Overhead Manual Pivot_SUITCASE_Attempt_No.3
Encapsulated here are ideas of surveillance, history, control, migration, futility, absurdity and perspective: James Nguyen deals with fatalism in his work. That sense of everything is going wrong and that he has little to no control over proceedings. It’s a poetic intensity contained within Charlie Chaplin slapstick, they’re strange bedfellows, but they make for some interesting viewing.
Like all great artists, James works with his gut feeling- in this case the malaise he feels at the current Australian political climate. In chatting with James, he reveals the political motivation behind his work: the mistreatment of refugees and migrants to this country and the dismay at how the perception of this issue is cultivated. How is this cultivated? By the camera: For James, he who holds the camera, shapes our views. Overhead Manual Pivot_SUITCASE_Attempt_No.3 is an exercise in repackaging perspectives.
Occupying a corner of the room is a stack of miniature security televisions- the type poured over by security personnel in the wee hours. Curiously we can make out on the monitors a low-definition man, about 10 pixels across, poking at, reaching out and prodding something just beyond his grasp, suspended from the ceiling. The activity seems hopeless as the object spins just out of reach.
In the dark of the gallery shines a projection, not in plain view but instead shot upwards towards the ceiling, like a mass-broadcast to the denizens of an Orwellian society. Here a man limply squeezes himself into a suitcase. The act is fraught and disturbed – like kicking off the sheets on a hot summer’s night or David Blain escaping from an underwater prison in reverse.
Switching between the security monitors and the projection I begin to realise that one is a record of the other. The low definition man is poking at a camera rigging, letting it pivot from its overhead position. The camera looks down at the artist as he squeezes himself into a suitcase.
Drawing this association is the most poignant experience of the work and an illumination of the ideas at play. The work still appears absurd, but it communicates the role and intervention that the camera has on our perspective. Suddenly the rotating camera capturing the man and the suitcase speaks of a lack of control over the perception that is created. This is reinforced by the eye of authority (the security cameras) that has cast its gaze over our hopeless cameraman. The hero-migrant is thus rendered helpless – the uncontextualised, dizzying vision of his journey becomes less like a Homeric Odyssey (what it should be considered) and more like what the Australian media would like you to see.
- David Greenhalgh