Welcome to the Review Repository - an archive of reviews that were originally published in the Saturday edition of the Taranaki Daily News from September 2007 – April 2008.

The reviews were written for a general audience and therefore tend to be descriptive and educational in focus.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Seductive Massacre

AES + F, Panorama #4, 2006 from the Last Riot 2 series, 2005-07. © AES+F and courtesy Triumph Gallery, Moscow and Multimedia Art Center, Moscow

We currently experience the world via a veil of seductive imagery. For this we have advertising and digital technology to thank. Big multinational companies spend copious amounts of money on the research, design and production of advertising with the purpose of creating arresting images that convince us to purchase and consume their products. Advertisers don’t need to bother with inserting subliminal messages to coax us. Rather, they do it blatantly by using certain imagery to charm our emotions and desires. It is interesting that advertisers very rarely attempt to capture our objective thoughts but rather aim to appease our libidos and imagination. This comes at no surprise since the sensual desires of the libido and the spell of imagination are at the forefront of our existence. Objective thinking - despite being that which makes life practical and productive – is usually absent when one is enjoying an ice-cream or having a romantic evening. This is why in car commercials we are shown a vehicle racing across a beautiful landscape driven by attractive people and filmed as if it were a big budget Hollywood movie – rather than simply declaring the vehicle’s technical specifications. By doing so the advertisers are not only selling us a car. Closer to the truth is that they are convincing us that this car will satisfy our longing to attain freedom, social status, alluring sexuality and to have all that within a picture perfect world. Such is the power of these images that - no matter how aware and resistant we are – advertising will eventually seduce us. Seductive imagery is not only relegated to advertising it is also the language of films, TV programmes, computer games and most printed media. There is nothing inherently bad about creating such tempting imagery. However, what is concerning is that these images pervade almost every moment of our modern lives and more importantly can often promote skewed attitudes and understandings of life and our world.

Currently on exhibition at the City Gallery Wellington is an impressive video installation that explores the spectacle of such seductive imagery and its murky ethics. The work is entitled Last Riot: Massacre by the Innocents? by the Russian artist collective AES+F and consists of three very large wide screen projections that create an immersive panoramic scene. At first glance Last Riot could be mistaken for a Hollywood blockbuster due to its richly rendered images and theatrical soundtrack. However, it doesn’t take long for the work’s strangeness to become apparent. Last Riot depicts half naked camouflage-clad adolescents who are engaged in some type of pseudo-battle using an array of weapons from golf clubs to samurai swards. Their battle with each other – like the innocence of their youth - appears to be all play or acting since their strikes and blows do not connect or draw any blood. Due to the style of animation the battles are stilted and slowed down so that it appears as though their bodies morph and contort with each jab of their blade or swipe of a club. Their stilted movements also seem to ebb and pulse to the repetitive drumbeat of the soundtrack. As the battles take place the camera zooms in on the youths emphasising their blemish-free complexions and slim bodies. Indeed, the youths – who also represent a diversity of ethnicities - seem to be typecast for some fashion magazine or advertisement. Not unlike the advertisements for fashion labels United Colors of Benetton and Calvin Klein. In a finely written essay by Abby Cunnane in the gallery brochure we are informed that the bloodless battle scenes also resemble the computer game America’s Army - a war simulation game that was created by the US military to lure young recruits.

These alluring but very odd battle scenes are intermingled with short but equally weird interludes set to string orchestra music that you would expect to accompany a thriller. One such interlude includes an army jeep animated in the style of a modern computer game that despite having no apparent operator drives back and forwards whilst slowly sinking in quicksand. As this happens, a convenience light within the jeep flashes off and on intermittently as if possessed by a poltergeist. The landscape that all this is enacted upon is an immeasurable desert plane that at times is parched and dry only to be instantly snow-clad moments later. The background of the landscape is also home to strange collections of objects and events that give the land a surreal dreamscape appearance. This includes ornate merry-go rounds and ferris wheels, together with locomotives that career off impossibly grand bridges and passenger jets that fall in pieces from the sky.
Aside from the obvious references to contemporary culture Last Riot is also laden with numerous art historical references, in particular Neoclassical and Romantic painting of the 17th -19th centuries. Last Riot perplexes and enthrals as it both melds seductive imagery with suspect depiction of youth and war. The surrealism of the entire scene leads us to question the beguiling agendas underlying advertising and pop-culture imagery that we are bombarded with every day. Last Riot runs till the 15th of June.