video/performance nights at Downtown

Local Video & Performance Nights McKay/Siebert & Viv Miller; Shimmeeshok; Emma Northey & Stephen Roedel 6, 20, 27 September 2006 Downtown Artspace, Adelaide

Downtown Art Space's September program was taken up with a series of three moving image/performance events lasting only one night each. An initiative by new Directors Anne Weckert, Peter McKay and Mark Siebert the series showed an intimate aesthetic with clever use of physical space instead of the antiseptic coldness of the endless round of video projection.

Peter McKay and Mark Siebert in combination tapped into the irreverent and anarchic sides of their individual practices. From drunken simulation of Futurama style cryogenics to drooling endurance video that parodies the glacial slowness equals profundity trope of Bill Viola (but in this case with more playdough) the slapstick gags came thick and fast. The crowd cosily watched Siebert/McKay cram themselves into a small fridge/freezer unit in a well-intentioned attempt to freeze themselves into posterity.
In combination with the stylish narrow trestle tables supporting the data projectors, piles of green play dough and mounds of salty snacks and soft drinks, it was good-looking and fun, presenting a 'stoner' cartoon excursion into the conceptual legacy of Bruce Nauman and other video art luminaries.

Viv Miller showed a stylish animated cult hit The Power. Identically clad in grey tracksuits, young blank things offer us aspirational viewing, 'this day is for us', they say. And it is, the kind of day that starts with us inhabiting an enchanted futuristic forest realm, leaving the thrall of the beanbag and possibly ending it all with a bang in identical Nike trainers. Miller's painting aesthetic translates well into moving image – the results scarily like a propaganda video for her philosophy. Miller's work depends upon us getting her mix of scepticism and belief, a combination of sincerity and parody, a well-crafted fake, but also an attempt at a better world. And those numb young characters - well they remind me of late 90s Wallpaper Magazine beauties pressed into service by Centrelink's marketing department.

Shimmeeshok took over both gallery spaces at Downtown showing a video projection, stills and live performance of the same work, performed by Yoko Kajio and Linda Lou Murphy. Shimmeeshok in the past has worked with elaborate sculptural paper elements that are worn or utilised by the performers. They have a Victorian melodramatic quality- reminiscent of bustles, drawing rooms and Victorian hysteric femininity. In this work these elements are less fussy than in previous incarnations, the black ruched paper additions to the performer's arms hanging like distended, bulbous weights. To eerie sounds of distorted magpie warbling, this performance had a powerful physicality as the performers struggled with the heavy appendages on their arms, sometimes clumsily staggering, sometimes swinging with the force of a hammer thrower, eventually smashing hidden water balloons over the gallery and the audience.

Emma Northey and Stephen Roedel occupied the back gallery turning it into a claustrophobic darkened environment with an array of strobing TV sets sourced from hard rubbish. Roedel's harsh noise soundtrack alongside flickering television broadcast imagery completely invaded any sense of personal space. Disturbing scenes from that mad keen dissection doctor's program, intercut with banal chat show and soap operas formed the cut-up, media art aesthetic of Northey's video. Although a powerful experience, the work seemed to be stuck in a didactic negative reading of television instead of investigating more complex interrelationships between our lives and the little screen.

Each night was well-attended, the 'event' format suiting the time-based media works. This series proposes an alternative solution to the problem of showing performance/video artworks; Downtown's format provided enthusiastic crowds and a feeling of community, instead of the rather lonely experience of watching video works during an extended exhibition.