Fusion
Sessions 1-3
Friday 2 June 6-10.30pm

It’s a word that conjures both everything and nothing. Festival elites and daily pundits spoke with equal enthusiasm about the Fusion package ­ yet few seemed quite sure what to expect.

Somewhere between a lucky dip for everything “not merely film” and a compacted microcosm of true multimedia, Fusion attracted a large but highly curious crowd.

In her second year as curator, digital artist Sue McCauley was given extended freedoms this time round. Briefed to go forth and deliver a package as diverse as you want, she did just that. The result was a well-rounded mix of artform material ­ ranging from the strictly CD ROM to the predominantly dance.

The first two sessions conformed solely to the CD ROM artform ­ with the 10.30pm slot hanging over our heads as a teaser of the more media in-fused pieces to come.

In Session 1, titled Surface Tension, Sue McCauley chose three pieces loosely themed around the idea of contained versus uncontained desire. Leon Cmielewski and Josephine Starrs’ Dream Kitchen presented a subversive transition of artificial domestic bliss into gritty grunge realism. Using a kitchen setting as a central portal/menu, we are guided under the fridge, into the oven, down the sinkhole into realms where pens torture pencils, rats can be vivisected, and any number of violent tensions are exercised.

Matthew Riley’s Memo offered an equally subversive take on the sanitised iconography of computer graphics. Memo contained rough-edge sketches and hand-drawn fonts, creating a personal diary of uneasy roads into the artist’s private meditations. Lo-fi atmosphere meets hi-fi interactivity.

By contrast, the documentary CD ROMs in Session 2 embraced clean lines and polished surfaces. That said, the subject matter concerned demanding issues: indigenous Australia, East Timor and Mabo/land rights.

With large databases of resources, these three should find at least moderate commercial interest in the education sector. Beyond that, they may need to rely on their web links for continued and evolving interest.

Session 3 abandoned the CD ROM path for more expansive artistic territories. Veteran local artist Frank Lovece launched us into Poopants, a spoken word reading set against projected images of people in mostly developing world contexts. This intriguing piece was apparently concerned with prejudice and hegemony, but Lovece’s verbal style was too obscure for me to have any idea what was going on.

Cazerine Barry’s two dance works were ­ thankfully ­ much more accessible. The second of the two (and the more powerful), Lampscape, involved Barry performing behind a large gauze screen. Wispy images of her own body fused with digital images of herself projected through the screen, creating a rich landscape of forms and perspectives. While Barry’s dance style does not particularly stand out from much contemporary dance in Australia, her production design ­ fully exploiting the screen’s filmic elements ­ left many (including myself) in quiet awe then loud applause.

The final Fusion performance came from Tokyo-based collaborative group 66b/cell’s Cybermyth ­ an abridged version of a larger work they recently presented at the Next Wave Festival. The techno beats, Butoh-inspired movements, cyber costumes and digital video projections are so compelling that the actual dance does not need to be particularly innovative. And it certainly isn’t. But on the whole, Cybermyth signifies everything we have come to fantasise about contemporary Japanese art.

What to make of Sue McCauley’s Fusion package, ranging from domestic hell to private diaries, from Mabo to Butoh? Given that other film festivals in Australia and beyond now include digital and multimedia programs, packages like Fusion have come to be expected as core components ­ not merely a tack-on to appease the fringe art practitioners.

McCauley was clearly conscious of presenting pieces frequently marginalised from both major festivals and the general mainstream. Politically charged, the indigenous and East Timor CD ROMs remind us that these issues are too urgent to be left to the fickle whim of either broadsheet journos or Canberra beaurocrats.

At a more aesthetic level of engagement, the live performance pieces embraced a midpoint where film and performance play equal roles in constructing the piece. Without one, the other would certainly fall flat. As one example, the film images in Cazerine Barry’s Lampscape would not have lifted from two dimensions without her corporeal input.

Fusion seems more Sue McCauley’s baby than the St. Kilda Film Festival’s. Nevertheless, the Festival deserves credit for giving her the freedom to seize the steering wheel in both hands. With the directions Fusion has taken this year, the next installment is eagerly anticipated.

About The Author

Ben Zipper writes on both dance and film. He is also a programmer on the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and completed his first novel.