Crowded out

Discussing the work of Australian artist Matthew Berka (2013), Melbourne ︎ view online

MY HOUSE IS TOO SMALL is a curatorial project by Julia Powles formed in a West Melbourne apartment and involving 6 artists and writers. At the invitation of the curator the following essay was developed as part of this project. 
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Matthew Berka, Untitled, video still, 2013.

As I look from our apartment window the current view is of a lustrous white grey sky across a vast industrial sprawl, full of light, and changing before my eyes. There are fixed and still forms, but the grey light, change and movement are most palpable within my thoughts. At times there’s so much happening that it’s difficult to take in. Sitting at my desk while I write I am conscious that what I write is simply a remembrance, a recollection of the experience of looking. I am reminded that we often envision reality, merging fiction into fact, ‘de-realizing’ what we know in order to form a parallel representation that is based on captured and compressed perceptions. I recollect the moment of staring through my apartment window in order to remember the impulse and sensation, recalling that it was like a type of looking beyond vision where there was a play between what was and what wasn’t noticed. I’m also mindful that meandering and locating, drifting, is probably related to the way that most ideas or undertakings commence and therefore wonder how each of the participants will approach their task.

Having people stay in our apartment, where they will make their artwork in response to our life and our various activities has been decisive for us. The first person is a young man whose video work is like a clear and piercing eye, slow, sharp and exploratory. Some of the others I am familiar with, and I imagine that I’ll feel easier towards them, although still, I detect an overall uneasiness about the entire guest visitation brooding within me. Julia has told me that making art can be a paranoid activity and therefore I wonder if the natural demeanor of the subject of an artwork is in turn equally one of mistrust and suspicion. The basis of this neurosis stems from my view that, while artworks are often formed habitually, they also develop through artificially fashioned and intentional observances that automatically elicit coloured and partisan viewpoints. Coupled with this expectancy I wonder about my capacity to sustain presence of mind and focus over the seemingly lengthy period of the young man’s stay, because I am preemptively conscious of my space as a place of displacement. But mainly I’m uneasy with the virtual scene that will develop from this, a digital déjà vu; a video work. I envision something that I have already experienced, that has been fashioned and fragmented, nuanced and interpreted into that which I will be seeing, formed with a sense of uncanny exteriority. And lastly, perhaps conversely (despite the fact that there may be no individual or person present within the final work), I reflect on my sense of self-importance, as I’m ever so vaguely and vainly concerned about the personal risk of not being included in the ensuing work.

Not entirely unlike Michael Snow’s narration of each impending photograph within Hollis Frampton’s Hapax Legomena I: Nostalgia, highlighting imagination and anticipation, I feel as though I am asynchronously foreshadowing or conjuring the visual trace of Matthew Berka’s potential experience with video in our apartment. Clearly I have no idea what will form, but knowing Matthew’s work I expect a spare structural clarity, a minimal and decisive action, some form of diegetic container from which Matthew’s experience will be expounded. I suppose I can only really reflect on the circumstance of video media inserted within the context of the apartment and how one might potentially approach this. Anyway, I begin like Snow’s narration, completely in the dark.

Video is a medium that implies a form of disembodied experience in the same way that sculpture conversely involves a physical encounter, so while I am anticipatory, I imagine Matthew’s presence as ‘light’ and intentionally non invasive, the work arriving through a type of integrated experience within the domestic environment. I’m conscious that most artists work with and through the character or qualities of their chosen mediums in order to shepherd something that is essentially an anticipatory, prefiguring projection, or more simply a hopeful and intuitive impulse. Through my own experiences I also know that there is a constant and inevitable assignation between failure and hopeful possibility, even when the work is based reassuringly in careful preparation and thoughts of probability. Still, a work is never really known until it is tangible and concrete, until it comes into being.

A video work is the transference from actuality to artificiality in the form of a living, or actual artwork. ‘The difference between the living and the artificial is exclusively a narrative difference. It cannot be observed but only told, only documented …’ and moving image documentation, unlike other forms of documentation is in its essence ‘… primarily narrative, and thus it evokes the unrepeatability of living time’1.  And equally, in the form of art, video takes on the aura of its own actuality as is also the case within the convention of portraiture, which is far from documentation and is formed within the inherent tensions produced through the dialogue between the subject and other, meaning that '… the body is what others see but what the subject does not’2. The subject of a video, like the subject of portraiture is therefore formed through the blurred boundaries of the observer, the subject and the exteriority of the subject, within an unrepeatable actuality, mirroring life where identity is formed in mutability rather than stability.

Moving image in the form of video art offers the possibility of paradox: moving image provides us with opportunities to re-enter unique periods in time through footage, documentation. However video art, similarly to portraiture or genre art in painting and photography is far from documentation, as it evokes the same sense of aura that is contained within most original artworks. Therefore moving image in the form of video art connects us to a type of living thing through the authenticity that is commonly evoked through our experience of an artwork. Yet, through the repetition function of looping within video art, a video work has the capacity to simultaneously elicit ideas of endlessness, to suggest a place of non-time where a living unrepeatable and unique sequence of time can exist recurrently. And this enigma or contradiction is particularly the case within the video work that will be formed for this project, as the eventual video work shaped by Matthew will be situated within the space in which it was captured and conceived. The work will have been cast through living interaction, through processes of observing and locating, to finally be formed and, most significantly, embodied as a video installation within the space in which it was devised.

‘Art documentation … acquires through the installation an aura of the original, the living, the historical. In the installation the documentation gains a site – the here and the now of a historical event … [And along with this,] … (post) modernity enacts a complex play of … deterritorialization and reterritorialization, of removing aura and restoring aura … [as] … the modern age is constantly substituting the artificial, the technically produced, and the simulated for the real … no matter whether it ever becomes reality or forever remains a fantasy …’3

Therefore, in the instance of Matthew’s work for this project opportunities exist to view ‘windows’ that frame comparative versions of actuality, reality and simulation. The form and location of the work will inevitably evoke a flow of time involving conflicting narrative assertions: the day-to-day actuality of the space, paired with Matthew’s video installation involving that space. And the counterpoising of these elements conceptually implies a nuanced tautological space marking a continuous modification of presence where actuality and the artwork co-exist in a coupled and fluctuating correlation as living and unsettled spaces. And to labour this point further through the contrast to writing (mindful of my exigent task), writing conversely forms as more of ‘… a rupture in presence, the 'death' or the possibility of the receiver inscribed in the structure of the mark.... What holds for the receiver holds also, for the same reasons, for the sender or producer’4.  Whereas notably, ‘… each presentation of a digitalized image becomes a recreation of the image … [and is therefore generative rather than dead. The video art installation] … transforms a copy into an original’5.

I know that Matthew’s work will emerge through patient observation and speculation as in many ways his practice is aligned to the provisionality of drawing. At times it seems as if his work doesn’t care whether you’re there or not and it often seems to exist somehow beyond the disembodiment of moving image in a type of post-subjective or reasoned state. Unsurprisingly the apartment is a space in which memories and confidential or reserved scenes occur, and generally speaking moving images always transform the spaces they occupy. Matthew’s moving images will inextricably merge with the life of the space as a type of third, or ancillary remembrance.

        Peter Westwood

1. Groys, B., Art Power, MIT Press, Cambridge MA, 2008. p 56
2. Man, E K W, Reclaiming the Body: Francis Bacon's Fugitive Bodies and Confucian Aesthetics on Bodily Expression, Contemporary Aesthetics, vol. 2, 2004
3. Groys, B., Art Power, MIT Press, Cambridge MA, 2008. p 64
4. Derrida, J., ‘Signature, Event, Context’ in Glyph 1, trans. Samuel Weber and Jeffrey Mehlman, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1977. p 180
5. Groys, B., Art Power, MIT Press, Cambridge MA, 2008. p 91   

© Peter Westwood 2020