Change Settings: Beiiing
Anthropologist Michael D. Jackson has described his fascination with the migratory and connectedness as located in the paradox of the social, where behaviors described by science become problematic, complicated by miscommunication and misunderstanding. Being able to mediate intersubjectivity within a mobile culture that has shifting limits, borders and ideologies, whilst maintaining a sincere and generous openness, is perhaps an always ongoing task.
The exhibition CHANGE SETTINGS at Techno Park Studios in Williamstown Australia presents seven works made by British born, Birmingham/Berlin based Elly Clarke. Existing as a type of unfinished, potted survey of (or introduction to) Clarke’s video and photographic practice dating between 2003 and the present.
Our first encounter is with the 11 minute projection Cars & Cowboys. Shot from a walkway between two hostels in Creel (a small town in the Mexican State of Chihuahua), Cars & Cowboys documents what may or may not be a choreographed event. The in-camera-on-site Latin music soundtrack frames a lane way flanked by unidentified, run-down semi-industrial buildings., a parade of 4WD’s and utilities enter and leave the frame. Five minutes in, marked by police sirens, the participants of the parade change from unseen drivers to an anonymous collective of cowboys on horses; the event passes and the inconsistent stream of utility vehicles return. This surprising change in events points toward unknown narratives, the distance between participant and passerby and the potential for future, chance encounters.
Our framing as accidental observer is further reiterated in Some Places I have Never Been To; a collection of 81 slides taken by her father and projected on to a plinth; the timed images depict sites that are both familiar and estranged. Discovered in a garage three years after her father’s death - the work refers to the chance discovery of an unfinished archive that documents perhaps our subjective relationship to change and loss within moments of mobility. The missing people in the images calls us to question the document and its history, and the implied but unarticulated story they depict.
This problem of accurately representing stasis, movement and multiple narratives that results from intertwining perspectives is further documented in Moscow to Beijing. The three-screen video installation in the once pedagogical, occasionally administrative, now carpeted and glass walled gallery is the most complex work in the exhibition. In September of 2005 Clarke, partly funded by the pre-sale of photographs she was going to take, travelled from Moscow to Beijing on the Trans Siberian Railway whilst participating in a conference on mobility. Armed with questions translated into Russian, Mongolian and Chinese, Clarke documented her somewhat intimate encounters with fellow travelers. At one point in the video, the subtitles read,’...they change trains in Beiiing’. The simple misspelling of the destination is poignant. This visual slip of the tongue locates the work in the difficult to translate spaces that occupy our inter-subjective relationship to economy, experience, narrative and documentation. This work is expanded further with footage that documents the reactions of the translators as well as photographs taken by the participants. Already located in an area politically and geographically complex, Clarke’s document in three parts - Conversations, Translations and Trans-Siberia attempts to explore the limitations and boundaries of travel and its effects.
In CHANGE SETTINGS, the synchronous relations between what Elly Clarke calls her ‘moving photographs’ and the site of their current installation is hard to avoid. Techno Park Studios was once a custom built kindergarten for the children of recent immigrants and displaced families from WWII, temporarily housed in the nearby brown brick units of Wiltona Hoste (prior to that Nissen huts) where now the semi-industrial landscape meets the sea, suburbia and an oil refinery. The historical transience imposed by the economy and conflict of those that once inhabited these spaces meets a different type of traveller that quietly presents questions about the complexity of being.
Lisa Radford is an artist.