Australian video pioneer Tracey Moffatt is perhaps one of the most revolutionary women artists to have ever worked in that medium. Known for her enchantingly beautiful yet often times dark portrayals of the role of subaltern “others” in both her native Australia and from cultures around the world, Moffatt’s narrative films offer the viewer a penetrative gaze into the realities and implicit fantasies that subjugation based on race and gender churns out. In her dual role as cultural critic and maker of art, Moffatt combines hard-edged life experiences with the technologies of video and photography to seam together pastiche-like vignettes that open a window onto the lives of her characters, whether that be an Australian aborigine or an African-American woman. In so doing, Moffatt not only presents the voice of “the other,” but perhaps more importantly provides a way out of the oft-times inescapable confines of racism, sexism and homophobia found in all corners of the globe. By granting her characters and viewers their own voice, Moffatt becomes champion of the subjugated and mediator between the lived here-and-now and the utopian world that many of us fantasize about one day realizing.
In the suite of videos on view in Social Edit, Moffatt, in collaboration with film editor Gary Hillberg, uses a strategy much different from her more well-known narrative films. Here, she utilizes montage and fracturing to literally excavate and mine the history of Hollywood films to create short movies that address the horrors of racism, Armageddon and destruction of things beautiful. Each work, culled from snippets of both early and contemporary films, some readily familiar and others completely unknown, becomes a thought-provoking journey into the collective memory of humankind, marked by the institutionalized-on-film traces of ill will that have been both opaquely and directly presented to us over the course of our lifetimes. By exposing the moments of subjugation found in Hollywood movies over the decades, whether in the form of racist rhetoric, visual depictions of the end of the world, or the creation and destruction of works of art, Moffatt allows us to rethink and reposition the implicit meaning of these brief filmic moments that might seem innocent one-by-one, but which produce a most ominous threat when bundled together one after another in a nonstop sequence that shocks and awakens in equal measure.
In Lip from 1999, Moffatt pieces together clips focusing on the African-American maid and her white employer to address the ever-present reality of racism and the ghosts of slavery that haunt contemporary America to this day. Through presenting the Hollywood depictions of these otherwise strong women as victim, comedic buffer or sassy troublemaker, Moffatt presents us with a seeming blueprint for the ways in which racism are promulgated in mainstream society, here in the form of popular entertainments that are often more influential on our thought-patterns than any other medium. Likewise, in Artist from 2000, Moffatt creates a sequence of film sequences that show artists working intensely on their masterworks, followed by a momentous climax in which chaos rules and the artists or others seemingly explode and destroy works of art in a near-orgiastic crescendo of rage and destructive force. In making such a work, Moffatt attempts to imbue the destroyed masterpieces on the celluloid with a new life, here in the form of a stand-alone work of art that reveals and questions Hollywood’s proclivity for depicting the artist as madman, dilettante or social outcast. Finally, in her recent work Doomed from 2007, Moffatt analyzes world destruction imagery found in blockbuster movies to form a film brimming over with explosions, natural disasters and terroristic attacks to make a comment on our contemporary world’s fixation on terrorism and natural disasters, and perhaps more importantly, their omnipresence in mainstream media, and thus the front of our minds. By grouping together one disaster—and indeed one social ill or act of destruction—after another, Moffatt forces us to question that which we see on a daily basis, indeed to reevaluate the imagery and messages we are fed through Hollywood, television and news media day in and day out. For Tracey Moffatt, the fractures of film are a most ripe field from which one’s voice, identity and import can be recaptured, and from whence one can find comfort knowing that, once exposed for the social ills that they are, the depictions of subjugation from which these films are made can be turned into the very tools that will defeat them in the end. (ES)