A lone man stands in a field poised against three firefighters, the latter of whom are pummelling the man with a high-intensity water cannon. With his back to the water, the man resists the force and moves slowly towards the firemen. It’s a moment that’s reminiscent of protest movements throughout the world. It’s a display of the resilience of human dignity. It’s also the scene captured in Mel O’Callaghan’s video work Ensemble.
Displayed across two channels and projected over a 20-metre-wide space, the video encompasses the overarching themes defining O’Callaghan’s multidisciplinary practice: questions of resistance, struggle and transformation. Ensemble expands these ideas by exploring the political symbolism of protest. As O’Callaghan says,
By conflating the political, psychological and biological, O’Callaghan anchors the human body as a site to investigate protest and resistance. “When watching the water cannons I noticed how the body would move against the water in a very specific way and it felt like a universal symbol that people could identify with,” says the artist.
This interest with identification is ultimately a question of shared catharsis; the sole man’s eventual triumph against the firefighters likewise becomes a transcendent moment for viewers. For O’Callaghan, this victory speaks to our current cultural climate: “I think we’re at a crisis point at the moment and I suppose I want to go back to, on a more biological or primal level, the way that humans have this capacity to resist and to regenerate.”