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Transcendent Intrigue:  Experimental Art Foundation 1997


Marion Halligan's short story, The ego in Arcadia includes an incident about a woman living in France who leaves her two girls in their apartment for a moment – to save taking them out into the cold – while she dashes down 10 floors to buy some bread. The children stood on chairs and watched through the window as their mother crossed the courtyard between the towers. They called and waved but she didn’t hear so they opened the window and called and leant out farther- and fell. Both of them. One after the other. Not quite at her feet. But near enough.


Jan Nelson’s exhibition Studio Practice reminds me of this story. Nelson’s Parisian setting, the video projection of a woman jumping from footpaths, steps, garden fences and park benches, the two photographic images of the artist standing on a wooden chair which has been precariously placed upon an ergonomic chair on wheels. And the pair of images, which capture a person falling.


Focusing on the incidental and the prosaic, Nelson’s exhibition has a deceptively seductive slickness – high-gloss photographs, video monitors playing saturated colour video loops and a large-scale video projection. In the background of the photographic images hangs a blank canvas upon which images can be seen-reflected from the five -video monitors opposite. The videos at either end of the row of monitor’s feature two men, karate black belts, locked into position, one struggles beneath the other. The person underneath pushes upwards and against the other to no avail. The sound of his feet slapping the wooden floorboards is amplified, to create a thunderous seemly industrial sound which echoes throughout the gallery.


The additional three video loops consist of the artist moving to turn backwards and forwards around the studio, lying motionless in a horizontal position, crawling on all fours around this same space. Nelson seems to suggest that these every day, futile activities not usually considered of much consequence offers the potential for investigation.

Anticipating Transcendence, a large video projection in the front part of the gallery of the artist jumping and stomping about the streets of Paris refers to Yves Klein’s leap from a garden wall in Paris in 1960. The footage, which is mostly blurred and out of focus has visually arresting moments of digitalised effects that recall a Seurat painting. Nelson wears unsuitable but fashionable footwear for these activities – sandals, slip-on and high-heel boots – details, which cause one to question the relevance of their inclusion.

As a child I jumped off a table repetitively without bending my knees much, finishing up in hospital having lost momentary use of my legs. A transcendent, philosophical act no less.


Joanne Harris

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