Video Art Thrives amid Australia's Eclectic Culture Touring Exhibit Shows Appeal of Computer Imaging in a Diverse Land
David Sterritt, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
`An Eccentric Orbit: Video Art in Australia," a touring program organized by the American Federation of Arts, takes its title from curator Peter Callas's interesting notion that Australia is like a planet forever being pulled among different centers of gravity - first as a British colony, then an independent state with European roots, later a modern nation influenced by American culture, and now a participant in the expanding sphere of Asian power.
To understand this complex trajectory, Callas suggests in his exhibition notes, one must turn to sources as different as "Gulliver's Travels," which located its "society of wonders and radically altered perspectives" in Australia and Tasmania, and the latest high-technology art from the region's most adventurous creative minds.
Reporting that Australians use consumer electronics at some of the highest per-capita levels in the world, Callas makes a persuasive case for video and computer imaging as natural allies for art-minded individuals who find the "media landscape" more familiar than the geographical recesses of their own vast continent.
He has divided the four hours of "An Eccentric Orbit" into three programs that reflect, explore, and speculate on the uses of video in a diverse and restless land that's eager to embrace the future, yet not sure where that future lies.
The first portion, "The Body Electric," investigates video as a means of escaping the physical body. The second, "Any Resemblance to Reality Is Purely Deliberate," probes the overlapping domains of video and computer art. The third, "The Diminished Paradise," looks at historical and multicultural issues.
"The Body Electric" is in ways the most humanistic of the three portions, taking on various technological concerns without losing sight of personal and even intimate aspects of individual experience. This culminates in the segment's last video, "Methusalah," in which director Cathy Vogan uses sophisticated imagery as punctuation for the words and gestures of an elderly man.
Jill Scott's personal "Continental Drift" also juxtaposes the human body with nature, while Mic Gruchy's less-emotional "Stelarc: Scanning at the Speed of Sighs" visits a radical performance artist who muses on ways in which bodies and technologies might merge. "Techno/Dumb/Show," made by John Gillies and the Sydney Front, brings the language of old-fashioned melodrama into contact with PostModern imaging techniques. …