Convicts, 10 channel DVD video installation and projections, 1999-2001; Hyde Park Barracks Museum.

Desolate Shores
Design and production brief for video presentation

Prepared by Ross Harley
July 1998

1. Introduction

Over a period of eight months, a large number and wide variety of films that feature images of convicts and prison life have been viewed and analysed. As had been suggested by previous research, these films mostly conform to a very particular set of narrative conventions, symbolic acts and visual stylisations.

For instance, most prison films feature key scenes that depict the arrival of prisoners at their place of confinement, an address by the prison authority, displays of servitude, hard labour, attempted escape, and a variety of other ritual deprivations.

These filmic representations of banishment and the prison experience are very consistent, appearing in different ways in a variety of films. When these key scenes are isolated and juxtaposed with parallel sequences from other movies, the universality of imagery in regard to penal servitude is powerfully demonstrated.

At the level of pictorial or filmic representation, we might say that these images form a kind of “meta-prison-movie”, a condensation of the most powerful elements of a variety of films into one single “great moments” film.

The purpose of the video component in this exhibition is to present this material in the most compelling and engaging manner for the general public.

2. Visualisation

From the large amount of film material available to choose from, a smaller selection of clips has been selected. The clips that have been chosen condense the ideas, imagery and themes considered most crucial to the show.

The material that appears in the final video compilation represents the best selection of material that we are able to gain the rights to — at a reasonable rate.

The mix of material is drawn from early Australian cinema, Hollywood features (including science cinema) and Australian newsreels.

Four separate video showreels have been produced during this consultation, clearly illustrating the kinds of material that can be presented in the exhibition. The final compilation tape presented on 4 June 1998 contains all the material that has been obtained and is immediately available for exhibition, with all copyrights negotiated. An additional two-minute promotional reel has also been produced for the purposes of gaining sponsorship.

List of films to be used:

Fortress (Village Roadshow, 1992)
Shawshank Redemption (Village Roadshow, 1996)
Girls In Prison (AIP, 1956)
For the Term of His Natural Life (NFSA, 1923)
The Sentimental Bloke (NFSA, 1919)
Heritage (NFSA, 1935)
The Story of the Kelly Gang (NFSA, 1910)
The Tenth Straw (NFSA, 1926)
Cinesound Newsreels: Historic Port Arthur, Darcy Dugan Fails, Old Gaol Relic of Convict Days (NFSA/Filmworld)
Movietone Newsreels: Norfolk Island, Kingston Norfolk Island, Old Gaol Tours (NFSA/Filmworld)

3. Physical Design and Presentation

The video will be displayed in four discrete physical locations, corresponding to four themes of the show:

Templates of Cruelty
Splendid Isolation
Hard Labour
Convict Tourism

Each location, or “video station”, will display appropriate video clips from the films specified above. These images will appear juxtaposed to one another on three separate screens, built into the exhibition design in a seamless manner.

There will be no free-standing monitors or visible video equipment. All the visitor will encounter will be the moving images presented on three flat screens.

Depending on the final exhibition design, each station will configure the video displays in either a horizontal or a vertical row of three screens.

The video screens will display a continuous short loop of film material, which functions to attract the visitor toward the screens. Upon approach, the video program will be activated by infra-red detectors.

Each station will display a video program of approximately 2-3 minutes duration. Sound will come from the monitors only when the station is in “play” mode. The station remains silent while it is not activated by the visitor.

In addition to these four stations, there will be a video-projection installation in the hallway. This display will present a series of ghostly images which appear to float in the air. These images will be made up of three of four iconic film images, drawn from the material cited above. It will focus particularly on images to do with granduer, desolation, escape, and confinement.