Fire-Works Gallery Brisbane 25 November - 24 December 2006
It is an indictment on Queensland exhibition spaces that one of the most genuinely interesting artists working in Brisbane today has to suffer 'a room at the end' mentality when it comes to exhibiting her work. Jenny Fraser's tools of trade include digital photography, image and text based video, interactive archival computer programs and internet transmission. Fraser is also a driving force within Blackout: Indigenous New Media Arts Collective, whose website for the past four years features the work of Australian Indigenous new media arts practitioners. This category of 'new media artist' apparently poses a problem for Queensland art spaces who Fraser claims 'just aren't interested'.
Fraser's recent exhibition, titled other[wize], showed at Brisbane's Fire-Works Gallery and whilst the gallery is to be congratulated on exhibiting this work at all, the space was nonetheless grossly inadequate for what was a quite stunning and powerful body of work. The exhibition focuses upon the contemporary re-collection of family histories and how this intervenes in a broader dimension of Australia's historical awareness. Large screen projections of family and archival photography phased through the disjointed narrative of Fraser's indigenous and European heritage. The effect does not attempt to 're-frame' history so much as interrupt its apparent linear consistency.
In addition to this alternative or other[wize] history, these works perform a vital function in Australia's cultural heritage by giving little spoken indigenous languages a living presence. This is achieved by way of glyphs that act as pictorial links to further images and information. Each glyph is accompanied by a Yugembah word, the language of Fraser's Bundjalong people from country surrounding the New South Wales/ Queensland border. The electronic linking is a contemporary form of learning, and remembering.
The exhibition included an interactive archive of information about the Bundjalong community and its histories, although it was so poorly installed that the monitor looked more like a pathetic gesture to Nam June Paik than an invitation to interact. The fact that an entirely unrelated painting by another artist separated the projection from the computer monitor virtually destroyed the synthesis that new media art so readily incorporates. New Media's linguistic synthesis is fundamental to its impact and it requires cohesive installation.
As well as being an intelligent and sensitive documentarian, Fraser is a skilled photomedia artist and her photomontage stills in this exhibition were quite exquisite. Arranged in a grid of nine multiples, the large- scale photographic stills portrayed spectacular details of this heritage with images of indigenous flora and fauna, fire and a 'Google Earth' satellite image of the topographical contours. Images were repeated eight times in the grid, interrupted by a different but related image. This imbued the grids with a repetitive eloquence that encouraged you to read the imagery through a passage of sequence and interruption, and in this way replayed the sequence of conventional historical narrative and the interruption of other [other/wize] perspectives.
There is a very innovative aesthetic in this work that concerns the pleasure of learning. It is quite radical in the manner in which it pushes the categorical boundaries of art toward education, although of course we have been learning through art since the first cave paintings. The aesthetic appreciation of knowledge is a fundamental aspect of Australian indigenous visual cultures, and it is just as apparent in this new media art as in the cognitively complex early Papunya boards.
The production of photomedia stills also provided an appealing and readily accessible saleable 'product', thus extending the commercial viability of new media art. There is much greater commercial potential in this form of new media art however, as DVD publication provides an educational and engaging cultural resource for learning institutions, libraries and museums generally. The fact that new media art might actually redefine the client-base and application of the art market is hardly a new idea, but Fraser's ongoing difficulties in gaining exposure in Queensland suggest that the status quo is not under threat at present.
other[wize] is an outcome of Fraser's twelve month Arts Queensland Creative Fellowship, attesting to institutional interest and support for highly innovative and cutting-edge artworks such as these. However, there must be a follow-through support network for such initiatives or else it all amounts to an afterthought.
Sally Butler writes and lectures in the visual arts and is currently employed at the Queensland Art Gallery.