A thoughtful Tracey Moffatt stands in front of the Horizon that inspired her works for the Venice Biennale
Posted by Jeremy Eccles | 24.03.17
Location: Venice, Italy
Indigenous photographer and film-maker, Tracey Moffatt has revealed just a few hints (and one image) of her contribution to this year's prestigious Venice Biennale. Called 'My Horizon', she has used a studio in the National Parks complex on Middle Head, Sydney, to build up two 'photodramas' and two films with which she'll “animate” Australia's new Pavilion at the heart of the Biennale.
“The exhibition explores journeys – both legal and illegal – and alludes to issues of race and gender, sexuality, desire, identity, human connection and estrangement”, curator Natalie King explained. ‘Hell’, the work revealed by her at the studio today, is one of 12 large scale photographs from the series 'Passage' which is set in a mysterious dockland. A mother, a motorcycle police officer and a sharply dressed character whom the artist calls ‘the middleman’ enact a drama that is, in Moffatt's own words, “as old as time itself. People throughout history and across cultures have always escaped across borders to seek new lives.”
The Queensland-born Moffatt herself, of course, had a meteoric early 'escape' to the Cannes Film Festival with her film 'Night Cries' in 1989 and took off for the world (well, 12 years in New York) following the success of her luminous, multi-faceted self-portrait in the same year in a red and black cheongsam as part of the photodramatic series, 'Something more', revealing her dreams of escape from suburban Brisbane.
Now it seems Moffatt has returned with a “truly global perspective” and a “ferocious commitment” to start her stories from the place chosen as their setting plus a touch of her own family history before taking herself into the realm of the imagination to create fictive narratives in the style of old movies. The end results will be “open to interpretation...escape, the future, dreaming?”, she teased us.
Whether her curator, the Melbourne-based Natalie King had any control over the creation is open to question too. But her prime role seems to have been curating a 160-page catalogue replete with poems, essays and a novella from Indigenous writer Alexis Wright, as well as a re-run of the 1992 Penthouse tribute to 'Elizabeth Taylor, Hollywood's Pagan Queen' by Camille Paglia. Significantly, Ms Taylor appeared as a character in Moffatt's last Queensland Art Gallery solo show, 'Spirited', looking not unlike a young Tracey Moffatt!
Moffatt will be the 39th Australian artist selected for what Australia's Venice Commissioner, Naomi Milgrom calls “the ultimate showcase for any artist”. I suspect that Bill Henson was the only other photographer – back in 1995. They both create photodramas. But, whereas Henson is the master of technology and light, Moffatt complains that she really wishes she could paint because the camera – which she first picked up at the late age of 18 – is such a complicated instrument these days. “My old Nikon film camera was so easy; now I have to use a fog machine to handle the impossible brilliance of the Australian light, and my shooting ratio is about 100 to one!”.
The Indigenous only emerged once during this presentation on Middle Head. “Dispossession” seemed to be a word that all three women involved found appropriate as an aspect of Moffatt's work. However, it's association with the most famous local Aborigine – Bungaree, who was granted a farm on Middle Head in 1815 in an attempt to introduce English ways to the Indigenes – seems a little unfortunate. Arguably, he was given possession in the name of assimilation, though 'the First Australian', who had circumnavigated the continent with both Matthew Flinders and Phillip Parker King, ultimately rejected such a settled life and assimilation. Perhaps he didn't want to “escape across borders to seek a new life”?
So the place that could so easily have been developed had not the good folk of Mosman protested when the military, who'd quickly taken over Bungaree's farm, retired to northern Australia in the 1990s, provided little more for Moffatt than a remote and private place to think. However, an outing from her studio did reveal the ineffable view out through the Heads of Sydney Harbour, across the Great Pacific Sea to the thing that surely Tracey Moffatt took to herself to inspire the title for her Venice oeuvre, 'My Horizon'.
The three muses - Natalie King, Tracfey Moffatt and Naomi Milgrom face the press in Moffatt's studio on Middle Head, Sydney
'Hell', the only image released by the Australia Council from Tracey Moffatt's two 'photodramas' for Venice - this one from the series called 'Passage'