(Australia, United States of America 1960– )
Tracey Moffatt’s fast paced montage videos compile scenes from film and television programs selected in response to a particular theme or coding. This is the final work in a suite of 7 videos made over the last decade; the previous works include ‘Lip’ 1999, ‘Artist’ 2000, ‘Love’ 2003, ‘Doomed’ 2007, ‘Revolution’ 2008 and ‘Mother’ 2009. 'Other' is one of the most mesmerising of the series as it edits together scenes of interracial encounters. It opens with first contact sequences, films in which the beach and the shallow waters are a zone of encounter between ships and canoes, between Europeans and non-Europeans. It then moves to images of looking, of two different peoples meeting for the first time and appraising each other visually. As imagined by Hollywood and TV directors, this is a moment of both curiosity and desire, where glances become lingering and erotically charged.
The next sequence moves from first encounters to quite literally first contact, when brown and white touch. Again curiosity is mingled with desire and an erotic tension crackles through these images. From touch we shift back to the eyes, but now vision is highly eroticised, looking has become a physical conduit to arousal and the gaze is embedded into a bodily response. Intercut are scenes of Westerners losing their sense of propriety and themselves when encountering an ‘other’, a moment when their own social structures erode.
A kitsch frenzied depiction of the other as threatening, feverish, abandoned and erotic informs the next selection of scenes in which running and dancing, from faux-tribal gatherings to frenzied hysterical choreographed sequences move closer and closer to orgiastic sexual abandonment.
In the final sequences desire is consummated in wild encounters which transgress race and gender. Humorously intercut with these are images of men hugging each other, an implied repressed homosexual subtext which is still unable to be depicted in mainstream cinema while we see frenzied hetereosexual couples and women making love to each other with abandonment. The video culminates in some literally explosive moments in which revel in the clichés of cinematic sexual orgasm: fires burn, volcanoes erupt and finally planets explode.
Moffatt utilises the clichés of cinematic representation of the ‘other’ to trace a pop culture history of how the west has represented its encounters with countries and peoples that are not itself. These mainstream representations somewhat hilariously reveal more about the cultures that made and consumed these films than the countries, peoples and histories they purport to depict. The ‘other’ here is a people and a place where the transgression of race, gender, and cultural norms can be imagined but which has little to do with any anthropological reality. As the clichés pile up this work is hugely entertaining, fast paced and sexy as it rolls through 60 years of moving image history. It also reiterates how desire, looking, power and the cinematic experience are so closely intertwined.
Queensland Art Gallery (Australia, estab. 1895) (Author), The 6th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, 2009, 140-141.