Hayley Bligh is an art critic for the quarterly AUSSIE ART NOW!DREAMING AUSTRALIA is a new short film by American artist John Jenkins, who is currently living in Australia. Echoing themes from Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz, the film creates a fictive environment where the viewer is both active participant and casual observer. The movie is a series of titled parts, which are linked together to form a loose narrative.
The movie begins with an image of a painting of Sydney and its harbour by Sydney-based artist Charles Billich, one of Australia’s most well-known artists. The film sequence, reminiscent of 1930s propaganda films, is pure kitsch. In contrast, the film ends with a segment that is shot at Sydney Harbour, contrasting the ‘real’ with the painted version from the beginning of the movie. Our iconic Sydney Opera House is reduced to a white shape in the background. The exotic is subverted by the mundane.
DREAMING AUSTRALIA is an exploration in nostalgia and jamais vu. This is best exemplified in the part of the film called, 26 JANUARY. Non-Australian viewers may not catch the relevance or reference of the date, Australia Day. When asked about the significance of the inclusion, Jenkins said:
Australia Day is very similar to the 4th of July in the US, it seemed very appropriate to use footage from that day. Actually, Columbus Day might be a better analogy; I just learned that some refer to Australia Day as Invasion Day. There is a similar stigma with Columbus Day in the US. I have a blog that is dedicated to this very notion; rather, I write about the similarities between our two cultures, and the strangeness for me living here as an expat. Also, January 26 is the date of my parents’ wedding anniversary. My work always contains very personal references like that, but it isn’t important for the viewer to know, or to get them to appreciate or to understand the work.
26 JANUARY ends with an eerie shot of a passenger jet flying towards a dark object, which consumes the left portion of the frame. It’s the Harbour Bridge, but the camera is looking up from underneath, so there’s no discernable feature of recognition. In fact, we could be viewing the passenger jet flying into something, a building perhaps? It is easy to draw comparisons between this scene in the film and to witness videos from the events of September 11 in New York City. I contacted the artist and asked him to elaborate. He stated, “It wasn’t a conscious decision, but I understand why a viewer might look at it that way. Those images [from September 11] are very disturbing and powerful – they stay with you. I was more interested in the way one shape disappears into another.”
Herein lies the weakness of the film. Dreaming Australia lacks clarity of purpose. Is it a film about culture and politics, or is it a mish mash of shapes and colours strung together to suggest narrative? Many viewers will be put off by this aspect, and they will be disappointed if they are looking for a ‘message.’ The absence of dialogue makes the film’s length of 4 minutes and 2 seconds seem longer than it is. As for the soundtrack, Philip Glass fans, no doubt, will be delighted. I’m sure the film will find its champions, but I suspect a number of viewers will be left thinking, what was the point?
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
review of dreaming australia
Here's a review of my short film, DREAMING AUSTRALIA by art critic Hayley Bligh: