Exhibition | Life Inside an Image | Monash University Museum of Art

Gerard Byrne, Jielemeguvvie guvvie sjisjnjeli (Film inside an image) 2015-16 (still) Courtesy the artist and Lisson Gallery, London

Gerard Byrne, Jielemeguvvie guvvie sjisjnjeli (Film inside an image) 2015-16 (still) Courtesy the artist and Lisson Gallery, London

Exhibition dates 1 October – 10 December 2016

Opening function Saturday 8 October 2016 3-5pm

Artists | Matthew Buckingham (USA), Gerard Byrne (IRL), Melvin Moti (NDL), Fiona Pardington (NZ), Elizabeth Price (UK), Amie Siegel (USA), Judy Watson (AUS)

MUMA’s upcoming exhibition Life inside an Image, presented in association with Melbourne Festival, will bring together seven contemporary artists from six different countries whose work engages with significant cultural collections including the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersberg, the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford and the British Museum in London.

The exhibition explores the function of the museum in relation to the camera. Museums, like cameras, preserve, frame and index the world. Both attempt to arrest beings, objects and environments into conditions of stasis. In so doing, museums also translate objects (whether artworks, ancient tools, mineral samples or taxidermied animals) into documents – official texts that evidence natural and cultural histories. Like photographs, they bear witness.

Many of the artists in the exhibition return to the origins of photography as a way of grappling with contemporaneity, sensing that photography – as a practice and medium – is in a critical historical moment.

Orbiting around the presentation of a new major work by Irish artist Gerard Byrne, co-commissioned by Monash University Museum of Art, Mead Gallery, Warwick University and Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Life inside an Image considers the museum as an image-capturing technology. It offers a selection of still and moving-image works by artists Matthew Buckingham, Gerard Byrne, Melvin Moti, Fiona Pardington, Elizabeth Price, Amie Siegel and Judy Watson, each of whom has worked closely with a museum collection or artefact in order to disrupt old, and unearth new narratives.

Charlotte Day, Director of MUMA adds ‘This exhibition encourages us to consider the politics and potentialities of collecting institutions, especially as they relate to the representation and historicisation of different cultures’.

About the works in the exhibition

Gerard Byrne’s new work is a slow, panoramic film that captures the famous natural history diorama at the Biologiska Museet in Sweden. Made in 1893, the diorama’s host of taxidermied animals give an eerie impression of the Nordic wilderness. Byrne augments this sensation by adding field recordings of native bird calls to the film’s soundtrack. The title for the work, Jielemeguvvie guvvie sjisjnjeli, is an approximation of the phrase ‘film inside an image’ in the local Indigenous language of Southern Sami. Its direct translation is ‘life inside an image,’ for in Sami there is no word for ‘film’. This mistranslation articulates Byrne’s work even more precisely, for in it Byrne is also drawing a parallel between the processes of taxidermy, film and photography – forms of preservation that arrest life.

Fiona Pardington presents a selection of works from her 2010 large-scale photographic series documenting life casts, a form of proto-photography. Made by the medical scientist and phrenologist, Pierre Dumoutier, during one of French explorer Jules Dumont d’Urville’s South Pacific voyages (1837-40), most of the life casts are of Indigenous peoples of the South Pacific, including Māori chiefs, and are now part of the collection of the Musée de l’Homme in Paris. Pardington’s renderings of these objects seem to pre-empt the invention of photography through her visualisation of light falling down and hitting the tops of the casts, just as light would fall down and penetrate a photographic negative in a darkroom.

Amie Siegel’s Double Negative 2015 consists of two 16mm films, simultaneously projecting images of Le Corbusier’s iconic white Villa Savoye located in the outskirts of Paris, France and its doppelgänger, a black copy of the Villa Savoye located in Canberra, Australia. Each film has been printed on 16mm stock as a negative image, or polarity print, thus reversing light and dark. The Antipodean black Villa Savoye in Canberra (designed by Ashton Raggatt McDougall) houses the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, an organisation dedicated to housing and creating digital duplications of its extensive collections of anthropological films, photographs, slides and sound recordings. Double Negative juxtaposes the urgency behind documenting ‘vanishing’ cultural practices and the contemporary archival impulse to copy vanishing analogue media formats to digital.

Judy Watson’s the keepers 2016 is a new video work comprised of documentary film footage shot in the Aboriginal Australian archives of the British Museum in London. The film is shot from the perspective of a visitor to the archives, presumably the artist herself. Its gaze follows the sightlines and hands of a woman tracing her fingers over the pages of early colonial visual diaries and logbooks, flicking through filing cabinets, or feeling the braided contours of a woven basket. In the film’s darkest moments, the camera narrows its gaze onto mug-shot-like, black and white photographs of naked Aboriginal men and women, placed alongside measuring sticks, or against the blank background of a brick wall. The film reframes the exploitative violence of the original image at its moment of capture within the clinical context of the British Museum’s archive – a second violation, where the original colonial subjugation continues into the present in a new form.

See the MUMA website for further information: http://www.monash.edu/muma/exhibitions/exhibition-archive/2016/gerard-byrne-and-others

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