Museum of Contemporary Art, donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Andrew and Cathy Cameron, 2012
festoon lights, single-channel digital video, colour, sound, 10min 20sec
10 min 20s
James Newitt made a dramatic shift in his art-making when he decided to develop a practice that explored social conditions beyond the studio in ways that would implicate him as an active participant in the circumstances of his subjects. Contact and immersion are key words: his video, photographic and public art projects are the result of longer processes of engagement and research. Saturday Nights (2007) for example, reflects elements of the recent history of the Tasman Peninsula on Tasmania’s South Coast. Saturday Nights is a project that could not have happened without the artist understanding how that community functioned and related. Newitt’s work is the culmination of shared experience: as with any portrait, the focus on the dancehall – the hub of the small town – relied on interaction and trust.
Typical of the artist’s camera work and documentary style is the tension created between what seems to be staged and what is real. While the artist is interested in the documentary form and the potential that it offers, he is uncomfortable about the idea of working purely within the realm of documentary. He is more interested in the problems, possibilities and ideas that emerge when fiction and documentary are explored simultaneously. Newitt does not consider reality and fiction as binary concepts. Rather his aim is to create a conflated sense of fiction and reality where the viewer is drawn into a narrative and then compelled, through the material provided, to construct his/her own conclusion about a particular story or situation.
In front of the camera, as Newitt is aware, the ‘subject’ can be vulnerable to the manipulation of the artist. Sensitive to the issues involved when working with other people, their stories and experiences, he has commented:
‘I try to be aware of this potential vulnerability with the works I make and develop strategies for negating it or at least acknowledging it … I’m aware of the privileged position my own background and identity places me in. When I make work that incorporates other people’s stories or experiences I’ve always remained personally connected or implicated in the situation, sometimes I try to create a situation where there is mutual vulnerability between both the ‘subject’ and ‘artist’’.
...sometimes I try to create a situation where there is mutual vulnerability between both the ‘subject’ and ‘artist’