‘Art can be a magic that excites the magical propensities of those who enjoy it.’1 In that the fantasy world of the artist can communicate and inspire the fantasy world of the viewer. Some artists can also use their practice as a sort of ‘personal magic’, by using the activity and outcome of art making to console or transport them. In the recent video installation Dream of Pictures by Rachel Feery at Blindside Gallery, this concept is present both in the illusionary play used in constructing the work and the idealised form of the final piece. Beyond a simple aesthetic delight in creating an attractive artwork, the question must be asked: why is there this compulsion for the artist to absorb herself, and in turn her audience, in these beautiful illusions, and why might the audience be tempted to submit to the spells that she weaves?
Inside the darkened space of the gallery the only light is emitted by a dual-screen projection, as two oval surfaces float seemingly unassisted. On one screen there is projected the face of a young woman possessing a classical beauty. This woman is in an apparent state of somnambulistic rapture, languidly moving her face from side to side as if caught in a beautiful dream. She is reclining on a pillow and the textures of the fabric she rests upon blend back and forth through the adjacent scenery. The opposing screen leads the viewer through a journey of morphing landscape imagery, mountains that fade in and out of a haze of shimmering colour. The beauty of the young woman and the complementary landscape creates a feeling of a surreal utopia and the constant bleeding and shifting of the video works well to imitate a state of mind that we might discover in the liminal moments between sleeping and waking.
A complementary soundtrack of distorted relaxation music, composed by musician Ed Gould accompanies the visuals. The music is reminiscent of the sort you might hear while on the massage table or yoga mat, a wash of new-age pseudo-esoteric sounds. Yet noticeably, as you spend time experiencing the installation, the music builds in a climactic sweep that is not always present in the soupy soundtracks it mimics. Importantly the video presents itself as a loop, with no clear beginning or end, creating a false continuous moment.
An array of cinematic sleights of hand has been deployed in the creation of this imagery. Found footage has been mixed with the filming of satin and sequined fabric then processed through camera filters to create this filmic fantasy and it is this element of deception that brings tension to the euphoric states this work seeks to represent. Whilst this installation calls forth a transcendental beauty and with the floating transitions of landscape to abstracted colour suggests weightlessness. It manages to undermine these messages with its use of illusory tricks and its exploitation of image-culture clichés. Jean Baudrillard’s definition of the first order of ‘Simulacra’2 works well to describe Feery’s choice of imagery: The aesthetic is based on, ‘imitation, and counterfeiting’. In that its image references have been stolen from commodity culture. Yet its sentiment is utopic in that it is ‘harmonious, optimistic, and aim(s) at the reconstitution or the ideal institution, of a nature in God’s image.’3
The trancelike performance of the video subject can’t help but bring to mind a website I was once shown consisting solely of peoples faces, shot from above, as they masturbate. These videos permitted the viewer into this very personal moment, as the subject, eyes usually closed, is lost in their own orgasmic journey. The compelling aspect of this type of video is the way you are able to bypass the potential crudeness of full-frontal pornography and cut straight to the most enigmatic aspect of sexual pleasure. The mystery of someone as they separate themselves by their immersion in solitary ecstasy. The subject of Dream of Pictures is immersed in a like headspace of ‘oceanic feeling’, that Andre Breton has described as, ‘Rhythmic unity … the absence of contradiction, the relaxation, of emotional tensions due to repression, a lack of the sense of time, and the replacement of external reality by a psychic reality obeying the pleasure principle alone.’4 In other words, an experience of swampy consciousness, or a diffused and boundless pleasurable emotion.
By dimming the lights and making the viewer less obviously present in the space the artist has encouraged us to let go of our bodily reality and instead mentally merge with the character of her film. She is most easily identifiable as one of the ‘swooning women’ of pre-Raphaelite paintings, whose present incarnation can be seen in contemporary culture in perfume advertising, where the model appears to be carried along to some sort of indefinable ecstasy by amorphous wafts of scent.
The pairing of this subject with ideally shaped mountain peaks expresses a wistful yearning for an environment that is not yet lost, but already mourned. It could be emblematic of a growing feeling of inadequacy existing in contemporary society towards the real world. Perhaps an acceptance that much of the world’s sublime imagery is now most commonly accessed through technology—mobile phone and computer screens—and that because of this we must appreciate beautiful scenery predominantly through our eyes and mind. If we are at home gazing at the flickering light of a computer screen that displays a sublime mountainscape, we are inclined to transport ourselves a little, as it can feel much more desirable to neglect the reality of our body, sitting in our bedroom, and in turn privilege our mind and imagination that can more successfully take us to these hyperreal locations.
This is what is being asked of Feery’s audience. Although the visual elements themselves are ‘constructed’, the work feels in no way disingenuous, the sense of play and pleasure in its construct and the pleasantness of the installation itself sincerely and effectively encourages a dreaming space for the viewer, a small pocket of relaxation and timelessness in a busy and confused world. The only disappointment being that if the audience is to engage fully with this artist’s projection of her inner fantasy and in turn maybe dream a bit on their own, then there is an element of sadness when one has to inevitably leave this particular idyll.
1. Iris Murdoch., Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals (New York, Penguin, 1993) 110.
2. Jean Baudrillard, Trans. Arthur B. Evans , Simulacra and Science Fiction (Simulacres et science-fiction), Science Fiction Studies, Vol. 18, No. 3, Science Fiction and Postmodernism (Nov., 1991), 309-313
4. André Breton, ‘Oceanie’ reprinted in Breton, La Cle des Champs (Paris, Sagittaire, 1953; 1973 edition) 278.
Alanna Lorenzon is an artist and writer based in Melbourne whose art practice spans drawing, installation, sound and sculpture. Her work concentrates on relationships to...