Years ago, while I was working three-and-a-bit jobs, my father presented me with an article defaming the popular virtue of multitasking. Research by Monash University professor and mindfulness expert Dr Craig Hassed confirmed what many intuit: when your attention skips rapidly between tasks, you become less effective at all of them. Our brains thrive, said Hassed (and my dad) on absorption, on focused engagement.
Split focus is built into our communication and information technologies, suggests curator Felicity Fenner. How can a person derive meaning or connection through bottomless scrolling feeds, ten-second news updates and pocket devices pinging away all concentration? In the group show, Love, Displaced, Fenner presents an immersive video art experience, antithetical to the attention-fragmentation she has observed in everyday video media. The temperate, neutral galleries mute the bright hubbub outside to support one-on-one encounters with each unfolding film and the people in them.
In Refuge, 2014, artist Christian Thompson sings in the Bidjara language of his central Queensland elders, once almost lost. Thompson caresses each syllable of this tumbling dialect against a ballad-like contemporary score. Filmed in one shot, the artist’s forthright and expressive face is the sole focus of this four-minute serenade. Projected large, his controlled inhalations, arching eyebrows and tensed nostrils become monumental gestures. His eye contact is most potent of all: he seems to see you watching. In spite of the screen, it’s you and him.
Two animated histories by Richard Lewer give a lesson in empathy: being human is to be trespassed on by a strange world. Lewer’s doleful charcoal sketches come to life on the bed of an overhead projector, recounting the killing of Indigenous Pilbara boy John Pat by off-duty policemen in 1983 and the unsuccessful euthanasia-pact of a loving elderly WA couple in 2012. Both events are familiar, having been thoroughly but abstractly reported around Australia. Lewer embroiders these accounts with the sounds of breathing or kissing, laugh lines, trembling bodies and retains the idiosyncratic phrasing of each subject, reconstituting a humanity that ‘The News’ omits.
The subject of Volta, 2016, by Jacobus Capone, is the WA artist’s father, an erstwhile piano accordion player. At close quarters, Capone films his father’s re-acquaintance with an instrument not touched or thought about since a decade-long fog of depression. Music practice induces frustration, tedium and pleasure in turns. My own father, already a fine guitarist, recently acquired a stately piano accordion. His tutor chided him and he learned We Wish You a Merry Christmas from books illustrated with nursery characters. It is a humbling instrument. The missed notes, sighs and stumbling rhythms of unforgiving musical exertion in Volta are a font of openness between Capone, his father and the viewer.
The films of Love, Displaced are wide-ranging in their nearness to the exhibition premise. AES+F’s dystopian tableau vivant Inverso Mundus, 2015, and the rhythmic supercut Other, 2010, by Tracey Moffatt and Gary Hillberg are cultural critiques which encourage empathy by marking out the perils of its absence.
Eight film durations add up quickly. The shorter videos function well as uniquely-inflected chapters of Fenner’s thesis and are particularly rewarding when viewed multiple times. There is some recovery required before plunging into the discreet worlds of each successive cinema, like ventilating between dives. In certain rooms, time dilates, one’s obligations hush and there seems to be no distance between the viewer and the person on-screen. Love, Displaced functions just as well as a general survey of video artists with strong, idiomatic voices as it does as an exploration of compassion in contemporary culture.