I’ll be Watching You

I went to see Spectacle – the music video exhibition at ACMI (Australian Centre For the Moving Image) with my friend, Sean Doyle, ACMI’s Macintosh Systems Administrator. Sean kindly invited me to an ACMI staff family and friends viewing of the exhibition. We saw the exhibition and had a beer at Optic while wait for Jane Routley who was still watching the music videos (she was in there for two and a half hours). There were so many familiar videos bringing back so many memories. There are so many videos in the exhibition that it would take days to cycle through them all.

Music videos are like Wagner’s dream of a ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’, a total art experience uniting the visual with the audio. Wagner was right it is “The Artwork of the Future” but not in the way he would have wanted it to be; Wagner would not have wanted the pointless luxury that the spectacle of music videos offers. Wagner may not have wanted his MTV but there is a lot to appreciate in music videos. At their best many overlapping with video art or experimental movies and at the worst slick advertising productions – and all in under four minutes (compared to the hours of Wagner’s Ring Cycle).

Why go to the exhibition when I could sit on the couch on a Friday or Saturday night and watch Rage? With the right host selecting the videos Rage can be almost good as the selection of videos at Spectacle. This is a problem that all popular arts exhibitions face when the work is shown outside of the popular context.

The exhibition does puts music videos in a historical context; you will be surprised at the age of the phrase “music video”. I did get a laugh from the literal videos; videos with the lyrics rewritten to describe, literally what is happening in the video. (Check out “literal videos” on YouTube.) But a book or a documentary could have done that.

It is a beautifully presented exhibition and there is more to do that put on headphone and watch videos at Spectacle. It has a few works from the bleeding edge of music videos, including some interactive music videos, crowdsourced music videos and a stereoscopic music video from Björk. Sean told me about the work that he had to do on the Johnny Cash Project of crowd sourced animation. It is originally a webpage and Sean was tweaking the code for that to make it function for the exhibition.

Although my music collection ranges from Gary Numan to bhangra want I’m really into is the intersection between art and music. This is well represented in Spectacle, with bands like the Residents or EBM because curators, like critics, love that intersection. Rage doesn’t tend to play videos by the Residents or EBM and one of the Resident’s giant eyeball masks is at the exhibition. Why didn’t it have something from Severed Heads?

There isn’t much memorabilia and preparatory material in the exhibition, things that you can see first hand at an exhibition. Along with the giant eyeball, there is a small case of Countdown material, some animation cells including some for Ah Ha’s “Take On Me” and some storyboards for videos.

 

About Mark Holsworth

Arts administrator, artist, musician, philosopher and writer. Writes Black Mark - Melbourne Art and Culture Critic. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

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