VENICE.- The Australian Pavilion at the Biennale Arte 2017 is presenting My Horizon, a solo exhibition by the Brisbane-born, internationally acclaimed artist Tracey Moffatt. Evoking tantalising, open-ended narratives, My Horizon comprises two new series of large-scale photographs, Body Remembers and Passage, and two new video works, Vigil and The White Ghosts Sailed In, which use carefully constructed scenarios while drawing upon inspirations as diverse as television news reports, poetry, Surrealist painting, documentary photography, Hollywood cinema and the artists personal memories.
Speaking of the exhibitions title, Tracey Moffatt said, My fictional characters are seen to gaze out to the horizon line, possibly dreaming of escape, or reflecting on their memories. The title My Horizon can be interpreted as wanting to see beyond where one is: to have vision, to project out, to exist in the realm of ones imagination, or to want to go beyond ones limitations. There are times in life when we can all see what is coming over the horizon, and those are the moments when we either make a move or do nothing and wait for whatever it is to arrive. Naomi Milgrom AO, Australian Commissioner for the Biennale Arte 2017, said My Horizon is an exceptional experience, created with dedication, focus, discipline and a ferocious commitment by one of Australias most successful artists. Tracey Moffatt has transformed and activated the Australian Pavilion with her poignant narratives, which position desperate human journeys, border crossings and belonging as global concerns independent of a particular time or place.
Natalie King, curator for the Australian Pavilion in 2017, said that Tracey Moffatts new work sits somewhere between fiction and history, and is redolent with imaginative narratives as she works across photography, film and video in highly staged photo dramas.
Traceys carefully constructed scenarios and vignettes are melodramatic and resonate with references to film, art and the epic history of photography, as well as aspects of her own family history. Journeys and arrivals, occupation and dispossession, colonisation and massacres, loss and longing are alluded to in her choreographed cast of characters. My Horizon is capacious, open, expansive and personal, Ms King said.
The following works are being featured in the exhibition:
BODY REMEMBERS (digital pigment prints on rag paper 162 x 244 cm)
Body Remembers is a suite of 10 free-floating photographs that evoke the lives of generations of women who have undertaken domestic and emotional labour.
Staged in a remote desolate location, the photographs depict a woman, played by Moffatt herself, with upswept, 1950s-style hair and a black-and-white maids dress. She haunts the inside of a rustic house and its surrounding rough-hewn ruins.
We dont know if my maid character projects her life into the future, where the house she works in has become a ruin, Ms Moffatt said. Or is it that my maid character returns to the ruin to relive a strong memory, perhaps of someone she knew in the house?
With their ochre hues on rag paper, the photographs reference vintage sepia photographs and early Surrealist cinema. These large-scale works also suggest mural frescoes.
Suspended in time and place, the dream-like, distilled images recall a history that for Moffatt is at once personal and universal. The narrative could also be staged in other countries with abandoned stone ruins such as North Africa, Mexico, the Middle East, Spain or Italy.
PASSAGE (C prints on glossy paper 105.5 x 156cm)
Passage is a suite of 12 vivid large-scale photographs staged in raking late-afternoon sun or at twilight in a mysterious port. The composition is atmospheric and strongly reminiscent of film noir, while the painterly colour and omnipresent haze achieve a Turneresque effect.
The cast of characters a mother, a baby, a policeman with a motorcycle and a slim, sharply dressed, cigarette-smoking character whom Moffatt calls the middleman act out a story of furtive encounters in a deserted port. In the opening photograph, Mother and Baby, the young mother enveloped in yellow fog nurses a squirming baby and points to the horizon perhaps representing the babys future, with or without her. In Tug, the policeman stands in the foreground either preventing the young mothers escape or assisting her. Later, in Cop and Baby, the policeman holds the child in a heroic stance raising the question, is he a saviour or a snatcher?
I wanted the 40s-era, film noir images to read as being of the past, but the storyline speaks about what is happening in the world today, with asylum seekers crossing borders, Ms Moffatt said. Passage is a story as old as time itself. People throughout history and across cultures have always escaped across borders to seek new lives.
In Passage, Moffatt alludes to the current global crisis of displacement and its impact on the human condition. We are reminded of mass human movement across borders and terrain: the timeless narrative of forced migration.
VIGIL (digital video with sound, 2 minutes)
A two-minute video, Vigil is the most recent montage in Moffatts ongoing series of riffs on cinematic imagery. It is inspired by the profound shock the artist felt at seeing television news coverage of the December 2010 drowning of dozens of asylum seekers, whose boat ran aground in rough seas off the coast of Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean.
Set to a foreboding soundtrack, Vigil juxtaposes two radically different kinds of imagery: news footage of dilapidated boats that overflow with dark-skinned refugees, and movie close-ups of white Hollywood actors Elizabeth Taylor, Kathleen Turner, Julie Christie, Donald Sutherland who are shown staring through windows. Moffatt has intensified the blood-like hue of the sea, accentuating the sense of carnage.
Moffatt has spoken of how the misery of migrants and refugees often becomes a spectacle for the television and movie audience, white people gawking at desperate poor brown people in boats. The cut-out graphics of Vigil highlight the crisis of refugees and migrants, but they can also be read, Moffatt said, as a blatant commentary on race. There is nothing subtle in the editing and construction of Vigil.
THE WHITE GHOSTS SAILED IN (digital video with sound, 2 minutes)
The White Ghosts Sailed In is also a two-minute-long video newly created by Moffatt for the Australian Pavilion. The artist claims that she recently discovered a fragment of old nitrate film in the vault of a former Aboriginal Mission in the centre of Sydney. The footage, as Moffatt recounts, was recorded by Indigenous people using an early film camera that had been discarded by a member of Captain Cooks crew. The film was allegedly taken on January 26, 1788: the day when English colonists of the First Fleet sailed into Sydney Harbour to begin the settlement of Australia.
In The White Ghosts Sailed In is a panoramic view of the entrance to Sydney Harbour. The degraded film is layered with ghosts and decay reminiscent of old nitrate films. Projected onto the battered planks of an old Georgian picture frame, the moving image has a brooding, dark hue. The accompanying soundtrack features the sounds of a British military drumbeat, a howling wind and a babys cry.