If a Sydney artist took a wrong turn while looking for a Newtown gallery and suddenly found herself on Bogart Street, how disoriented would she be?
Art as a global scene isn’t just for a jet-setting elite any more, now that even skint street artists cross oceans to hit Bushwick walls; today’s urban artists can be incredibly mobile, and their art even more so. This global existence, once an ambition of the most successful artists, is increasingly expected of all – for artists are, like the rest of us, competing in a globalized creative economy.
BushwickBK Art Editor Stephen Truax and Sydney-based Janis Ferberg aimed to test the transferability of their respective local scenes by opening a wormhole between them. Their ongoing project, Portal, is working with time-based art (video, digital media, sound, and performance), media that have, in a matter of a few years, been rendered profoundly mobile. Video works can have all the reach of Vimeo’s servers, but in our only-half-virtual world, still need a gallery wall to inhabit for their full presence as art. The organizers of Portal provided two of these walls on the same Friday night (give or take fourteen time zones), one here at Regina Rex and one at I.C.A.N. in Camperdown, Sydney – which Truax describes, probably not for the first time, as “Sydney’s version of Bushwick.”
The Regina Rex screenings (“Reception style, which means you should keep drinking,” Truax insisted) took place inside another work of art, Tracey Goodman’s interventionist installation Cockroaches in Autumn. The false wall, shelving, plumbing, and scattered clementines created a very personal space, like watching videos in someone’s mental living room. Goodman says of her installation that it “constructs a distinctive sense of place out of the relationship between obstinate and invasive components, rather than providing a concrete statement telling you exactly where you are.” This could also have described the videos: a little different, to be sure, but not identifiable with a city or continent.
Greer Rochford’s Embrace #2 (Greer and Max, Bernal Hill) at first looked like a very sited performance, but this was deceptive. The twenty-minute static shot of an embrace was Warhol in concept, and set on a dramatic urban promontory, was less Kiss and more Empire. We were tempted to think of it as a Sydney Empire until we learned that Bernal Hill is in San Francisco. A travelogue of a moment, it had no connection with the artist’s home.
The setting of Nathan Babet’s Unheimliche Heimat (Uncanny Homeland) was more clearly non-Australian, the leafy village of the artist’s grandfather in the former Czechoslovakia. In this setting of sinister history the artist runs, from “the resonance of these traumatic tales, my own feelings of ‘estrangement’ to Australia, and a sense of connection with a European landscape, coupled with the loaded histories of Australia and European diasporas,” until he can run no more.
It’s significant that nobody spoke, as such, in any of the videos, as this would immediately have sited the works as Australian. Andrew Newman came closest in Self-Portrait at the Door (Blue Screen Sequence), a content-free performance in which the artist, in front of a bluescreen, recites an unknown text with an empty vowel replacing every sound. The implication is that the words might be chroma-keyed in along with the background. This work seems to toy with our expectations most, suggesting that it might be as Australian as Neighbours if only the missing content was inserted – but then again, it could also become anything else.
This focus on both the personal and the universal – as opposed to the local – has every appearance of an intentional statement by Ferberg, who picked the videos on her end. We suspect that Truax followed a similar program with his choice of New York work (the one video viewable online, Kevin Regan’s YouTube meme-as-performance The Conversion of St. Paul, supports this, previously covered here). It was certainly a more believable taste of Sydney than films about Aboriginal issues or Tim Tams or the Opera House.
Gestures of mutual artistic appreciation between cities are a standard ritual performed by large art museums, a way of cementing their status as cultural surrogates for their hometowns. But here, as for individual artists, the transaction costs are falling, and there’s no reason why a small Bushwick gallery can’t open its own portal to another city and invite some strangers through. If in doing so it looks beyond simple civic representations, even if only to reveal an individualized globality of creation, it justifies the value of taking teleportation into our own hands.