prison let no one out, Erin Coates & Justin Spiers interrogate the familiar notion that 'everyman's house is his castle' using infrared video customarily utilised for security systems. In Erasing the White Castle (2011) the Australian bushland is already overtaking an abandoned theme park in which we witness a nocturnal figure dressed in a Mickey Mouse costume render a miniature white castle invisible by painting it black.

In his 1981 analysis of The Shining, Fredric Jameson speculated that the ghost story was anachronistic in its dependence on a material house and that the horrific past clings only stubbornly to open spaces. The sinister twins, forever confined to the site of their murder in the Overlook Hotel of Kubrick’s film, are in notable contrast to the charming innocence of the twins in Donna McRae’s Flyville (2016). The latter’s brief but penetrating gaze reminiscent of the children from the Village of the Damned tell us however that they are alien visitors within the Australian landscape. In Kieran Boland’s
Little Poet Thomas  (2017) two young women coax an awkward wizard hiding behind a gravestone in a cemetery to read from Thomas Gray’s Elegy in A Country Churchyard of 1750. The persistent interruption of a film clapperboard in the foreground suggests the wizard’s amateurish performance and inability to remember his lines may in time be corrected. In Mark and Garry (2013) Patrick Topitschnig reveals the disparity between the reality of the construction of a grave and its depiction within the movies. We hear but never see the gravediggers who confess they don’t like being watched while doing work performed mostly by noisy machines. Their desire to remain anonymous is indicative however that the job is not as de-ritualized as expected and therefore any previous romantic literary associations or fantasies cannot quite be dispelled. A coffin-like suitcase provides the ultimate mobile home for a vampire’s journey across the sea in Shaun Wilson’s Gothic Memoria series (2008-12) which draws on the rich legacy of early cinema. Liss Fenwick & Atticus Bastow’s Crosswinds, ha long bay (2017) initially evokes a sense of the otherworldly, akin to Arnold Böcklin’s 1883 painting Isle of the Dead. Any suspicion that the dreamlike movement across the water might be a computer animation dissipates as an accumulating stream of rubbish floats towards us and a familiar location is revealed in the end.

In Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, a character who has passed over to the other side is asked how she can be here in the world of the living if she’s already dead. She asserts there’s “dead” and then there’s dead—it’s all relative. In an abridged version of My family - one of them is dead (2011) Sanja Pahoki continuously reframes the scene of her father lying motionless on the floor of the bedroom, all the while careful not to disturb his perfect slumber.

List of Works

Stanton Cornish-Ward & Brie Trenerry
a/s/l? 5’03“ (2017)
16:9 HD video, colour, sound
Courtesy of the artists and MARS Gallery, Melbourne

Ian Haig
Trick or treat 1’45” (1998)
4:3 SD animation, colour, sound (by Phillip Samartzis)

Brendan Lee
Two birds with one stone [abridged] 3’50“ (2006)
4:3 SD video, colour, sound

Erin Coates & Justin Spiers
Erasing the White Castle 4’45” (2011)
16:9 HD infrared video, colour, sound

Donna McRae
Flyville 5’41” (2016)
16mm transferred to 4:3 HD video, colour, sound

Kieran Boland

Little Poet Thomas 2’16“ (2017)
16:9 HD video, colour, sound

Patrick Topitschnig
Mark and Garry 7‘20” (2013)
16:9 HD video, colour, sound

Shaun Wilson
Gothic Memoria Selections 5’00” (2008-2012)
2.35:1 HD and SD video, black & white, sound

Liss Fenwick & Atticus Bastow
Crosswinds, ha long bay 3’15” (2017)
16:9 HD video, colour, sound

Sanja Pahoki
My family - one of them is dead [abridged] 6’00” (2011)
4:3 SD video, colour, sound.
Courtesy of the artist and Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne


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