Sunday, June 18, 2017

JOHN POWER Locus Amoenus

Still from John Power's Locus Amoenus (colors not accurate).

When I entered John Power's Locus Amoenus installed in a small, darkened room complete with large, three channel video display on the ground floor of the State Library of Vctoria, I sat in a chair at the back of the room rather than in one of the many bean-bags situated in front of the screens, which, on reflection may have afforded a more emersive experience consistent with the title of the exhibition interpreted as 'place of comfort'.
As I perused the environment I recalled sitting uncomfortably for an hour on the floor in a room in Union House at The University of Melbourne in the mid 1980s watching short experimental films by the pioneering Melbourne avant-guard filmmakers Arthur and Corinne Cantrill. The Cantrill's films at that time and the subject of John Power's Locus Amoenus today is the Australian landscape and although Power's interpretation is of an imagined landscape seamlessly melding depictions of actual locations around Victoria with the aid of computer generated imagery and advanced algorithms interacting with weather information from data provided by the Bureau of Meterology, the Cantrill's achieved a changing perspective of the terrain by filming the distant hills, trees and sky from the window of a moving car. In both, the point of view is from the perspective of the artist who makes aesthetic choices as to what is to be seen and how it is to be viewed; all these artists used movement to suggest the eye of the beholder perusing the landscape, a matter of virtually being there.
I was constantly aware whilst viewing the changing landscape in Locus Amoenus that although Power's vision was beautiful in its undulating planes, craggy outlook, calm sea and cloudy skies, his view, already stated as a 'place of comfort' is one that reflects perhaps his desire for 'nature' to be orderly and controlled, peaceful and beautiful. His desire to contrive a place touched only by non-human elements is utopian. I found the imagery too perfect, the computer generated colors sometimes unrealistic, indeed not at all like unruley landscapes, with partially fallen branches, dense undergrowth, shade and muted light that I'm accustomed to. I'm privy constantly to the McCubbinesque dusky blues and myriad soft browns of land and twisted roots that is the terrain of Yarra Bend and Studley Park; the largest area of natural bushland still left in Melbourne and a sacred site of the Wurundjeri Aboriginal people. So, this construct of 'nature' continually jolted me into asking questions about why technologies like this are used to construct a reality that is within the reach of many if we commit to venturing outdoors away from virtual and technological mediated spaces? Is comfort possible only if we maintain as sense of control over unpredictable nature? Paradoxically although Locus Amoenus is highly constructed, the trees, grass and shaded areas within its terrain mirror the natural world in that they are at the mercy of the elements. It was a cold and still Saturday morning outside and therefore little movement in the animation save soft movement in the grass, fly over shots and 360 degree turns through the landscape that made me a little nauseous.
The most interesting aspect of Power's work for me was the suggestion that this landscape bereft of humans bore traces of indigenous and non-indigenous human intervention in the form of ruinous material objects. Leaning monoliths, like rampaged gravestones in a discarded cemetry, disturbed the otherwise still, quiescent landscape that screamed extinction of a species since the only audible sounds was the calling songs of birds.
At one point a Daliesque figure appeared to be forming in an undulating rock formation, like Salvador Dali's Metamorphosis of Narcissus the torso and limbs arise from a body of water, but as yet have no face. In this place of 'posthuman', 'hyperreal' comfort there is some foreboding in the clusters of inchoate beings within the rocks that speak to this age of perfection in which we persistently turn to medical, communications and advanced computer technologies to reconfigue the human body and the physical environment. Perhaps after all this is Power's message; that we live in an age in which the actual affects the virtual and the virtual likewise exerts an abiding presence and influence.

No comments:

Post a Comment