A naked body lies beside the side of a desolate highway, close to a road sign, next to the carcass of a kangaroo. 25 cars pass…
I met John Reid, the Australian artist, at a conference in Bavaria in 2001. His ‘paper’ turned from an account of his early work into a live performance of The fishman of SE Australia. The transition between the two halves was disturbingly subtle, and left me, how shall I put it, freaked out.
Just a man talking, and a slide projector showing some photographs of the wilderness, with something in it…
The earlier work (Performance for 25 Passing Vehicles) of his came to mind when I was considering the effect getting into a car has on our relationship with the environment, with people, with wildlife.
The idea of looking out on that scene from your hermetically sealed box makes me think of Tilda Swinton in The Maybe ( http://newsfeed.time.com/2013/03/25/tilda-swinton-slept-in-a-glass-box-at-the-museum-of-modern-art/ ). The difference between watching somebody sleeping, and watching them sleep in a glass cabinet?
That’s it! The difference a plate of glass makes – Reid’s fishman also plays on this, using the surface of the water as a barrier, so we can never quite be sure what lies beneath. I talked with him for an hour, and he still maintained the fishman was real… and I half believed him: he was real in a way!
I’m interested in the viewer’s role here too. Are we absolved of responsibility or agency in the scene once we’re behind glass? Do we fail to affect what’s going on beyond it? Like watching TV?
That’s the thing with the 25 vehicles piece – are we the same as the drivers that sped past? Reid talks about how wildlife/wilderness photographers engage us in voyeurism, and he wants to try to bring us into a closer relationship with the reality of encountering the wild.
Wow, I’m still trying to work out the 25 cars passing…so the glass is the windscreen, right?
That’s what I was thinking, the car as box, with glass in-between us and the world…