SUBCINEMA | Steven Ball - Film and Video

AFW - 2 Kerr St, Fitzroy

Monday 18 December, 8pm

Admission: $5 to go to the artist



Steven Ball - Periscope 180º (super8, 17mins, 1992)

Steven Ball

Steven Ball has been working in audio-visual media since the early 1980s. In the late 1980s he accidentally migrated to Melbourne, Australia, where he continued his practice making a number of film, video and sound and installation works, as well as engaging in various curatorial, administrative, teaching and writing activities, the most significant of which was several year’s deep involvement with the Melbourne Super 8 Film Group. He returned to the UK in 2000, and since 2003 has been Research Fellow in Fine Art at Central Saint Martins, where he has been instrumental in establishing the British Artists’ Film and Video Study Collection. 

Since returning to the UK his projects have included Deep Water Web, an audio-visual installation and online collaborative work with John Conomos at Furtherfield Gallery, London (2016); Film of the Same Name (video, 2015) with Philip Sanderson; Concrete Heart Land (video, 2014) with Rastko Novakovic; the screening exhibition Figuring Landscapes, which toured the UK and Australia (artist and co-curator 2008-2010). His publications include ‘Expanded Cinema: Art Performance Film’, Tate Publishing, (co-editor and author, 2011) and writing for journals such as Moving Image Review and Art Journal (MIRAJ) and Senses of Cinema. 

Most recently he has concentrated on music projects, as a member of Storm Bugs (post-punk DIY outfit since 1978) with Philip Sanderson recently releasing ‘Certified Original and Vintage Fakes’ (CD and download, Snatch Tapes, 2017), and his new solo album 'subsongs.' (CD and download, Linear Obsessional Recordings, 2017), which has been described by Radio Free Midwich as “The missing link between reductionist improv and the intimate breathy song cycles of a Robert Wyatt.” 

This screening brings together a selection of film and video works made over a span of some twenty years. The work covers a range of territory and approaches, in particular concerning spatiality and landscape in Australia, the UK, and elsewhere, often through the filter of his relationship to what might be thought of as a post-colonial position. The works integrate structural and materialist techniques, they are variously essayistic, experimental, rhythmically abstracted, and occasionally immersive. 


Periscope 180° (super 8, 17 min, Australia, 1992) 

The title indicates the scopic and conceptual topography of the film. The film starts in Fremantle, West Australia, with nautical references (seascapes, masts, lighthouses). The second part moves in East Gippsland, Victoria, alternating indistinct images of beach, sea and sky with black and white footage of fishermen on a beach. Taking up notions from Deleuze and Guattarian deterritorialisation, and including lines taken from Stanley Kramer's 1959 film On the Beach, the voice over narration resounds with ironical autobiographical suggestiveness, “...he’s English and he’s here on some scientific job, or was it geographic? What does he do exactly?”, becoming a poetic speculation on the uncertainty of migration towards a nomadic condition of continual departure and the paradox of return: the refrain. The third and final part in aerial transit, an arrival denied by the films ending. 

The Ground, the Sky, and the Island (digital video, 8 min, UK, 2008) 

This video reworks photographs, super 8 film, sound and anecdotal text from a series of bush and outback locations across Australia during the 1990s. It takes the form of extracts from an imagined first-person journal, layered over extruded experiments with composition and movement constructing a synthetic shifting landscape. Moving through discrete but related sections, the abstracted view shifts vertically through 90°, between the closeness of the local, the ground, and the claustrophobia of the distant colonizing horizon. As it travels east from the South Australian desert, through bush, tablelands and rocky range, the video becomes a subjective essayistic meditation, in absentia, on being in the landscape, the problem of attempting to reproduce these landscapes and the uncertainty of their representation. At its inconclusion we arrive on K'gari (Fraser Island off the coast of Queensland) where we reach the edge of the known world, a space being made in an open future. 

However, the Autodidact (super 8, 17 min, Australia, 1994) 

From my small back room in Elwood in 1994, with super 8 camera taking revenge on the helicopters which I was convinced might have been spying on me; not paranoid, just healthy suspiciousness. The film was then reshot through several generations of just out-of-date super 8 film given to me by Marie Craven. The variations of grain and colour determined by the stock, which included Kodachrome, Agfa Moviechrome, and Ektachome. I devised an editing structure determined by the ideas that perception of the 'present moment' lasts for around three seconds as theorised in The Dimension of the Present Moment by Miroslav Holub. The soundtrack is constructed using a similar schema, made entirely of extracts from quarter-inch tapes found in a second-hand shop, which included a teach-yourself-French tape, which inspired the title.   

The Defenestrascope (digital video, 6 min, UK, 2003) 

Throwing the view through windows from monumental towers in contemporary medieval European city and town. This eccentric exploration of urbanised space revolves around a setting of the traditional 16th century Norfolk song Go from the Window. The melody reconstructed from an ensemble of samples from a variety of sources, determined the choice of a series of views from 'the window' and elsewhere. Framed by a fragmented clapping rhyme it echoes Music Hall and anthropological folk recordings in a neo-rococo vaudevillian romp for the surveillance age. 

Aboriginal Myths of South London (digital video, 10 min, UK, 2010) 

Aboriginal Myths of South London adapts world views associated with indigenous people of Oceania to an interpretation of the space and social history of places in South London. As the first manifestation of the project, this video is presented as its prelude and explores New Kent Road, a major road close to the artist’s home. This application of attitudes to the status of the dead and human relationship to the ground, becomes a materialist alternative to the concept of the genius loci and the familiar. The approach is measured and austere, employing an arrangement of animated photographs and voice texts that becomes a poetic essay. 

Harmonic Three Three (super 8, 23 min, Australia, 1991) 

The originating super 8 film was shot on Fraser Island off the coast of Queensland. The relatively firm sand of the beach provides one of the main roads on the island as the interior tracks become unpassable due to the loose sand. As we drove north up the eastern side of the Island we came across the rusting hulk of a ship wreck; one of the more accessible of many such wrecks dotted around the Australian coastline. The former luxury New Zealand trans-Tasman liner Maheno was sold to Japan for scrap metal. On July 9th, 1935, while being towed north by the Oonah, it hit unseasonal cyclonic conditions off Fraser Island. The tow rope snapped and it was driven ashore on the 19th July. It remains there to this day, slowly disintegrating in the salty tropical sea water. I reshot subsequent generations of the film on super 8, off the screen, concentrating on the abstraction afforded by the increasing graininess and contrast of each generation, concerned with the grain, the light, or lack of it, and the degradation of visual information. Much of the film is dark, unreadable, ghostly, shadowy. Occasionally orange light bursts through the silhouetted contrasty skeletal image of the wreck. I used all of the film shot in the re-re-re-reshooting in the final version, which results in long dark sections throughout the film. The experience of watching the film is dense, intense, quite dramatic. This is in part due to the dark ambience of the soundtrack, which was composed entirely from a recording of waves on a beach, slowed to a fraction of its original speed, employing varispeed manipulation, delay and phase effects, which were all improvised ‘live' to tape while watching the film. 

81 mins total