Fragment from the text Shifting Frames: Event, Encounter and Exchange at In-Habit 2010

By Barry Laing

In-Habit was an exceptional, inventively curated month-long series of eleven performance, live art and installation works situated in and around the Abbotsford Convent in the City of Yarra, Melbourne. Involving nine key artists, more than a dozen associate artists and numerous participants, these artworks emerged out of a collective residency at the Convent established by Puntum’s Artistic Director Jude Anderson exploring site/place/space and cultural exchange.

Ernesto Rios has collaborated with seven artists who walk the City of Yarra at different locations, documenting their wanderings in text, sound and on video. These field recordings are post-produced and re-presented in multiple interactive selections laid over maps of the area and marked with the trajectory of the walks. Yarra, presented at Off the Kerb Gallery in Collingwood (and also as a stand-alone website), draws on Situationist notions of the dérive, psychogeography and also the concept and practice of flâneury. To walk aimlessly, or drift, in urban environments is to problematise subject-object relations in the experience of a city. It is, potentially, to disrupt the ‘given’ trajectories of a built environment and open them to the critical consciousness of the human subject while availing the drifter of alternatives. In this sense, the dérive is both a politics and a tool or technique for artistic experimentation.

Seven maps are available for selection in the installation. The click of a mouse atop a simple plinth connected via computer and projector to a wall-sized screen opens, for example, Fitzroy, Abbotsford or Yarra Bend Park for interaction. Further possible selections at specific points along the route of a particular artist’s dérive open small windows of edited video footage and sound from that part of the walk. These can be simultaneously open and in play and can be turned on or off at the whim of the participant.

At the first level of play (beyond the derive itself) – that of post-production by Ernesto Rios – the maps locate and situate the viewer. But wandering cameras, multiple points of view hyper-animated in the edit suite and strangely ‘empty’ streetscapes (bereft, for the most part, of people) undo, to some extent, this location and a sense of familiar, recognisable place. A curious kind of re-mapping occurs that neither orients nor completely disorients. Place is re-cognised visually and aurally and this is consistent with the creative aspirations of the work inspired by the Situationists. In this context, video footage of the sound artists or writer’s themselves in situ has a peculiar distancing effect that nevertheless ‘tunes’ me in to a mystery that won’t be heard and can’t be seen in its first manifestation as experienced by the walker. It is an imaginal temptation that invites me to play.

A second level or layer is engaged in interacting with the work. Selecting and deselecting video/audio from points on the maps, I orchestrate a cacophony of ducks, insects and metallic yawnings at Yarra Bend park, beer kegs in military procession straighten me up at an Abbotsford brewery and strained slow walking mixed against rapid tensile clinking of a wire fence on a pole in Fitzroy leave me a little melancholy. It is possible for me to ‘wander’, digress, return, linger, layer-up and compose aural and visual landscapes of my own from given sources. More poetics than politics, active effort and engagement with the work rewards with pleasure.

With In-Habit, Jude Anderson, in close collaboration with key artists, achieves an exciting balance between contemporary art, community project and cultural exchange. The project’s success to date is in its ‘smarts’: an articulate, self-questioning agenda which sets up structures with fluid, mutable frames that generate, ‘hold’ and make possible a range of encounters and events with art-making at their heart. The work is engendered and embodied by the network of participants involved — in a particular project, at a specific site, in an existing community, or in those still in formation.