Christian Capurro, Slave
Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne; 16 August – 28 September 2014
Stripped down to minimal parts and minimal visual traffic, Christian Capurro’s Slave manages to occupy space like the weighty absence of dark matter. The unlit cavernous nature of the gallery hints at that vast mass of absence, achieved by painting out the white of the walls, blocking any incoming light or sound, and only making visible the images on large black monoliths and the projectors that cast onto them.
A half-dozen or so of these totemic structures, each identical and about 3 or 4 metres high, are scattered around the gallery like stonehenge pillars or easter island figureheads. These monoliths are also the screens for the projected imagery and are a similar shape to the apple iphone, only upscaled several thousand percent. Those familiar with art history will recognise the image on the screens as a video taken of a Dan Flavin artwork. Flavin made sculptures out of fluorescent lights, beginning in the 1960s. His makes objects but they also make obvious the materiality of light – they appear to be, say, 100cm long and 50cm wide, but the light is part of the sculpture so they actually fill up more space than their obvious physical size.
“A phenomenology of illumination
versus a phenomenology of reflection.”
Capurro has been to a museum and filmed the sculptures for at least a few minutes on his phone’s video camera. The quality is typically shitty phone-camera quality, and blowing the image up to 3 or 4 metres high amplifies the lo-fi character. Hard to believe that a magic little black box we put in our pockets and purses, that enable us to watch movies, to consult the world’s most comprehensive library ever imagined and to see what 600 of our friends and acquaintances are doing right at this moment anywhere on the planet, could be considered lo-fi. Such is the nature of the ideas thrown up by this work.
There’s lovely dualities of transferred energy in the work as well. The Flavin sculptures that Capurro has filmed work by illumination. Slave works by reflection. This notion of reflection works on several levels. Firstly, the haptic characteristic of the physical reflection of light off the surface of the monolith that facilitates the viewer’s receipt of the work. The images we are seeing in Slave are reflections bounced off of plaster walls but they are also reflections (or ruminations) on the nature of light and the nature of technology. I can’t help but think about the sun and the moon. The sun illuminates itself from within whereas the moon is illuminated by something else cast onto it. We only see it because of the sunlight beams that bounce off the surface of the moon and rush down to us on earth. Flavin is the sun, Capurro is the moon.
Visually, there’s a translation of the light from its origin in the gallery where the Flavin sculpture was situated to its place represented in the gallery of ACCA. Translation occurs through several filters or conduit – the very slight wobble of Capurro’s attempt to hold the tiny camera still influences the already filtered image capture technology of the phone camera, then translated through the data projectors used to transfer that recorded image onto large black slabs of wood and plaster, translated by the way the light then bounces off the surface of the screens and into our eyes. This results in colour variations appearing between, and on, the fluorescent tubes in the images, breaking the predominant control of white light in the space, as if the white light is fractured through the prisms of camera capture and projector release. Pink Floyd comes to mind.
Which brings me to sound. Capurro has deadened the sound in the space, partly through material intervention by acoustically dampening the entrance area ensuring that no sound enters or exits, and partly through the omission of camera recorded audio from the initial recordings. Also perhaps partly because of the sheer weight of darkness in the space, with its implications of the subterranean, and of caves (hello Plato) and caverns (hello etymology of camera). This provides for a weighted mass of negative space, something explored by Capurro in processes of erasure in previous works, that materialises as part of the work itself. The projectors make some noise, only adding to the sense of tension between illumination and reflection. The images we witness are on the walls but it’s the boxes hanging from the ceiling producing the light that is throwing those images through the darkness and making them bounce back to us. Sun and moon again.
There’s so much crammed into this work that it’s well worth spending time with. If only to allow your bodily appreciation of the space to acclimatise to the phenomenology of the atmosphere. Show runs until 28th of September, which is a week after the equinox. Just saying.