Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Narrative 2: Iakovos Amperidis’ 'Act Normal'

Photo: Iakovos Amperidis

Self-replicating collapse

Iakovos Amperidis was scheduled to show at 55 Sydenham Rd in October. Several incidents occurred in the immediate lead-up. Amperidis deinstalled a large rectangle of the gallery’s lighting track and collapsed the wall that divided the space into two rooms. A photo from the artist appeared on social media of the result, a disorientating perspective where the white wall lay intact on the grey floor and the lighting track, switched on, illuminated the wall it rested against. The separation of wall, floor and ceiling, all momentarily called into question.

A few days later, Amperidis published a video of a near-completion 20-speaker sound sculpture in the gallery space. Described by Amperidis as a spambot/alien head, it emitted audio resembling a scramble of metal and voices, razors and static. News shortly followed from the gallery of the complete disappearance of 55’s website archive. The cause was unknown. Distorted image files from previous 55 exhibitions were posted online. Amperidis’ upcoming exhibition opening was postponed. Subscribers to 55’s mail-out then received an email of corrupted code from the website, as if an infecting virus had disseminated itself. On closer examination it was evident that between the links to scrambled files of 55’s exhibition history, were extracts from Wikipedia on a number of feedback systems: strange loops, self-replicating programs and cascading failures. Embedded in the email were two gifs: the first was the photograph of the toppled gallery wall; and the other an interior of 55 Sydenham Rd in a former incarnation as a factory office. Both images start erasing at the same time they appear. This was the exhibition. It happened; it didn’t happen.

A room inside a room

(KNULP: Act Normal) It’s like a partition wall in KNULP has bypassed its formal restraints and tidily collapsed, folding over itself. The gyprock sheeting and supporting framing constitute a second interior that the viewer needs to crouch to enter. Inside is a sharply-angled, claustrophobic room.

Two Sony Trinitron monitors, relics from the early days of video art, are installed on the ceiling in the furthest, cramped corner. The hand-sized screens face a slanting, carpeted wall from which a plastic stool juts out at the viewer. The footage on the screens is upside down. It is apparent that, in a perceptual up-ending, the room has been spun. The floor on which the audience stands is the ceiling. Or maybe a wall. It is an extensive and detailed construction with a rough finish: the paint doesn’t make it to the edges of the sheeting, the inner panels don’t all meet up.

On the dual monitors is a two-channel montage of found film, intermittently punctuated by blank screens and a mix of synched and unsynched audio. A brief summary of the narrative elements: a man beats a wall with a brick; a bird descends in a death spiral; a tracking shot closes in on a door and a surveillance screen; a faceless pulp monster bumbles around. Then, an audio sequence of orgasmic moans, a woman’s arse gesticulates onscreen, and an unseen auctioneer solicits bids for a property. Cut to rotating black and white spirals, and the edit, set to a cacophonous beat pulse, starts over.

Amperidis’ video is pulled from YouTube: from art-house film; social media performance art; Osama Tezuka’s sci-fi series Space Giants; infotainment news; advertising for the Sydney Contemporary art fair; a toddler’s tantrum, ‘I don’t want to go!’; George Digweed, commercial pigeon shooter in action; and the revolving optical discs of Duchamp’s Anemic Cinema. The audio also includes glossolaliac newsreaders, an apocalyptic religious film soundtrack, a cast of midlife crisis and mental health sufferers detailing their symptoms, and a compilation of amateur-porn cumshots. Crude, funny, loud, camp. If there is a common link it is to the breaching borders of the everyday abject body: inanely striving, exceeding and abandoning itself. The cascading, self-replicating, failures and programs of daily life. Just acting normal.

A screen inside a screen

Several segments of video are from Luis Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel. The film’s plot: a group of wealthy dinner guests find themselves inexplicably unable to leave the room in which they have congregated.  Food and water run dry and the guests turn on each other in the struggle to cross the threshold and escape their predicament. It is a narrative with multiple double ups: the guests arrive twice, the host duplicates his welcome toast, identical dialogue is spoken by different characters. It’s only by retracting their steps and repeating their speech that the characters are freed from their ensnarement. As the film ends it becomes clear that it has only been a short reprieve – the guests are ensconced in a new location but once again appear unable to exit. It is a strange loop: a circular paradox that returns a scenario to the same point it began.  The extracts Amperidis uses in Act Normal are all instances of the disturbed boundaries that reoccur throughout the film: the dinner guests recline together in sleep and death; an interior wall is forcefully penetrated to draw water from the plumbing; a bear roams freely in the newly-created wilderness of the house outside the room.

Another core excerpt is the opening scene of Michael Snow’s *Corpus Callosum. A strange loop is at work here as well. This one is self-reflexive. A small screen is mounted next to a door at the end of a hallway. On view is security vision of the same scene. Snow’s camera slowly pans down the hallway and focuses in on the screen to arrive back exactly where it started. It’s a mise en abyme: every screen contains a smaller version of itself. Amperidis broadcasts this clip on both his monitors but interrupts the existing recursion by inserting other footage into Snow’s video screens and starting up his own. On one monitor, underwear-clad, Spanish performance artist, Amalia Ulman, (famous for a strange loop Instagram account in which she faked a quest for fame), mimes the cleaning of a floor on her hands and knees. On the other monitor the Japanese-pulp creature gambols through a series of outdoor locations: liberated from the need to be monstrous by the absence of spectators. Both Ulman and the beast are caught up in mirrored loops where self-referentiality is the cause as well as the result of surveillance. It’s a different type of demarcated space than Buñuel’s bourgeois drawing room, but it’s equally concerned with the feedback mechanisms of confinement and release.

By entering Amperidis’ gallery inside a gallery, and watching his video of screens within screens, we viewers have been entangled in a strange loop of the artist’s design. With each iteration of the loop, onscreen and off, there is a multiplication and a division of perspective. The rooms expand into more rooms, the screens into more screens, then retract back, spiralling in and out like Duchamp’s comically hypnotic rotoreliefs.

55: twinned narratives

55 Sydenham Rd recently promoted an upcoming event on Facebook. Audience Undevelopment was scheduled to take place in March, Sydney’s annual ‘Art Month’. Exactly nothing at all was planned, and that is what 55’s audience was invited to participate in. Audience Undevelopment regretted the accelerating proliferation of art events (and the accompanying instructions of how and when to consume culture), the social media boosterism, the assimilation of funding imperatives, the sham collectivity and the illusory promises of sustenance, and art careers, for all.

Amperidis is the founder and director of 55 Sydenham Rd, a resolutely, non-commercial, artist-run gallery with an outspoken character voice, capable of usurping and inhabiting multiple identities, including Amperidis’ own. National and international politicians, art celebrities and collectors, local real estate agents and motivational speakers, have been remixed, dubbed, misquoted or raised from the dead to critique the machinations of contemporary art, undercut its brokers, and recommend 55 on its social media feed.

Initially 55 Sydenham Rd attempted to operate anonymously. Artists agreed to show work without their names attached and Amperidis, as director, intended to remain unidentified. This was soon abandoned when it became obvious that this was not drawing attention to the art but away from it, into the well-worn game of gatekeeping as a means of accruing publicity and privilege. The paradoxes of contemporary art have long appeared inescapable: the futile battles by artists to retain autonomy and agency in the relentless cycle of co-option and subjugation: the likely impossibility of even criticising the financial and institutional systems we are enmeshed in without reinforcing them. 55 responds by reversing the power relations: commandeering dominant voices to its own end, stuffing hierarchical expectations and complicities alike into a paradoxical room of its own making.

55 Sydenham Rd was launched with a narrative. Spy services, former MPs, psychokinetic mediums and spectral hosts were all assigned a role in a founding myth invoking cold war politics, residual hauntings and architectural retention. In this account the previous occupants and their exertions remain imbued in the building. The infrastructure of 55 Sydenham Rd is porous and unstable: its voice trespasses other voices, its rooms harbour other rooms. 55 wields paradox, sometimes in attack, mostly in defence.

Subtitled architecture, parallel plots

Amperidis has a seeming preoccupation with interior architecture, with walls as material and as conceptual substrate. This has previously led him to build an accurate replica of the hallway and secret entrance in Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby; to fence off a gallery space with a wall and a locked door; to make Rorschach blots from white wall-paint samples cadged from Sydney galleries; to axe a hole into a gallery wall and disappear inside. Architecture deals in the division of space, and the shifting borders of subjectivity: inside, outside, here, there, mine, not mine, segregation, emancipation, monitored, unmonitored. Amperidis’ work is often engaged with negating, modifying and reconstructing these parameters. It’s architecture as physical and psychological analogy, as code, stage and horizon.

Amperidis similarly treats found narratives as malleable structures, and as propositions warranting a response. Film is a frequent source. He has referenced Buñuel’s film in previous works, twice discarding the image and the audio to make use of the subtitles alone. In a 2013 work at ICAN gallery, (the same space now occupied by KNULP), lines from the film were programmed and sent as texts between two iPhones: ‘Exterminating’ and ‘Angel’. A later video work, Subtitle/soundtrack (study), also extracted dialogue from The Exterminating Angel, and intercut it with lines from Samuel Beckett’s novel, How it is, and a fleeting strip of light and music from Cassavetes’ Love Streams. The white text was projected directly onto a white wall at 55. It was a periodic, slow-paced projection, appearing and erasing. The gallery walls played an integral part in the work’s visibility and meaning, taking the place of the disconnected frameworks: becoming the interior of Buñuel’s room; the mud through which Beckett’s antihero crawls; and Cassavetes’ briefly blinded lens, radiant in a zone of domestic and psychological entrapment. It is another recursive loop of course. The audience and the gallery are symbolically enclosed inside the source texts. Reading the subtitles is an act of internalising the characters’ thoughts; the gallery walls are the mirrors inside the mirror, the frames within the frame.

The key driver to the strange loop which connects 55 Sydenham Rd, the exhibition that did or didn’t happen, and Act Normal, is Amperidis’ insistence on paradox: at once a working method, a principle of engagement and an acid test. Amperidis repeatedly encloses himself, and his audience, in the rooms and galleries of contemporary art to play out his strange and self-referential loops. If we follow Bunuel’s logic, it’s an attempt to retrace his steps and utterances. To rewind the narrative, jam the circuit, and make his way out.

Lynne Barwick, May 2016 
55 Sydenham Rd, Sydenham, Sydney, October 2015 & KNULP, Camperdown, Sydney, April 2016