Das Platforms / Contemporary Art

Likeness: 5 Video Portraits by Hugh Marchant

by Stella Rosa McDonald

11 Apr 2011

Name something and it disappears - this is what I think of when I think of Hugh Marchant’s work and our conversations about it. Question what he is making and the answer is often “a HD video”, “an animation”, “something in 3D”, suggesting it is the instrument and not the artist who decides the content, the stuff inside the frame. The five works that comprise Likeness are slickly presented as a single screen loop, each work apparent enough without the need for titles to differentiate them. Their polished presentation in a grey walled room is indicative of a rigorous aesthetic that extends beyond the margins of the screen. You get the distinct sense he could be happily locked in a room with the instruments of the digital world as his only company - a blissful desktop atelier. His work demonstrates an unharried faith in the nature of time, in its sites and events to produce an image without interference or corruption from the one who captures it. His practice is to take a camera to a place and open the lens; unbound by studio, prop or script. Through his lens the shape of familiar buildings and locations become elemental, reduced to their basic shape and colour. They are geometric apparitions rather than places of business, reverence, trade or government. Of landscape Hugh’s work says ‘invisible’, of its function, it says ‘unexplainable’. In Australia Square, the Sydney CBD appears as an abandoned and physically amplified place fixed in reverse. Shot at night with available light, his eye directs us toward the possibility of movement in concrete and stone. In Clay, shot in the Berkley ceramics studio, earth and steel appear like digital ice, as if all that is solid and certain must melt to air. More often than not, people in Hugh’s work appear alone, briefly, or are absent altogether, as if he is not sure of their place or purpose in his view of the world. In his National Youth Self-Portrait Prize winning work, Hugh, he emerges and is given shape by a tangle of lines, like footpaths or waterways, as if we are made from such things. In Sydney to Gong and Australia Square the figures are ciphers, controlled by the structure of city streets or the pedals beneath their feet. In Absence, a video based on Barack Obama’s cancelled visit to Australia, government buildings and wide roads replace a man altogether. Hugh’s videos create a parallel design for that which is familiar. The images he crafts are not extraordinary, instead they are irrefutably his own. Each video iterates something that you cannot locate by yourself, and could never have discovered without being told of where it was hidden. His difficulty in articulating what it is he has made give the works a satisfying potential for discovery, on the part of both the viewer and the artist. The collection of video works in Likeness suggests a resemblance – a part of the whole that is recognisable and visible, yet fragmentary and incomplete.

Likeness: 5 Video Portraits by Hugh Marchant. Curated by JD Reforma. 24th – 8th March 2011 SPIspace, An Initiative of Gaffa Gallery
Stella Rosa McDonald is an emerging artist and writer, currently completing her MFA in Time Based Art at the College of Fine Arts (UNSW).