Nau mai, haere mai, welcome to eyeCONTACT, a forum built to encourage art reviews and critical discussion about the visual culture of Aotearoa New Zealand. I'm John Hurrell its editor, a New Zealand writer, artist and curator. While Creative New Zealand and other supporters are generously paying me and other contributors to review exhibitions over the following year, all expressed opinions are entirely our own.

Friday, August 29, 2008

A markerpiece

Chris Marker, Owls at Noon Prelude: The Hollow Men
Gus Fisher
29 August – 4 October 2008

This has got to be the highlight of the Gus Fisher year. A wonderful exhibition from the Institute of Modern Art in Brisbane of two key works by the legendary French film-maker Chris Marker.

One, La Jetée (1962) is much discussed, and highly influential – a thirty-minute long series of b/w stills about thwarted love after an imagined Third World War.

The other, Owls at Noon Prelude: the Hollow Men (2005) is very recent, so new to most, and quite extraordinary. It shows for somebody born in 1921, Marker still has all motors running - at full throttle. It is extremely clever, visually and poetically compelling and immensely moving – just as La Jetée is. But without a personal narrative.

One can speculate why Marker has made a film about WW1 almost a hundred years after. Perhaps sparked off by Iraq? Yet to the French, those battle sites are still much visited and the events greatly talked about, even now. (I know because I lived in a village on the site of the Battle of the Marne for a couple of years, and the old people there all had stories to tell. We even found fired mortars in our garden and live bullets in our barn, so historic events remain immensely vivid for very long periods.)

This film blends the language of Eliot, Sassoon and others with Marker’s own pithy commentaries and treated found images – a huge bank of them that he has skilfully orchestrated to present on a line of eight screens. The gridded line alternates: ABABABAB.

Not only are the paired sets of images haunting, but the way the written word is treated on the screens is immensely interesting. You see quotations from Eliot which then have phrases removed and presented in isolation, sometimes close-up, sometimes grainy and disintegrating, or only a few letters at a time – drawing out new or refreshing old meanings. Then Marker makes his own observations, mixed in.

This sort of layered show needs lots of return visits. There is a great catalogue available with essays by the wonderful Adrian Martin and Raymond Bellour. And a series of stimulating lectures which, if they are half as good as the short one Laurence Simmons gave at the opening, will be spell-binding.

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