The Big Picture
Exhibition: 17 April to 18 May, 2013
© Daniel Connell
© Drew Flaherty
© Gemma Messih
© Patrick Pound
© Penelope Umbrico (USA)
© Tim Webster
Penelope Umbrico (USA)
One sunset a day just isn’t enough. In our mediated environment, where points of view outnumber eyes to view them, it seems there is no longer one nature, just an excess of human ones. Drawing together national and international artists working at the edges of photomedia, video and installation, The Big Picture considers our experience of the sublime amid the visual excess and digital fragmentation that characterise our everyday. Using an array of materials and media, from vast online image banks to dusty photo archives, time slice technology to unwanted CRT TVs, the artists in The Big Picture present an accumulation of details in order to broaden our outlook on nature. Collectively they ask, if a picture speaks a thousand words, what can a thousand pictures reveal?
Patrick Pound’s works allow us to see what isn’t visible through focusing on what is. The natural world he reveals is one we encounter so often that we can’t help but take it for granted; that gust that annoyingly disturbs your morning hairdo, the roadside trees that form the unassuming backdrop for the small dramas in your life… These are the non-things that steal the limelight from the anonymous folk who populate the disregarded and discarded photographs Pound obsessively collects and reconfigures. It is the wind that becomes the key protagonist and Pound’s muse, in his Portrait of the wind. This huge collection of found vernacular snaps featuring a series of drafty disruptions requires an almost imperceptible shift: to see that it isn’t the breeze that disturbs a tie, but a tie that disturbs the breeze. In Same place different people a series of characters seem to share no obvious relation other than sharing the same seat. But it is the unremarkable setting behind them that transforms this enigmatic collection of images by creating a remarkable togetherness, an articulation of the beauty of sameness and difference that is both humorous and touching. In both of these works, it’s Pound’s collaging which conveys a timelessly poignant and humbling message – we’re so caught up in our own small stories, we don’t see the big one that is there all along.
People don’t clutter the images in Penelope Umbrico’s project Suns from Sunsets from Flickr, which adorn an entire wall in The Big Picture, but they are no less vying for attention. Sunsets, Umbrico discovered, were the most popular subject matter on photo-sharing site Flickr. Looking into this electronic space we find a virtual window onto the natural world, and for Umbrico, it is the slippage between the warmth and life-giving effects of the sun, and the cold collection of 0s and 1s constructing this digital environment, that is so peculiar and telling about our need to continually add more to the networked landscape. This global compulsion might suggest that we are mass mediators of the sun. But by using it to demonstrate our unique point of view, showcase our superior camera skills, capture our picture perfect romantic holiday, isn’t it the sun that is in fact mediating us? Umbrico’s artwork takes shape through acts of subtraction rather than addition: first she selectively downloads the best suns and then crops them from their sunsets. Despite a double distancing from the initial encounter, filtered both by the photographer and then through Umbrico, the impact of this oversized installation is nevertheless quite disconcerting. The excessive collage of virtual sunsets may not recall the experience of the sublime, but as we encounter its multitude of images we also encounter a multitude of people. Knowing that they were all sharing something, in that moment, that none of us can express in words and all of us try to in pictures, is in itself quite an experience.
Where Umbrico’s suns bathe the gallery in the bright orange, red, blue and purple hues of fading days, on the mezzanine Daniel Connell’s video installation Lightless descends us into darkness - except for the flickering, stuttering, and pulsing of artificial lights on the blink. Discovered around the inner city suburbs of Sydney; in underground car parks, tunnels, homes and offices, on highways and under bridges, these expiring lights are captured on video and reemitted by equally obsolete CRT televisions. Each individual light is given new life, or maybe, as they play together just an indefinitely prolonged and communal death. As the glow of Lightless floods and fades it continually changes the illumination of the space, poetically asking us to reflect on our era of fickle technological dependence, in which the big questions might be the brevity of light and the inevitability of demise.
Nighttime reappears in The Big Picture, with the lunar cycle. Except that here the moon’s reflected light is digitally animated to recall the illusory spinning motion of online loading icons. Drew Flaherty has manipulated the order of waxing and waning, and the speed of the moon’s journey between new and full, to create the soothing, almost meditative Loading Cycle. This visual pun plays on our relationship to both the networked and natural worlds, which in their different ways quite profoundly map our experience of time, and affect our moods and emotions. It also alters our sense of place and perspective. Loading Cycle takes us instantaneously from the minutiae of Internet ephemera to the macro of universal cosmology, and, by showing us how the moon appears to someone, somewhere, at any given moment in time, it gives form to the globalising effect of digital culture.
With waterfalls and mountain vistas, Tim Webster and Gemma Messih bring us back down to earth. Messih combines raw materials, found images and performative gestures in installations that tease the odd ways we use photos not to engage with nature but to remove ourselves from it. Propped up by a pile of rubble, an image of a snowy alpine peak mirrors the not so picturesque mound beneath it, creating an incongruous relationship between the real and the represented that highlights our ability to manufacture both. In Untitled (way out) and Someone else’s horizon Messih shifts from making to destroying. A rock threatens to puncture the paper of an idyllic lakeside setting, while elsewhere a sunset hangs in tatters following the artist’s failed attempt to inhabit the romantic scenario, instead coming out the other side. Although their approaches are worlds apart, Webster like Messih splinters our safely seductive recordings of nature. Shot on location at a site of iconic natural beauty, the South American Iguazu waterfalls, Flow is immediately spectacular and captivating, like a moving picture postcard scaled through projection to dramatic proportions. Webster however disrupts the cliché of beauty, using temporal and spatial fracturing to break our simplistic perceptions of nature. With time slicing and visual doubling Flow creates a panorama with a psychological Rorschach twist. One that reveals a reliance on technology to freeze memory, substitute experience and replace the real with the re-lived.
Each one of these artists explores photomedia’s capacity to bring us both closer to and further from the world we inhabit. Often it seems, like a camera’s zoom, we have to choose between a focus on the details or a larger frame of reference. In sidestepping traditional lens based practices their works avoid this duality, and instead suggest that, while the big stuff counts, noticing the small things is equally important.