The last few months I really thought I wanted to be alone, but now that I’m alone, I realise I don’t want to be alone.

The last few months I really thought I wanted to be alone, but now that I’m alone, I realise I don’t want to be alone.

Exhibiting Artist: Kim Munro

Written by Miles Campisi

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Image Courtesy: Ariel Cameron

1.

The gallery may be especially suited for the viewing of art, but that does not make it a neutral space. On the opening night of ‘Alone’ (the full title is a bio taken from a found online dating profile), First Site Gallery is filled with attendees. There are multiple exhibitions across the gallery’s three spaces. Though each space is clearly delineated by an archway, the attendees are in flux, moving between the exhibitions, chatting in alcoves, drinking, eating, sitting upon ledges around the walls. Through their movements, the boundaries between the exhibitions are blurred.

‘Alone’ takes place in gallery three, a long sparse room that feels like a chapel. There are white rendered walls and the floor is made of polished grey cement. The exhibition consist of five screens, and one projection on the far wall of the room—where the pulpit would be. Each of the screens has an aural component, some with speakers and others with headphones.

Broadly speaking, the exhibition is about aloneness. But it’s aloneness articulated and represented in different ways. The projection features footage of the last flamingo in Australia, who is captive in a zoo in Adelaide. He stands outside his hut, occasionally tossing his head but mostly motionless; the image is overlaid with a bright pink filter. Shades of pink and orange feature heavily in ‘Alone’, they represent the Heat Lamp which is the captive flamingo’s only companion. Three of the surrounding screens articulate aspects of his loneliness. One consists of lines of texts that appear and fade away on a textured background, detailing his situation. Another features black and white footage and photography of his enclosure; the third is looped slow-motion footage of a different flamingo taking flight from a body of water.

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        Image Courtesy: Ariel Cameron

    Amongst the chatter of the crowd it is hard to hear the soundscapes of each piece. What I hear instead are the observations of those around me. I’m part of a semi-circle looking at The Story: Old & Alone. This is the textual installation. As one, we read the words of the flamingo’s story as they materialise on the screen:

 

he is bullied by other birds

they peck at his ankles

nip at his knees

so he keeps to himself

 

A woman next to me says ‘this makes me sad’ with a slight smile. The rest of us nod and smile too. It’s the kind of universal observation that doesn’t need to be made. The story of the flamingo is certainly sad. The installations are close together, so I turn to look at the projection of the flamingo from time to time. It’s as if we are reading his private third-person diary whilst he watches us out of the corner of his eye.

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 Image Courtesy: Ariel Cameron

2.

I return the next day to view the art on my own, and to talk to the artist, Kim Munro. The gallery is nearly empty, quiet. The various soundscapes are much more audible. They intermingle to create unexpected harmonies.

When there is no one around to watch you, it’s easier to justify staring at an artwork at great length. Or rather, there is no need to justify it. I watch the flamingo taking flight over and over. Each time I pick up on something new, or concentrate further on what I’ve already noticed. The legs like reeds, the curious knotted knees, bent backwards, not forward, the elongated shape of the flamingo’s body when it finally takes flight. It’s a riff on  the documentary. Watching and re-watching the flamingo does not produce revelations or explain the mechanics of its actions. But my admiration grows each time, I can appreciate the unusual beauty of flight, how subtly it shifts its body to turn in the air. Munro tells me that this is the imagined dream of the flamingo in Adelaide zoo. Through solitary contemplation, this starts to feel right, not just look as if it makes sense. The juxtaposition is more than an aesthetic decision, it genuinely captures a sense of longing. I yearn for the Adelaide flamingo to take flight and find others of his kind.

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        Image Courtesy: Ariel Cameron

     But the limits of empathy are also explored. The projection encourages distance. If one gets too close, the image becomes pixelated and hazy. The very act of walking towards the flamingo hides it, as your body obscures the projector and the image disappears. But, furthermore, the flamingo is standing behind a pond, and the pond is abstractly extended to the floor of the gallery, as the cement reflects the image. It is as if there is a real pond between us and the flamingo. We cannot get close and comfort him, much as we want to.

There are a pair of screens on the wall opposite the projection. These are soundscapes with headphones. One of them consists of Reddit user definitions of ‘forever alone’ spoken by computer voices. The other is a soundscape featuring bird sounds. Both contain synth tracks like the other screens. I find myself engrossed listening to the definitions of loneliness. The cold monotone of the voices, one female, one male, stating the same information at slightly different rates, is unnerving. It feels almost like indoctrination. These are not subjective ideas but facts and rules to be observed; ‘A 35 plus year old who has not been in a relationship is beyond saving.’ But disturbing as listening to these morbid voices is, I’m more disturbed by how hard it is to pull away. When I take off the headphones it is not just the voices that stop but the synth track. And because all the synth tracks have merged together in my brain, the abrupt cessation of one of them feels jarring.

The longer I sit, the more intuitive the connections between the works becomes. It is not about feeling loneliness, but our feelings towards loneliness. I am both empathetic toward and fascinated by the lonely figures the exhibition imagines. And it is by being alone myself that these connections emerge.

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One thought on “The last few months I really thought I wanted to be alone, but now that I’m alone, I realise I don’t want to be alone.

  1. A powerful review which goes beyond a cursory experience of the exhibition. It was satisfying to explore the series of art installations from the personal perspective of Miles Campisi because he takes the time and has a unique ability to convey their various nuances and subtleties. I trust the artists feel the same.

    Liked by 1 person

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