In the front gallery at ATVP, Goran Tomic has established a landscape of televisions . Arranged at different altitudes, each screen angles along a shallow semi-circle that distends into the room like so many facet planes of perspective. Rising behind this slightly alpine scene, a sky of draped sheet plastic hangs from the wall. The televisions themselves are motley in size, shape, and condition, yet each, from its own unique position, and each possessing its own tonal interpretation, repeat a single image with a single perspective. The image is taken from inside a cave or tunnel looking toward the blinding white aperture of the outside that flickers and flares, throwing patterns onto the walls of the tunnel and the screen of the television. The general effect is one of disorientation as your mind seeks to reconcile the outward facing or convex aspect of the display of an image of concavity and inwardness. It feels a bit like the image of a cave projected onto the face of a mountain. The shape of the literal space is in inverse proportion to the illusory space of the image.
I begin with this description because for me it characterises the entire exhibition. SEE SAW contains a disparate body of work that projects outward toward the viewer an experience of inwardness. This single perspective repeats like an involuntary refrain: the subject, wrapped in shadow, peers outward across the dimly perceived interior toward the obliterating source of its illumination. The inversion of the values of light and dark that make up chiaroscuro reveal this subject to be a native to these dark places. For him, perception is a product of shadows, and he gazes into light as we might gaze into darkness – as the terrifying and fascinating aperture onto the unknown. As desolate as his world looks, as lonely and isolated as it feels, its inhospitable aspect is at least qualified and partial, permitting a dimly perceived universe, while the visage of light and the idea of the outside present as an absolute, the veil of obliterating blindness.
Another work in the same room is composed of a narrow corridor produced by semi-opaque sheet plastic hanging parallel to the wall. Above this corridor, monitors hang face down, illuminating the corridor and those who walk along it. The video in these monitors is of an open face fluorescent light that cycles through variations in shutter speed and possibly aperture creating a cycle in the image that runs from a dirty noise infested underexposure that reveals the bulbs as it reduces the light they produce and then cycles up again to completely obliterate the image and literally blind the viewer through overexposure. Again, the work vacillates between the blindness inducing ideal and the fallen nature of a vision that depends upon the limitation of light, ultimately corrupting its object through the exaggeration of that limit. While I felt that this work was slightly under realized, that it needed to be longer or somehow more substantially manifested, it did have a rather magical side effect. It allowed you to watch the shapes of other viewers from the outside as blurry silhouettes passing through the work like the submerged shapes of unknowable animals at a poorly kept public aquarium.
The perspectival contradiction between the artist standing inside looking out and the audience standing outside looking in, (even when the artist has given us the illusion of being inside) disrupts our capacity to identify our way into the work and leaves us in that paradoxical state of simultaneously experiencing both perspectives at once. SEE SAW can be seen as one long attempt to invite us into a world Tomic knows he cannot share with us. Two works in the back room evoke this best.
The first, “Garden, self portrait as a Venus fly trap”, is a wry wink at Nauman, embedding a video of the open mouth of the artist at the bottom of a length of foil duct tubing (this is actually done three times, giving the impression of a garden or at least a cluster of plant life). The result is a tunnelling of perspective, a vague threat of vertigo and claustrophobia at the bottom of which the artist’s mouth stretches and strains to open as wide as possible in a gesture that suggests a reflex will gasping and straining to swallow the viewer. But there is another reading: the artist is staging his desire to invite the viewer inside of himself, that instead of attempting to swallow the viewer, he is offering his open throat, and symbolically at least, the dark interior of his throat, to our perception. This work is the inverse of the work described at the beginning of this review, as the artist acknowledges that he is the interiority from within which he stands gazing at the brilliant aperture of the outside — we, on this side stand gazing at the dark aperture of the inside.
To confirm this reading, the wall opposite “Garden” is completely taken up by the projection of a video (Enter the Beast) made from the perspective of interiority. Again the subject looks out from shadows across a dimly perceived space, this time at a large black curtain covering the doorway. The curtain flaps in the wind, snapping, opening and closing like a mouth foraging for food in a menacing rupture through which we perceive only the changing shape of a white void. Toward the end of this video’s loop, several people, visible only from the waist down walk into the space. As they do so, the video is sped up, the curtain becomes violent in its motion and the human legs disappear as though eaten. It is helpful to know that this video was made at the entrance to one of the display rooms on Cockatoo Island at last year’s Biennale so that the people entering and disappearing have entered to view an artwork not unlike the one that sits behind you as you watch this one.
Both from the inside looking out and the outside looking in, the desire is the same, either to pass from the inside into the outside or to invite the outside in. From both sides the verge is rimmed with terror and fascination. Goran Tomic implies the difficulty of overcoming the fear that prohibits passage even while suggesting its impossibility. Not only is it difficult, it is also impossible. This paradox, or even redundancy works not in order to finalize our pessimism but to foreground the true subject of these works which is the insistent, the inextinguishable desire to cross this boundary, to communicate between these two sides.