MIXED MEDIA MOVING IMAGES
Norrie’s magnum opus to date is Black Wind, a
collaboration with composer Kim Bowman, screened in
Amsterdam in 2005 with live orchestral accompaniment.
The film begins with footage of a nuclear mushroom cloud, a
AUSTRALIAN ARTIST Susan Norrie is a specialist in apocalypse. prelude to what we can’t help reading as a post-apocalypse
Her films and video installations present visions that could scene. A long slow tracking shot carries us across an elegant
equally be of the future or the present, but either way they ornamental garden with fountains, then through trees into a
induce a powerfully anxious awareness of catastrophe. sprawling, deserted encampment, in which an initially unseen
Sydney-born Norrie has worked in painting, photography community appears to be preparing itself for the rigours of life
and installation for more than 30 years, but it was during the in a harsh new age. As its closing subtitles reveal, Black Wind
late 1990s that she turned her attention to the moving image refers to a real event, the British nuclear tests at Maralinga
and to environmental concerns. With a contemplative grace and Emu Field in the 1950s, conducted with cavalier disregard
at once serene and ominous, her images stare devastation for local Aboriginal populations. The apocalypse evoked
in the face, acknowledging its undisguisable matter-of-fact in Black Wind has already happened, and the Aboriginal
horror while investing it with the transcendental aesthetic people are already living with it – and, Norrie suggests, are
charge that Romanticism termed the sublime. prepared to outlive the rest of us. Black Wind derives much
Undertow (2002) culls images of disaster from film of its formal power from the dramatic disjunction between
and TV archives, slowed down to become at once horrifying the seamless, flowing images and the violent, surging, driven
and poetic: a fat black wave of water comes to resemble an orchestrations in an idiom of austere Modernism, with its
inexorable onslaught of crude oil; the camera hovers over abrupt staccato strings and brutal percussion suggesting
landscapes and water surfaces, both billowing fire; smoke narrative development where, apparently, none is visible.
drifts over a city. Cars and trucks crawl through a street at Norrie has commented that she is committed
dawn or possibly at dusk – an ordinary scene made strangely to documenting “the truths of our experiences, not just
portentous, as though we’re witnessing the last traffic that simply erasing history and supporting a collective amnesia”.
will ever be filmed. The mystery of Undertow lies in its sense Appropriately, her quasi-narratives play on the difficulty of
of ambiguous time: we can’t quite decide whether Norrie’s telling apart past, present and future in the moving image.
images are of a ‘before’ or an ‘after’, whether we’re witnessing Encouraging us to read her images against a shared repertoire
the end of the world we know, or the imagining of a possible of science-fiction narratives, Norrie reminds us that in an age
new world and a new consciousness, emerging from the of accelerating natural and manmade devastation, doomsday
debris of the past. is not just closer than we think: it’s a perpetual state of dread
Some of Norrie’s works offer more specific guidelines in which we’re already living, however much we attempt to
to the viewer. Enola (2004) takes its name from Enola Gay, deny it through reassuringly distant futuristic fantasies. The
the B-29 Superfortress bomber that dropped its payload on eerie, contemplative elegance of Norrie’s images places her
Hiroshima. Set to gratingly lullaby-like music, Enola presents aesthetic in the classic lineage of modernist cinema’s austere
us with what is essentially documentary footage of a place poets of defamiliarisation: notably, Tarkovsky, Sokurov and
that actually exists on earth, yet which is so bizarre that we early-1960s Antonioni, all of whom have contributed to our
can’t help perceiving it as some alien fantasy: a landscape awareness that the present is already the future.
in which several world monuments (St Peter’s Square, the Norrie is one of three Australian artists – together with
Sagrada Familia, the Eiffel Tower, the World Trade Center) Daniel von Sturmer and Callum Morton – to be showcased
co-exist side by side, seemingly without regard for coherence at this year’s Venice Biennale. She will be presenting Havoc, a
of scale. In fact, it is a theme park in Japan. Two figures, one three-room video installation at the Palazzo Giustinian Lolin.
recognisably Japanese, stand in futuristic garb, scanning the Once again prompted by the drama of climate change,
landscape: they could be vistors from another world or from Havoc depicts and comments on the devastation that has
a far future, surveying the shored fragments of a destroyed occurred in the town of Porong, East Java, submerged in
past. Enola could be considered Norrie’s own remake of mud following gas drilling and volcanic activity. The work
Chris Marker’s classic essay in philosophical science-fiction, addresses the resurgence of animist and voodoo ritual that has
La Jetée (1962), in which early-1960s Paris, seen in still emerged in Porong in reaction to the catastrophe, and draws
photographs, stood at once for a post-apocalyptic future and its sonic inspiration from the counterculture of Indonesian
the filmmaker’s everyday present (seen from the future as a punk and heavy metal. Advance publicity describes the work
distant past), just as Norrie’s theme park stands both for an as ‘a shifting havoc of images and tempo’ and promises that
imagined future and a history of Western culture condensed Havoc will be ‘physically immersive, using real and imagined
into its own derisory miniature. precautionary tales to transport viewers toward an uncertain
future’. As Venice sinks gradually towards its own impending
apocalypse, it is hard to imagine a more appropriate artist
, 2007, video still, Venice Biennale 2007, DVD installation. Courtesy the artist and Mori Gallery, Sydneythan Norrie to present work there.
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