Overtones in Undertow: an exhibition of Susan Norrie’s video work at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art.

Review for Haiku Review 2, Eds. Ruark Lewis & Chris Chapman

The thing that struck me the most seeing this exhibition at the new ACCA was how Susan Norrie seems to deal with intent. Not her own but the intent we as an audience are invited to attach to the subjects depicted in her video work. People are predators and protectors simultaneously, mud is made thinking, emotional, determined to escape its origin. A balloon flexes its rippling torso impatiently. A cloud of dust ominous not in its effect, but in it’s considered, measured movement.

The largest of the video works was completely fantastic, a brooding piece made up of bits and t pieces of footage Norrie has selected from film and television archives and processed to give us grainy, black and white imagery that looked more like a scene from Ring than Channel Nine News. When slowed down to within an inch of disrupting the persistence of vision effect, we have all the time necessary to deliberate on the individual scenes, and their resonance as a whole., and imbue them with a sense of dread; apocalyptic scenes of nature turning on a city., the populous escaping, the military involvement. The proximity of Flinders Street, disrecognised in the footage by that deliberate, noxious looking cloud (Terrorists? War? Nature?!) certainly energised the experience, but its the soundtrack that accompanied the piece that infuses the world of Norrie’s with portent. A globulous composition, its synth chords welled up and filled the space as a dense shifting mass (in part due to ACCA’s idiosyncratic acoustics).

I’ve never really been much of a fan of “look what we are doing to our planet” art, and this extends to one of Norrie’s video works that was shown at ACCA, slowed down greyscale video of birds covered in oil being ‑ I don’t know; dealt with? ‑ a piece that really didn’t have the depth of the rest of the works. I was hurt and disappointed when the largest video finally looped and I saw the opening shot (which Id missed on the way in), a wave rolling along… A goddamn wave after all this enigmatic city footage looking like The X-Files or Akira. But half way through the pan the wave begins to morph, it loses its froth and becomes fire, black fire spreading across a bed of liquid. Fantastic.

The installation itself I found a mass (mess?) of conflicting scales, the freestanding boxes housing the projectors all different distances, different heights and the largest video too large for the material yet slightly too small for the wall. It was interesting then that the smallest work shown was also the one that acted for me as bookend, introduction and conclusion to the largest of Norrie’s pieces. Simply it was a silent presentation of Welles’ film of Kafka’s The Trial writ tiny, drawing us into the undercurrents of Undertow; authoritarianism, helplessness, confusion, dread, impending yet suspended doom ‑ yeah!