Museum of Contemporary Art, donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Michael Hawker, 2009
ten chairs, single-channel digital video, colour, sound, 8min 37sec
Working back and forth across film and painting, Susan Norrie has produced a number of epic, socially-motivated, painting installations, experiential video works and short films. Nuclear and environmental issues dealing with natural and manmade disasters are constant themes, creating compelling visual works that are often dark, menacing and suggestive of a world in peril. Inspired by cinematic precedents – in particular the films of Michelangelo Antonioni and Andrei Tarkovsky – Norrie’s moving-image works employ a combination of material filmed or directed by the artist who also draws strategically on editing techniques of montage, as pioneered by the Russian filmmaker and theorist Sergei Eisenstein.
Norrie is represented in the MCA Collection by two works: the five-channel video installation passenger (which was commissioned for her 2003 MCA solo exhibition) and Enola (made for the Biennale of Sydney, 2004), a single-channel video projected onto a screen set low into the wall of a room painted military grey. It resembles a cinema designed for children with custom-made wooden stools for viewers to sit upon. The inspiration for this installation is the Hiroshima Children’s Library, designed by Kenzo Tange and built as a peace monument in 1953. Its title is a reference to the B-29 bomber Enola Gay, the American fighter plane that dropped the atomic bomb on the city on the 6 August 1945.
The film focuses on a young Japanese couple in seemingly futuristic outfits, appearing lost within a world of architectural monuments, planes, ferries and traffic – an enchanting place which, later we realise is a scaled down city with well known buildings such as the Statue of Liberty, St Peter’s Basilica, the Eiffel Tower and New York’s former World Trade Centre. The setting is Tobu World Square, a landscaped, architectural theme park in Nikko, Japan, that has since been closed down.
Through Norrie’s slow-panning lens, the location – with its eclectic celebration of global human achievements in miniature and set to muzak (Burt Bacharach’s Walk on by and It’s a Small World, the song that accompanied a room-by-room global tour through Disney’s Magic Kingdom’s most popular attraction of the same name) – suggests a world of harmony and unity. But the dystopic reality of nuclear progress, which has so profoundly impacted upon Japan and the wider world today – and is poignantly encapsulated in the fading, eventually bleached-out images and the solemn tolling of a bell – is a powerful reminder of the fallibility of human endeavour.
In a small way artists can slow things down, remind people of an essential humanity that, somehow, seems to have been lost along the way… I feel that artists are often a barometer of events in the world: they can synthesise socio/political and environmental concerns with powerful visual encapsulations. Blurring the boundaries of fiction and fact, artists can deal with the overload of media information and misinformation with a certain clarity and poetic detachment.
Rachel Kent (curator), Statement of significance, Museum of Contemporary Art, 2009
Quotation: Susan Norrie, 2007
In a small way artists can slow things down, remind people of an essential humanity that, somehow, seems to have been lost along the way … Blurring the boundaries of fiction and fact, artists can deal with the overload of media information and misinformation with a certain clarity and poetic detachment.
Susan Norrie, 2007