Lucent Drones Emma Northey Greenaway Gallery, Adelaide 16 May - 24 June 2007
It is during the night when anxieties and paranoias overtake rational thought. Bringing to mind the title of Goya's etching 'The sleep of reason brings forth monsters'.
Things seem better in the clear light of day. As is usual upon viewing an exhibition you make certain associations between the work and your subjective biases. A formal education in the visual arts elicits connections between Emma Northey's images and contemporary cultural theory. A drone is many things; an incessant hum, a male bee, a parasite and an aeroplane that is guided by remote control. The concept of drone together with images of sci-fi portraits, crowds, white noise and religious fervour brought to mind 'Swarm' theory; unplanned and decentralised modes of organisation, simple interactions, signs, amplification and decay, errors and randomness, collective behaviour as in religious revival, panic, habits and trends. There is something contradictory about 'Swarm' theory. The singular unit motions within the collective is driven simultaneously by the animal and the automated thus bringing forth notions of the post human.
Sound waves distort and illuminate the portraits in Gloria's Verse (DVD 2:20min), a collaborative work with sound artist Stephen Roedel, creating noise and complexity through pattern and randomness. The name Gloria is deliberately sacrilegious. Northey is a rule breaker, mixing digital and analogue to create a new alchemy of images and in the process of editing, destroying her original source material. Artists often experiment with equipment and process for purposes other than they were designed for. Northey describes her destructive process as 'beautiful wrong'.
There is flickering contradiction too within the fuzzy pixellation of Northey's photographic image below the slick surface of high gloss cibachrome print and hard edge aluminium mount. Strangely familiar, the photographs are much like pre-plasma television where the snow of static interference lies beneath a smooth reflective surface of glass. Hanging the works at head height, allows your face to be visible in the work whilst the disembodied portraits eyeball and challenge you to a physical and emotional face-off. The dash dot format and placement within the gallery is evocative of obsolete codes. Retrograde too are the images, reminiscent of 1980s B-grade horror flicks.
Horror movies and images are more disturbing when viewed in the dark. Having visited the exhibition during the day, I noted that the work would have benefited from an environment with less ambient daylight. In September 2006, Northey and Roedel created investigations into the dark and the disturbing in the suitably murky surroundings of Downtown Art Space in Adelaide. An installation of television sets rescued from hard rubbish was shown during a series of Local Video & Performance Nights where the duo presented disconcerting sounds and nip and tucked scenes from a television dissection of chat show and soap operas. Perhaps special viewing hours between midnight and 5am would have been ideal for the viewing of Lucent Drones. In the clear light of day I was making allusions which were rational rather than emotional.
Northey elucidated that her work was not driven by theoretical investigation but personal experience and intuition. A confessed insomniac, the artist passes away sleepless nights watching late night television; evangelical spiritual broadcasts and infomercials. Anyone who shares this sleep deprived existence will understand the vulnerability of the mind in the midnight hours. Northey explains 'that things get in'. Fear-driven anxieties range from ugliness and ageing to death and damnation. Having once been inspired to purchase zit cream at 3am the persuasive power of suggestion is not lost on this writer. Amongst the images in Best Believe (DVD 2:34 min), a conductor directs the flock. As with advertising, religion offers the promise of good things to come, therefore Northey's ironic message is Best Believe.
Niki Sperou is an artist based in Adelaide.