View Master / Harmonic Oscillators - September 2014

Artist - Jess Taylor (View Master) & Riley O’Keeffe (Harmonic Oscillators)

Author - Serena Wong


Jess Taylor's work is un-ashamedly mines the horror genre. Graphic, violent images and scenes that populate these films are Taylor's bread and butter. But rather than trying to scare us for the sake of it, Taylor instead insists on making you complicit.

Presented on View Master reels, View Master (Hanging With My Friends), View Master (Stuck On You) and View Master (Spring In My Step) are at the heart of the invitation to indulge. Clicking the lever presents the viewer with a reel of eerie gothic images of Taylor incongruously suspended in the landscape. While the View Master enables you to control the flow of images, it directs the order in which you do so. Belying the benign exterior, once you look into the View Master, you enter a never ending horror loop, trapped by curiosity.

The series I Can't Control Myself Because I Don't Know How (1-4) uses 3D glasses to turn unfocussed photographs into sinister scenes, moments on the cusp of violence. The lenticular prints are the adult versions of the holograph collector cards that were swapped in playgrounds. With each print you automatically sway to try and see, is it this image, or is it that as we trade one bloody scene for another. As you peer across them, moving to get different vantage points, to see the blood and gore closer, better, clearer, you realise that you are enacting this violence as much Taylor is. Tilting your head, this way and that, condemns the figure to the moment over and over again.

Along the wall, on small wooden shelves, are six tiny scenes enacted by gold plated figures fabricated by 3D printers. Each tableau seems like an echo of a recognisable horror story, yet none tie to any specific reference. Reinforcing the feeling of familiarity are the titles; The Bad Apple Spoils The Bunch and The Deepest Circle of Hell Is Reserved For Betrayers and Mutineers. They speak to common horror themes and tales of morality and mortality, inherent in the horror genre. Drawn in by the shining golden figures, you notice that in each tableau the figures are identical, the ones being tortured are also the ones inflicting the pain. These figures, as all the other imagery in the show, are Taylor herself. We are watching a group of pregnant Taylors surround and beat a pregnant Taylor on the ground. In miniature. These works are a surreal kitsch nightmare, where the artist is both the perpetrator and the victim, directly referencing her complicity in these acts. We are voyeurs to the horror which the she has inflicted on herself for our viewing pleasure. And by pleasure she's specifically talking about the pleasure of fear, the dopamine kick we get after watching a scary movie, the bizarre feeling of surrendering to fear, while being completely safe. Here we indulge in the gore and violence that are complicit in through the very act of viewing. Vaguely grotesque but, particularly the small figures, endlessly engrossing, you can't help but be slightly grossed out, yet enthralled with the interplay between the real and the imagined and what it says about those of us who can't look away.

Harmonic Oscillators by Riley O'Keeffe in the back gallery pairs nicely with Taylor's ability to make the audience complicit in the act. His work is a philosophical investigation in to the challenges of infinity. The actuality of infinity is beyond comprehension.1 Though we may be able to grasp it as a concept, it is beyond our ability to imagine, something that Kant described as the sublime. We can imagine something in multiples of Olympic swimming pools or smaller than a grain of sand, because these are things that can be visualised, but how does one visualise infinity?

With the Harmonic Oscillators O'Keefe has created an object that contemplates infinity at a human scale. It is an opaque, vaguely reflective rectangular box, lined with florescent lights with sensors on each side. These sensors are connected to speakers in the four corners of the room, endlessly humming white noise into the dark space. The box, before it is activated is unlit, reflecting itself, and a version of you back to you, as if holding mirrors together.

To trigger the artwork you stand facing it, and wave a flashlight in front of the sensors. The sensors (senses, sensors) are paired and are used to activate the lights, so they flash on and off in various patterns while simultaneously altering the white noise being emitted from the speakers, through predetermined programming. However, put a group of people in the room, all with flashlights activating the sensors, and it becomes a completely randomised, chaotic room of noise and light and movement. Within this moment, this group experience, it is tempting, somewhat unavoidable that you are drawn to figure out how it works. You activate this sensor, and that sensor, trying to figure out the pattern, the order, to control and manipulate it effectively. Soon you realise though you can control what sensor you activate and when, you cannot control the other sensors and people in the room, and thus the experience becomes a testament to chaos and control, fundamental concerns of understanding the infinite universe. Elizabeth Grosz writes that exploring abstract questions like the relationships between the lived body and the forces of the universe can provide us with new understandings of the concrete and the lived.2 Harmonic Oscillators is a tribute to the seemingly infinite combinations of humanity, yet its programming, the limits in which it operates, speaks of the common conditions of our lived experience.

1 Rosenthal, A. and Reeder,V. Philosophy of the Infinite: The philosophy of Immanuel Kant, University of Regina, 1999, p.1

2 Grosz, E. Chaos, Territory, Art: Deleuze and the Framing of the Earth, Columbia University Press, New York, 2008, p. 3