(Australia 1952 – )
105.0 x 206.0 cm image; 125.5 x 226.5 cm sheet; 133.0 x 233.0 x 7.5 cm frame
One of Australia’s pioneering electronic artists, Peter Callas has played fast and loose with computer software and animation technology over the last 20 years to produce a body of work that has attracted interest from around the world. As a great traveller for whom home is several homes, Callas draws on the imagery (including sound) of many places, including Brazil, Japan, New Guinea, Tunisia, Egypt and India. While this helps to subvert the biases of Western visual habits, his work also tracks issues of identity and nationality that have been radically reconfigured in the new borderless electronic landscape.
Centrifugal forces at large seem bent on making a culture of classless, rootless metropolitans, while computer technology can transmit its images at the speed of the nervous system. Advertising, music, video, surveillance footage, cartoons: as this image flow liquefies and runs through the cracks and creases of a newly unfolded world map, Callas zeros in on those images that act as a currency, or interface, between one culture and another.
Trained as a TV editor, Callas found himself having to set music to footage from the Vietnam War: ‘You really become aware how distant you were in looking at these images just as moving things on a screen and putting them to music without any real feeling or knowledge of the true context of how they’d been taken’.1 These days, driving a Silicon Graphics Indy computer, Callas retrieves images, scans them, and from a palette of colours available in the software redraws them into new painterly patterns and rhythms (staccato or slow). This arrest of the dense flow (or animation of it) challenges our usual take on television, one that incubates either stupefaction or channel-hopping distraction. It also sets up an interesting dialogue between the bankrupt original and Callas’ version: stencilled free from this cascading flow into something more iconic, flattened and hard edged, more layered and saturated with colour, Callas returns something specific to the original culture that has been drained from it.
‘Um novo tempo’ (a new time) was produced after several trips to Brazil, during which Callas pondered the parasitical, even viral, relationship between colonial and host indigenous cultures. The image came from a threatening stalking experience in the Manaus fish market, while the title, which translates as ‘a new time’, came from a slogan on a political poster there. Not photography, not cinema, not television, video animation production has an immediacy and unity that accounts for the unique look and sound of Callas’ work.
1. Interview with Martin Thomas, ‘Art and Australia’, vol 32, no 2, summer 1994, pp 218–27
© Art Gallery of New South Wales Contemporary Collection Handbook, 2006
George Alexander, Contemporary: Art Gallery of New South Wales Contemporary Collection, 'Popism and screen culture', pg.204-245, Sydney, 2006, 216 (colour illus.).