Nocturne

Kit Wise Inflight, North Hobart 4 - 29 July

Inflight is a gritty, cold and slightly industrial space. With the torn up concrete and lino floor, bare fluoro lights and removed location, Inflight's setting matches the kind of art it incubates: edgy and daring with a hint of raw experimentation. Recently launched as one of the few artist-run galleries in Tasmania, Inflight's mid year offering was Nocturne, a photographic installation by British artist Kit Wise. A conceptual gestation of the psyche of the seasoned traveller, Nocturne visually skimmed the surface of cityscapes at night. Bringing to mind the warped sense of familiarity one gets when arriving for the first time in a strange city–a luminous beacon full of flashy hype–Nocturne exuded a synthetic intensity that confused the viewer into believing it was friendly.

Wrapping around the length of the gallery walls in a panoramic sweep were classic images of 'city by night' photography. With a continuous backdrop of night sky, the garish hues of blood orange, overbearing yellow and peppermint green splashed out from street signs, windows and car headlights to create a candied dish of cosmopolitan sprawl at its most electrically indulgent. Enhanced by fluoro backlights and held in place by clear perspex rods, the images seemed to hover in a halo of light, not unlike the illuminated menus of an exotic fast food store.

Mostly downloaded from the Internet, the hundreds of images used in Nocturne were taken by tourists, amateurs and commissioned photographers, which unavoidably forced one to question the true ownership of the installation. Some grainy and out of focus, others pristine in their depth of field, the images were bite-size chunks of international metropolises laid out in a patchy back-to-back composition. Creatively utilising a large wall-size window to his advantage, Wise had painted over the glass and left a small section bare. Catching the reflection of the backlit images in the gallery, the strip of clear pane created a fourth, rather ghost-like, panel. Standing in the middle of the gallery, the work unfolded into a 360º vista, similar to that seen if gazing from a lookout.

Seducing the viewer with the possibility of recognition and the occasional scene of frantic celebration, each image presented a number of hauntingly familiar buildings and landmarks dotted amongst the glittering specks of light. With darkness bleeding into the heart of every photograph, the desire to decipher with certainty the layout of a particular city was repeatedly unfulfilled. The opulent fireworks and grand architectural design in one image let one know it might be Las Vegas, reflections of the Eiffel Tower in another suggested Paris, and pagoda style structures alluded to Asian culture. A multi-faceted paradox flushed in neon, without the clear light of day, one was never too sure of the exact location.

Although initially appearing to be a hive of constant, buzzing activity, the images were void of any noticeable human presence. The lights were on but no one seemed to be home. Harshly indifferent and unwelcoming, Wise's cities began to appear menacing and became places to get lost in, rather than safe havens to come home to. Masking the dark and dank side of street-wise reality, the images took on a superficial façade, like a chorus line of heavily made up showgirls, glassy eyed and smiling. To a lone visitor momentarily dazzled by the glamour of an unpredictable city, the anxiety of finding one's way is all too real.

Blending aspects of the foreign with the familiar, Wise created a linear map of myriad possibilities. Likening the experience of Nocturne to the heavily multicultural flavour of many Australian cities, Wise described the images, in an artist's statement accompanying the exhibition, as 'a re-distribution of topography', the instance of seemingly disparate places melting together into one cityscape. Like a bittersweet urban lullaby, Nocturne lulled the viewer into a false sense of security. Radiating an artificial warmth that left one inexplicably cold, Wise's installation kept the viewer at a comfortable distance. Always an outsider looking in, the viewer became the intrepid traveller, searching for the recognizable in the midst of unfamiliar civic flurry. Echoing the words of seventeenth century poet John Donne in 'The Good–morrow', Nocturne made 'one little room an everywhere'. Somewhere in that little room could be our own space. The question is, will we ever find it?

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