Beyond the White Cube

Artists making films is not a new concept. Indeed, history presents us with a plethora of visual artists who expanded their usual repertoire of painting and sculpture into the realm of the moving picture. Who could forget Salvador Dali's famous collaborative effort with Louis Buñuel, Un Chien Andalou, and that shocking eyeball slicing scene? Andy Warhol, whose lifestyle itself was an extended piece of performance art, turned his hand to film-making when he discovered that the static imagery of paintings and prints couldn't hold an audience as long as a static image on film. People hung around staring for hours at unmoving footage of a building, or the veins in a man's neck while being fellated off camera, just to see what would happen. Nothing did, usually. At least nothing much on camera.

It is also no surprise that many of the most visually innovative film-makers have emerged from art schools; David Lynch, Peter Greenaway, Terry Gilliam, Jan Svankmajer and Tim Burton all started out as painters, illustrators or puppet-makers.

Some contemporary artists such as Julian Schnabel, Steve McQueen and Robert Longo have made the shift into feature film-making, while Matthew Barney, William Kentridge and Susan Norrie have brought thought-provoking and visually alluring video art and animation into museums and galleries.

Making art move to tell a story generates mega-dollars at the box office. Most would argue that these 'aimed-at-families-with-young-children' animated offerings are hardly worthy of the term 'artist made'. However, it is worth noting that digital animation, while generated by high-tech computers, has vast teams of artists designing and creating characters and settings that visually excite and delight a broad audience.

And here lies the crux of The Hollow City Chronicles.

This project was born from a desire to use an artist's own work to make films. Paintings, drawings, sculptures, digital imagery, installations or photographs lie at the core of each of the works in this series.

Art is a form of communication (or it should be), and sharing abstract ideas through one's own unique interpretation of the world could be said to be the Holy Grail of all artists, whether they are painters, poets or composers, and the more people who connect with those ideas, the greater the satisfaction of the artist.

Most artists/creators would scorn the idea of appealing 'to the masses', equating popularity with the 'lowest common denominator' stigma that attaches itself to popular cultural phenomena. Perhaps this is an affectation born of self-preservation. Pre-empting rejection of one's work by denigrating the ignorance of an audience softens the blow when the viewing public simply doesn't 'get it.'

Does this mean artists have to 'dumb down' their creative endeavours in order to appeal to a larger audience? Not at all. However, in order to reach those scattered individuals who are on your wavelength, you may have to travel thousands of kilometres to bring your art to those that would appreciate it.

To those artists who live in the cultural nirvanas of the world - Paris, New York, Milan - the problems of taking their art (or bringing an audience) to their work are somewhat less problematic than to artists living in more physically isolated areas of the globe. To an artist living in Perth, Western Australia, that isolation takes on almost mythic proportions. It usually culminates in either a permanent exodus to a more vibrant cultural life elsewhere, or resignation to the fact that they are likely to live and probably die with their life's work not even registering as a blip on the local art scene radar, let alone on a national or international one.

It is heartening then, to those isolated individuals who continue on their quest to interpret the world through their art, that a platform exists for showcasing their efforts to a potential global audience of millions. The virtual world of the Internet provides a 24-hour, worldwide distribution network transcending the physical boundaries of a gallery that might otherwise limit an artist to only reaching a local audience. Their art no longer needs to be confined to a particular venue or temporal frame.

For visual artists, who work mainly with actual objects such as paintings, sculptures or drawings, presenting their work in the context of this computerised platform has some limitations. Yes, you can click though slide shows of their work on various gallery or personal websites, but static images can only hold your attention for so long. Add some dynamism, some movement and sound and you are already increasing the chances of engaging your audience for longer.

The phenomenal popularity of YouTube, with its potential for disseminating video information to vast global audiences embodies the egalitarian nature of the Web. Sure, videos of cats playing piano, or an overweight man dancing in exotic locations is hardly the pinnacle of cultural enlightenment, but the idea of launching your art into the world on this ethereal superhighway is pretty enticing. You never know who might click on to your site. Your most devoted admirers might come from Kazakhstan or the Malawi Islands. Suddenly, the physical isolation of where you practice your art just doesn't seem that big a deal.

By setting up this website as a permanent platform for showcasing the work of Western Australian artists who use their art to make films, it is my hope that more 'editions' of The Hollow City Chronicles will ensue in the years to come. If this encourages more artists to think outside the 'white cube' of the gallery space and translate their work into the digital realm as moving pictures, then perhaps the 'tyranny of distance' will finally be laid to rest.

Patrizia Tonello, December 2010