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Article categories: Issue 59
January 26th, 2010

Is there any measurable, material evidence that exists that would prove beyond doubt that I ever visited an exhibition titled Proof: The act of seeing with one’s own eyes at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image?

Jem Cohen, Proof, 2004/5

Of course, you could seek confirmation from my partner who attended the exhibition with me. But his affirmation could be easily countered by my own strident denial – his testimony versus mine. You could check the security footage from the surveillance cameras in the gallery itself (presuming that ACMI have them, and I guess that they do, and that they were working when I went in). But you’d have to be able to recognize me from that footage. You could measure my knowledge of the works – but then again the catalogue is comprehensive enough for me to assuredly fake it. The fact is, dear reader, that, in the absence of any recordable forensic evidence (not even a photo from a nifty new mobile phone), you will have to take my attendance on faith.

Faith is the inexorable ‘other’ of the explicit themes of Proof. Questions of evidence, validation, fact, observation and truth, which manifest themselves in many of the works in the exhibition, are always necessarily countered by their corollaries of belief, consensus, interpretation and fiction. The haunting of the secular, empirical posivitism that characterizes our age by the persistence of faith is truly a defining feature of the times we live in. When politicians can ask us to trust them, in spite of damning evidence suggesting their absolute untrustworthiness, and we do, then its too much to suggest that we live in a post-faith age. In fact, when evidence can be faked, when images can lie, when news and current affairs are more like fictional entertainment than fact, our faith is put even more stridently to the test. What are the criteria by which we come to believe what it is we believe? On what grounds can we take anything on faith?

These are weighty themes and not all of the works in Proof deal with them explicitly. However, taken as whole, the exhibition does lead one into this terrain. Even at the level of exhibition design, the viewer is forced to ask certain questions which relate to these themes. For example, many of the works are quite long. Coco Fusco’s Delores form 10 to 10 (2001) runs for a feature length 98 minutes. Only the hardiest gallery viewer could be expected to view the entire work. This then raises the question of whether one can say that they have ‘seen’ it all. Sadia Sadia’s The Memory of Water (2004) runs for 28 minutes, Johan Grimonprez’s dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y (1997) for 68 minutes and Jay Rosenblatt’s fantastic Human Remains (1998) for 30 minutes. At a festival screening, you can be assured (usually) that the audience will stay with these works from beginning to end. Galleries operate on a different dynamic – the derivé or drift. Some works will catch you and others won’t. This then raises the interesting question of whether you can ever say that you have seen Proof. Each visitor’s experience is then slightly different to the next – the gallery equivalent of a hypertext?

Some of the works, and perhaps my favorites, address this question of partial perception directly. Ross Gibson’s elegant Street X-Rays is constructed in such a way that the viewer is never able to take in the entire scene of the work at once. The work is a five screen installation that draws on a collection of crime scene photographs from the 1950′s, juxtaposing them with images taken in the present day at the same locations. Gibson creates a space that is ‘haunted by persistent little pulses of history’. As you watch text and image unfold on one screen, you remain aware that you are missing what is happening on other screens in the space. But you are also reminded that our daily lives are full of invisible temporal and spatial traces that overwrite the places we inhabit, like ghosts from the past that we can’t see but that we know are there.

Similarly, Paul Rodger’s The Spectrum Chart and the Spectrum Drum (2004), a mixed media sculpture made from found objects, reminds us that the natural environment is littered with emission detritus in the form of electromagnetic particles transmitted by radio, television, hospital x-rays and other ephemera. Not seeing can be believing just as surely as seeing doesn’t engender belief.

Or as Mike Stubbs puts it, “The testimony of vision is no small matter in contemporary politics: seeing has never been further from believing” (1) Proof: The act of seeing with one’s own eyes is an intelligent and challenging intervention/investigation into some of the most pressing issues that we face in contemporary Western society as we struggle to find ways to sustain our belief in an unbelievable world.

Proof: The act of seeing with one’s own eyes. 9 December 2004 – 13 February 2005. Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Federation Square, Melbourne.  Curated by Mike Stubbs. 22 Works by Australian and International artists and filmmakers

Lisa Gye
Lisa Gye is a Lecturer in Media and Communications at Swinburne University of Technology


[1] Stubbs, Mike, “Black is White”, Proof Exhibition Catalogue

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