Ride, 2.58 min. colour video, Australian Video Festival, Sydney, 1991.

Riding the Loop

by Gillian Fuller

The medium is motion Channel-surfing TV the other night, creating my own montage from gritty urban dramas that dominate the weeknight 9:30 slot, a little landmark stood out among the broadcast landscape of crammed city streets, emo- tive close-ups and closing doors. It was a documentary on renowned dynamic architect, Santiago Calatrava. Interspersed with images of his open and fluid buildings were shots of natural rock formations precariously positioned, cornstalks bending in the breeze, and the curious shapes of shells and flowers. These images seemed to suggest that for Calatrava the possible is real and that it resides in the world of the actual. “Can space change like a tree does?” asks Calatrava.

The world is constant becoming, movement, change and instability. How can the static objects of architecture work with the discontinuities of continual change? How can architecture deal with the structural poetics of movement?

In Brian Massumi’s latest book, Parables of the Virtual, he suggests that movement and sensation have been conceptually bracketed out in cultural theory in favour of those particular intellectual paradigms where notions of mediation have been concerned with the gap between matter and systemic change. The body and its movements have been rendered inert and dumb in a system of ideological interpellation. In this system, the body doesn’t move: it is placed conceptually in static discursive paradigms – a gendered body, a racialised body. In this schema mediation is movement. Or put another way, most existing concepts of mediation obliterate the need to think about movement.

And yet we live in a world where movement (particularly technologised movement) is a major urban organiser, where highways and TV dominate and change the perceptual landscape: the light of motion; the ‘stacato im- ages’ of the road; the blur from the roller coaster; the half light of TV; and the darkness of cinema shed light on new perceptual realities. In so doing, they make new realities a possibility. Distances collapse, time becomes malleable and speed spins categories of perception and reality off the tracks, so to speak, into new dimensions and alternative circuits.

There is alot going on in Ross Rudesch Harley’s collectioin of Videoworks, and in the spirit of recombinant art that dominated his early videos, I will assemble a thesis of the workings of these videos of cars, rollercoasters, horror movies, and more by sampling.

Shot 1. Dead End (1988) This is an aerial shot lifted from eighties noir film To Live and Die in L.A. The shot tracks the passage of a car along the dense network of L.A. high- ways. As the camera films the car from above and behind, the world looks ‘familiar’: the car moves along a highway that recedes into the distance according to the laws of classical perspective. However, as the camera be- gins to catch up to the car and eventually overtakes it, perspective slowly changes in strange ways. The highway no longer stretches out toward a distant horizon, but moves vertically up the screen. As Virilio might note, the landscape of the mind is confounded by the landscape of the eye. In the final movements of this shot, the apparent horizon of the classical per- spective gives way to something altogether different – endless movement that seems to loop off the screen and toward the viewer.

Shot 2. Drive (1994)

A tracking shot, this time longitudinal, taken through the windscreen of a car as it moves along the stark landscape of a snow-lined highway. As this long continuous shot unfolds, the landmarks of the roadside architecture such as swirling KFC buckets and generic service station restaurant signs appear and dissolve through the windscreen. The landscape looks North American, yet the car appears to be driving on the left hand side of the road. This little discontinuity between place and vision is intentional as the footage is actually playing backwards and reversed – shot through the rear of a van while driving right. This trick of motion-capture creates a sense that this road could be anywhere.

Shot 3. Ride (1991)

This is found footage, a lateral tracking shot taken from a rollercoaster at night. The movement is so fast that landscape is a blur of light and barely discernable shapes.


Motion capture. It’s a term that many film and videomakers find distaste- ful. It seems to reduce the art of cinematography to a point-and-shoot technological practice. I like the term, precisely because it reinvests the technological back into aesthetics and in so doing allows transdisciplinary connections to be made to cinematography. Pressing the record button on the VCR, driving a car, or even shooting the holiday on mini-DV are also forms of motion capture. The continuities and discontinuities of all these forms of capturing motion seem to be fundamental questions that Harley asks. In his work, motion capture is an analytical method and a productive practice.

In Motion Landscapes (1999) Harley shares a “primal memory” of gazing out the back window of the car, hypnotised by the motorised world unfurl- ing behind him. “Staccato images, superimposed reflections, rhythmic sounds and fleeting sensations offered by an enchanted landscape end- lessly flashing past my window”.1 Watching one of Harley’s earlier works Ride, I find myself similarly mesmerised. Ride is a deceptively simple work. Seven shots sampled from found footage of a rollercoaster ride are digitally processed with sepia and solarised filters, overlaid with a fleeting and rudimentary animation of oscillating lines, set to a sparse soundtrack of dub-style beats and simple looped guitar chords.

This work could be read as nostalgic: a theme park, a wooden roller- coaster, a young child who stares forward with the motion and an adult who looks back and smiles at the camera: the halcyon days of innocent weekends having fun at the theme park. However this sepia nostalgia is referenced and then denied through the loop. Form and content are utterly indivisible here. Ride is motion montage – a series of loops about loops and a series of shots about the limited vocabulary of cinematic-motion shots that cleverly jump the tracks of captured-motion while staying firmly within the ride.

The past and the future converge in these loops. In the formal sense of time and space, this ride is going nowhere. For if there is any sense of lin- earity – a sense of getting ‘somewhere’ (and also of losing something) with movement technologies – it is shattered by the loop. The loop simultane- ously suggests two seemingly contradictory trajectories: “the loop comes out from the actual (as past) and into the actual (as future)”.2 So the loop is not linear, nor is it closed or merely circular. The loop of the rollercoaster is a repetition that amplifies the charge of the movement experience. And in so doing it produces a difference – a movement that goes nowhere, while folding back on itself.

On the rollercoaster we ride. We experience a relationship between body, perception and motion in a way that is quite familiar now, but to the first passengers it would have been a revelation. The carriage swoops, turns corners and drops down slopes. The body becomes as inert as a crash-test dummy and glimpses of familiar landmarks emerge from the rushing land- scape, only to recede back into the blur until the next loop. For the three minutes on the rollercoaster, the world seems strangely distorted. Like Dr Jekyll mutating into Mr Hyde, the familiar city twists and blurs. New angles and new velocities bring another city to light – a city of constant mutation. As Felix Guattari notes, not all mutations are catastrophic, but any transfor- mation necessarily entails a political dimension. The blending of vision- machine and motion-machine shatters any belief in the constancy of the world. Loops can and do jump the tracks, so to speak, from rollercoasters, trains, cars, movies, videos and back again. The loop is the best kind of paradox – beside, beyond and past any kind of theological sense. Locked to the rails, bound by highways or tied to cinematic technique and conven- tion – these motion machines produce motion via modes of capture that nevertheless manage to intersect and mutate anew.

There is a strange inertness and monotony produced by mechanical mo- tion, a time-space recalibration that is on one level totalising (i.e. producing standardised networks of material and information highways, generic travel experiences and ‘by the numbers’ cinematic narratives), but which on another level is deeply personal: the discontinuities of mass-migration, mass-transit and mass-media produce actual lives and experiences. In one of Harley’s earliest works, Dead-End (1988), recut audio from the samurai film Lone Wolf and Cub is laid over sampled footage from a series of US action thrillers from the eighties. The recut is a catalogue of shots from the films of William Friedkin, Larry Cohen, John Cassavetes and Peter Weir that recasts the narrative language of cinema into a moving and ana- lytical form of motion-writing in which the generic conventions of cinema are lovingly dismantled. As Gena Rowlands is transformed into a shogun decapitator, and samurais stalk the train stations of Philadelphia, I feel genuine emotion. Memory dances a little loop at this moment. The original Gena Rowlands footage was crafted by an auteur director renowned for working beside and beyond Hollywood generic conventions, and yet Gloria is, to my mind, one of the best action thrillers I have ever seen.

“It’s a helluva world we live in” (Futuropolis Now, 1990)

All these loops may seem like contradictions, but that’s just the world we live in. Thinking through movement calls all categories into question. Things collapse and converge. In Ross Rudesch Harley’s topology, gardens are digital, landscape is kinetic, static houses hum aesthetics of movement and you can travel the world and never leave home. In this world, Sydney can be New York, Mickey Mouse can peer over your shoulder at a temple in India and Los Angeles is everywhere.


1. Ross Harley, ‘Learning to Drive’ Cantrills Filmnotes, no.75/76, Nov. 1994 2. Brian Massumi, Parables for the Virtual, Duke Uni Press:Durham p58, 2002