StillMoving: Emily Hlavac-Green (2009)
‘SITE 2009’, Dunedin School of Art at Otago Polytechnic, Dunedin, New Zealand
Hlavac-Greens’ work ‘Still Moving’ is the culmination of a year-long project investigating the photographic and the cinematic. The work is layered, not just materially but metaphorically, straddling the space that extends the narrative photograph and collapses time in the cinematic into one, multi-dimensional moment.
The narrative photograph in contemporary photography is one that does not tell us its complete story, as its name would suggest. Rather it offers up an evocation of recognisable clues to a story that exists beyond the frame. The clues are layered within the image and as we read, they reveal themselves, adding dimension to the perceived tale.
‘Still Moving’ is a large piece that dominates the room. Created from five large photographic transparencies each mounted on its own layer of acrylic, the five images sit one in front of another, lit from behind. There are spaces between the layers, adding three-dimensionality to these two-dimensional photographs. The image content adds the further dimension of duration to the work; the photographs are created as film stills from a contemporary re-enactment of the ‘Odessa Steps’ sequence from Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925). This photograph then, is therefore not an instant as we know a photograph to be, but an accumulation of time(s) shown statically, yet dynamically with this frame.
The cinematic, in opposition to the narrative photograph, uses time as its base. The duration of the narrative is elongated or shortened and played out over a common length of time. (Approx. 1.5 hours) Our expectation of this model, to be delivered the beginning, middle and end (regardless of order) fulfills our current understanding of classic Hollywood cinema.
Hlavac-Green takes both these positions (indeed polarities), pulling them away from their comfortable grounding and merges them together, somewhere in-between. By referencing the ‘Odessa Steps’ sequence the work directly acknowledges montage in early soviet cinema as it does in its use of photography. In viewing the work, we are offered a darkened room and a large screen akin to a traditional cinema experience, but rather than sit back, relax and enjoy the show we find ourselves moving closer for further inspection. Our investigation reveals the three-dimensionality of the work; we are seduced in-between the layers to ponder their existence separately as well as in unison. This engagement results in a physical relationship to the work, as we move ourselves back and forwards in front of the screen to experience it from different angels. Our own movement providing the literal motion that is alluded to in the content of the work. Each time we look, another facet of the work appears, begging us to question what exactly it is that we are looking at?
This is a highly sophisticated work that engages the viewer on many levels. As an exploration of narrative still photography, still photographic montage, cinematic montage and an investigation of time in both the static and moving image, it opens up new dialogues in and around photographic and cinematic media. Hlavac-Green clearly understands these media and in offering us new thresholds for each medium, she elicits and delivers a new space for her artwork to inhabit.
Rachel Gillies, 2011
Rachel is a Senior Lecturer at the Dunedin School of art, and her research practice includes photography and digital media, curatorial practices and writing.