Guises of love and displacement

Worse Luck I am Still Here, (still), 2014, video and animation, duration: 00:04:45min, edition of 5 by Richard Lewer. Image courtesy the artist.

In a first for Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, its entire gallery spaces have been dedicated solely to film-based works for the Perth Festival show, Love, Displaced. Six theatres have been created to accommodate seven works, transforming the gallery into surprisingly large multi-spaces.Ted Snell,University of WA Chief Cultural Officer and Director of Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, says each work required its own environment for optimum presentation. “Sound bleed can be a killer in film-based exhibitions, but in this show when you walk from one work to another there is this transition where the sound doesn’t overlap. Technically it’s something very difficult to achieve.”

Snell says we are so linked to a fast screen-based understanding of the world, sometimes we need something to rupture us out of the relationship. “Taking slower time out with a screen-based artwork requires a shift of attitude,” he says.

Curator Felicity Fenner, also co-programmer of the Festival Visual Arts Program, says in this 21st century, feelings, connection to others and engagement with shared concerns are often filtered through subjective social media platforms and 24-hour news cycles. “Works in the exhibition offer new and innovative modes of navigating the white noise of contemporary life. They  dismantle media-driven facades inhibiting meaningful connections to others, providing insight to personal and political situations of displacement caused by familial breakdown, racial or political oppression, and loss of traditional culture.” 

Works range from the slickly produced Inverso Mundus (2015) by Russian art collective AES+F where an imagined, fantastical world allows new types of relationships to be forged, to the low tech Never Shall Be Forgotten – A Mother’s Story (2017) by New Zealand-born, Melbourne-based Richard Lewer. The work is in the same vein as his 2014 film Worse Luck I am Still Here, which won the Blake Prize for religious art in the same year.

Scouring the newspapers regularly, Lewer searches for stories of injustice. He lived in WA for several years, and both films are based on news stories which developed here. Worst Luck is based on the tragic story of a suicide pact gone wrong between married pensioners in Floreat, with the husband eventually charged for the murder of his ill wife. Never Shall Be Forgotten tells the story of the tragic death of Indigenous teenager John Pat in Roebourne through the words of his mother Mavis. In 1983, the 16-year old was set upon by a group of off-duty police and later died while held in jail, leading to the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody from 1987 to 1991. 

Lewer visited Mavis and members of the Pat family in 2016, recording his meeting with drawings. The footage in both films consists of Lewer changing slides of his drawings on an overhead projector, and acting as the storyteller. An element of intimacy pervades the darkened scene as stories of horror and grief are revealed to the audience. 

Lewer says while the films are homespun and experimental, the stories are powerful socially and politically. “It’s why I wanted to tell them. It’s like a social narrative of what’s happening at the time. So many people have reached out since I made them. They’re not happy stories, but people have really connected to them in ways I couldn’t have imagined. 

Lewer works with an animator to bring the static drawings to life. “I see some of the other works in this show, and mine in comparison is so anti-screen-based. What I do like is the idea of story telling.”

♦ Richard Lewer and Jacobus Capone at Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery. Photo Lyn DiCiero.

The University of WA had already purchased Lewer’s 2014 film and now adds Never Shall Be Forgotten to its collection. Also purchased in Love, Displaced is Volta (2016) by Perth-based Jacobus Capone. The 53-minute film features Capone’s father playing melancholic tunes on an accordion, and represents roughly 53 minutes of filming each weekend over the course of a year. 

Capone, now 32, explains from when he was aged 10 to to 17 his father suffered chronic depression and became estranged from the family. “My father used to play the piano accordion when he was really well. One of my fondest memories as a child was him playing a family get-togethers. I asked if he would be willing to teach me how to play it. He hadn’t played since he’d become ill. He said ‘I’d love to but I don’t know if I could. I would have to practice.’ I invited him to my studio to start playing so we could just spend time together, and made a ritual of it every week. There wasn’t the intention to start filming it, but three weeks in I asked him if I could start documenting it. I didn’t necessarily want to make a work, it was really for my own archive, because it was a really special experience. The accordion he’s using was the one he played almost 20 years earlier. When he picked it up again it wasn’t in tune, so he was playing it the way it was left.”

Capone says there was no regret or rehashing memories, but a rejoicing of what the two share together now. “There’s a mid way point in the film where he stops and starts recounting the breakup of his marriage, and how he had to go through electric shock therapy. They’re all things he opened up about, so it was very intense.” 

Volta, (still), 2016, 2-5 channel video, duration: 53 minutes by Jacobus Capone in the Perth Festival show Love, Displaced at Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery. Image courtesy the artist. Commissioned by the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art for NEW16.

Capone says the work transitioned into being displayed in a gallery when he was invited to exhibit in Melbourne and began to see the potential of the work. In a two-day performance in 2010 at PICA, Capone spent the first day listening to his father’s heartbeat, and on the second his father listened to his. “It was to address that uneasiness between us. I was incredibly grateful that he was willing to be a part of that, especially because of the level of vulnerability as the performance was open to the general public. It made me want to thoroughly explore this avenue further.”

Capone says the weekly filming filled up eight terabytes of computer space over the course of a year. “I’ll never get rid of it,” he says. “It’s a wonderful thing to have. Whenever I set it up and turn the audio on it always brings me to tears. It’s not supposed to be an emotional tear-jerker, but it’s such a loaded subject.”

Shown on two double-sided screens, Capone is not concerned if viewers don’t take in the full 53 minutes of the work. “I like the audience to walk around it and not be simply passive, but become more entwined and immersed in it.”

Love, Displaced is on show at Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery until 11 May.