The Other’s Other
Explore that feeling of finally seeing a real, flawed place you've previously imagined as more glamorous.
May 14, 2012
My early memories of Sydney revolve around a couple of otherworldly images. When I was a young child, my family and I immigrated to Australia as Eastern Bloc refugees. Our Villawood stay took place before the centre had a substantial role detaining anyone. But still: my father had been jailed in the old country for political agitation. In the context of my father’s post-imprisonment paranoia, I was convinced that a blimp that would sometimes float above the city was a giant bomb — a pacifying threat — and I was similarly wary of the plum trees within the hostel grounds. A couple of older migrant children had told me that these were where redback spiders came from. Artspace's new multidisciplinary group show, the Others’ Other, treads similar ground, dealing with familiar migrant issues of “territorial borders” and “cultural identification”.
One of the issues with video art, I believe, is that it invites a kind of passivity in its audience. There’s a shift in power towards the artist in work that, realistically, has to be viewed on the artist’s terms and for a set duration. I think the same can sometimes be said of migrant stories, that the travails of the displaced are seen as a special, unimpeachable form of hardship that has to be treated with reverence. So, I find it deeply heartening that video art highlights of the Others’ Other are substantially more nuanced, inviting emotional responses outside the topic’s usual range.
Jun Yang’s Paris Syndrome (2008) constitutes a series of scenes of a blank-faced couple walking through various appropriations of Viennese landmarks in Guangzhou, China. The work plays on the disappointment tourists can feel upon finally seeing real, flawed places previously imagined as more glamorous, beautiful or meaningful than they are. But seeing Yang’s piece in Sydney, the sense of otherness is compounded further. It’s something utterly alien, an impression deepened by piece’s stunningly good cinematography. Only the central couple’s vacant faces undercut how otherworldly and beautiful their setting is. The couple’s boredom in the face of the staggeringly new brought me back to my own first experiences of Australia.
Dinh Q. Le’s From Father to Son: A Rite of Passage (2007) provides a similarly loaded yet blank slate for personal interpretation. The work plays scenes of Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now side-by-side with strikingly similar moments in his son Charlie’s ten-year subsequent role in Platoon. Neither Sheen is a commanding presence, but the same gestures are seen a generation apart.
I brought my own experiences to this exhibit, but I think that such personal reactions to a form so frequently aloof do say something about the strength of Yung and Le’s work. Suffice to say, if you’re even remotely interested in ideas of emotional distance, you should sidle up to Artspace and check this exhibit out.