RRH Videoworks

RRH: Ross Rudesch Harley Videoworks, double DVD with 48page catalogue, published by MediaComPress in association with the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, 2003.

Limited edition x 300 signed and stamped



Disc One

Roadblock (1988) 15min Beauty and the Beat (1988) 07min Lone Wolf and Cub (1988) 08min Dead End (1988) 07min Before Endless House (1989) 30min Men of Character (1990) 03min Futuropolis Now! (1990) 03min The Big Picture (1990) 02min Ride (1 991) 03min Endless House (installation) (1992 ) 03min Immortelle Installation (1992) 09min ……………. 90min

Disc Two

The Digital Garden (installation) (1992) 05min The Digital Garden V3 (Installation) (1993) 04min The Green Machine (installation) (1993) 03min CountThirty (1993) 12 min Woman in Room 32 (installation) (1994) 04min Drive: Motion Landscapes (1994) 22min Drive: Motion Landscapes (installation) (1995) 03min The Forgotten Adventures of Krezy Kat (1996) 01min Quien es? Que es? (1997) 11 min Cardoso Flea Circus (1998) 08min Convicts (installation) (1999) 04min Motion Landscapes (1999) 35min Chicken Face (2001) 01 min CFC @ MCA (installation) (2002) 03min ……………. 116min

Riding The Loop

text by Gillian Fuller

“…riding in a history in which millions have learned to look while they are moving, and move while they are looking.” Motion Landscapes, 1998

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

Junkshop Ghosts

text by Lisa Bode

Junkshop Ghosts

In his insightful book The Material Ghost: Films and their Medium (John Hopkins University Press, 1998), critic and theorist Gilberto Perez refers to film as a material substance that grasps the insubstantial and ungraspable light and shadow of things once present before the camera lens. This idea of the camera’s potential to evoke memento mori (especially the work of Siegfried Kracauer, Roland Barthes and Andre Bazin), has tended to rest heavily on the fleeting life of the human figure: the passing into ashes of a grandma, a mother, or Greta Garbo.

Upon seeing a star of yesteryear or those gilded “˜Golden Years of Hol- lywood’ actors onscreen, we often ask “where are they now?” Are they dead, alive, retired and playing golf in Beverly Hills, plastinated beyond recognition? What was their fate? This is the melancholic question, which, to those of a morbid disposition, film never fails to elicit.

But what of the mortality of inanimate objects?

Is there no other future than demolition, the junkyard, or (if they’re “˜lucky’) the purgatory of the museum exhibition?

Watching Ross Rudesch Harley’s videoworks of the late 1980s and early 1990s, we might equally find oursleves asking “where are they now?” of a succession of now outdated consumer products. What happened to these once brand new, proud, and coveted furnishings, gizmos and sleek machines of futures past?

Moving through sequences of mid-century cinematic interiors, elevators, the curves of stairways to a curiosity with the furniture silently inhabit- ing them, we find a monochromatic world on the cusp of the space-age, spliced together to make new endless interior geographies in a video-edit- ing suite at a time when all those comic-inspired sci-fi hopes of off-world colonies had turned to dust. If all these ghostly stairways and lifts were laid end-to-end, might they reach the stars after all?

In these interiors of the postwar period, the last vestiges of the nineteenth century were cleared to make way for the new refrigerators, cook-tops, televisions, furnishings and utensils moulded in the new synthetics rolling off the production lines. Open light-filled spaces were gradually populated with shiny kidney-shaped tables and vinyl cushions. Rudesch Harley’s vid- eos seductively spin and caress the simple lines of chairs, cars and other such objects from a time when the principles and aesthetics of modern design were becoming democratised – and finally filtered their way into the suburban home.

Similarly, the geometric and endearingly blocky title sequences and indexes of this DVD collection evoke the aesthetics of the Commodore 64 and Amiga 500, the first personal computers to infiltrate the suburban home in the now dimly receding 1980s.

The late 1980s soundtracks of R&B house rhythms sit uneasily with these images, reminding us of the invisible hand in the video editing-suite seem- ingly attempting to breathe a contemporaneity of sorts into these objects – like botox smoothing over the forehead of the ghost of Joan Crawford. But with each second that passes the music itself (the aural equivalent of black lycra shorts and a baseball cap) slides further from the warm artificial glow of nowness, like a discarded CD joining the 1950s chairs in the dusty shadows of the junkshop.

Such objects in junkshops can be picked up, resold, rehoused and loved again. The ghostly objects and interiors here in these videos fascinated enough to have been salvaged and “˜rehoused’ from film to video, and now again to DVD. Evidence can still be seen in points of past media corrosion – the bleeding of light and interference. A process of fading, for this mo- ment in time, arrested. Perhaps in some future time when DVDs and their players are quaint technological curiosities, these junkshop ghosts will be resalvaged and rehoused yet again.

Cars, lamps, buildings, tables, hats, bric-a-brac: are they all des- tined for an ending of the same kind?