Single Channel Digital Video, 2 min 53 sec
Image courtesy the artist and Galerie Sultana
© Paul Maheke
recess presents: curator’s introduction
This exhibition was originally planned to take place at ACE Open gallery, on the Country of the Kaurna people in Adelaide city. I was excited about the opportunity to showcase a survey of experimental video works in a dedicated space, a specific area of inquiry rarely undertaken by Australian galleries or institutions (despite or because of video’s relative public accessibility via other means as compared to other mediums).1 The initial invitation from ACE Open to work on an experimental video exhibition was an opportunity to bring video physically into a gallery; for viewers to be bodies together in a space, experiencing moving image works as a curated whole. In a circular turn, the video works I selected will now be presented online. Due to the closure of galleries in South Australia (and the entire country), recess presents launches on this purpose-built website. recess.net.au has presented moving image works online since 2016 and, with ACE’s support, pushes for the continued accessibility of artist’s work and creative texts during the COVID19 pandemic.
For a few years I’ve been playing Paul Maheke’s video Tout en sollicitant le soleil (cupola 1/2) (2012) on my laptop, in between work or trawling, writing emails or wasting time. I find it extremely calming amongst the distractions of online space. A figure dressed in a sequined silver skirt begins spinning in a circle. They are a dancer or, at the least, have a certain elegance and control over their body (they don’t fall down, stumble or lose pace at any time during the video’s 2:52 minute length). The performer appears like a spiritual descendent of a whirling dervish: they simply spin, extending their arms, rotating in a landscape of dry grass and green trees. The title loosely translates in English as ‘While soliciting / appealing to the sun (cupola 1/2)’ and there is something flirtatious in the way that the body offers itself up to the eye. As it continues to spin, the sun’s light glints off the skirt and an optical effect occurs: the body transforms into shapes and movement, turning to the ambient sounds of grass, wind and insects.2
The video works selected for this exhibition consist of artist’s works I’ve seen online, previous commissions from recess.net.au, and works sent to me in response to conversations and research. I set out with no particular theme or criteria for the exhibition, however the act of telling stories has become a linking element and I have noticed that connections have evolved which loosely group the video works:
Drawn from urban and regional areas that make up contemporary Australia, the first grouping focuses on artists’ relationship to land, and demonstrates video’s ability to adapt and tell stories from diverse locations and histories. An example here are works by Australia’s First Peoples produced by Warmun Art Centre in the Kimberley region: they are digital animations transposed from Gija artists’ rich ochre paintings. The artists are Elders of their communities and tell biographical stories, childhood reflections, food customs, songs and massacre stories in their paintings. The distinct style of their paintings is retained, and the stories now move online with English and Gija subtitles.
The second grouping of works expands the focus on land and place, with artists looking to archives, found footage and digital media to interrogate systems of power that shape identity and perception. These videos are self-initiated studies of how technologies mediate an individual’s reality. One example of this is Martine Sym’s A Pilot for a Show About Nowhere (2015). The split screen video is a personal take on the form of a sitcom. It uses archival footage but does not follow convention: there is no definitive representation of African American daily life as the artist complicates sitcom conventions. Simultaneously playing the role of protagonist, director and narrator of the piece, Sym switches Points Of View between themselves, phone and computer screens, and low resolution YouTube clips.3 In this second grouping of video works the artist’s subjectivity is a filter and their camera a tool of analysis.
During the exhibition period, 8 May – 24 July, a new work is featured on recess presents every week as part of a staggered release. Similar to the timing of a physical gallery exhibit, each work plays for a 2 week duration. As one work is phased out on the site another appears, so that the sequenced works inform each other like a string of sentences, or a body spinning in the landscape 一 a collection of meanings that are not definitive but always on the move.
Written by Olivia Koh
Olivia Koh is an artist living and working on Kulin Country. Recent curatorial projects include False Feeling with Constance ARI (TAS, 2019) and Tomorrow with three stanzas at the Hobiennale (TAS, 2019). Olivia co-organised recess (recess.net.au) with Nina Gilbert and Kate Meakin (2017-2020), an online platform for moving-image works.
1 recess.net.au was created in 2016 as an alternative exhibition space in Narrm, Melbourne. Inspired by VideoDrome, recess focuses on local moving image works. The website aims to alleviate prohibitive hire fees, Artist Run Initiative selection criterias, and offers the flexibility to present works that aren’t finalised or saleable (e.g. works-in-progress or drafts).
2 ‘The video was shot in the heights of Barcelona, on la Carretera de les Aigües. The video is part of a larger body of work titled Tout en sollicitant le soleil / While appealing to the Sun, which consisted of a series of works and gestures placed in public space across Europe and North America between 2011 and 2014. Each action took place in response to its location. Mostly taking place in rural areas, these actions were conducted as discreetly as possible by Maheke and his collaborators (namely friends and members of his family), and manifested in public space as if by magic.’ Paul Maheke, email correspondence via Galerie Sultana, 7th April 2020.
3 Introduction by Lauren Mackler, ‘A Pilot for a Show About Nowhere’ by Martine Syms (2015), Vdrome, https://www.vdrome.org/martine-syms-a-pilot-for-a-show-about-nowhere, accessed: 24/04/2020.
Paul Maheke (b. 1985, Brive-la-Gaillarde, France) lives and works in London,UK. After studying at ENSAP-Cergy, Paris and Open School East, London, Paul Maheke’s works and performances have been shown at Tate Modern, London (2017), the 57th Venice Biennale (Diaspora Pavilion, 2017), the Centre Pompidou, Paris (2018), Lafayette Anticipations, Paris (2018), the Baltic Triennial, Tallinn (2018), Manifesta, Palermo (2018). In 2018 the Chisenhale Gallery, London hosted a solo exhibition, which travelled to Vleeshal CCA, Middelburg in January 2019. In 2019 his performances were shown at the 58th Venice Biennale and at ICA Miami as well as in a solo exhibition at Triangle France, Marseille.
Tout en sollicitant le soleil (cupola 1/2), 2012
Single channel digital video, 2 min 53 sec
Image courtesy the artist and Galerie Sultana
Performer: Francis Beaumont Deslauriers
© Paul Maheke