Christopher Köller
Kililng Time

A Video Retrospective curated by Amelia Douglas
KINGS ARI Level 1/71 Kings Street Melbourne 3000
October 1-23 2010, opening Friday 1st October 6-8pm
www.kingsartistrun.com.au

KILLING TIME is the premier retrospective of Christopher Köller’s video practice. Filled with images of sex, death, golf and surfing, the exhibition is populated with a host of rebel characters (from sock-fetishists to poets, film-noir protagonists to Japanese surfers), that move through landscapes both historically loaded and poetically charged. Imbued with a wicked sense of black humour and executed in Köller’s signature grainy low-fi aesthetic, these videos tell stories about real and imagined social boundaries. They speak of the ways in which human behaviour is regulated and monitored, and, equally, the fragility and porosity of societal control.

Christopher Köller is an established Melbourne-based artist who makes photographs, videos and environmental installations. He has held solo exhibitions in Australia, Japan, England, Spain and Mexico, and his work has been included in group exhibitions in France, Italy and throughout Australia. Köller’s work is represented in numerous public and private collections including the National Gallery of Australia, the National Gallery of Victoria, the City of Monash, Griffith University, the Bibliotheque Nationale of France, and the Sata Corporation Collection, Tokyo.

Catalogue Essay (reprint)
Killing Time
by Amelia Douglas

What is the meaning of the unacceptable? The unacceptable is a matter of visibility – of image-presence and image-absence. To paraphrase Jacques Ranciere, an image is never the solitary embodiment of a reality, but an element in a chain of representation that weaves an understanding of a world through consensus. ‘Killing Time’ brings together a selection of Christopher Köller’s video works that expose the weak-spots in these representational chains. At the heart of Köller’s practice is, I think, a desire for dissensus – a desire to ‘kill off’ stagnant thought-loops by offering new configurations of perception and meaning. His videos in particular are marked with an emancipatory sense of rebellion that reflects the sheer weirdness of an all-too-regulated world.

Although most well known for his photographic works, Köller has also been producing and exhibiting video installations for nearly a decade. The videos in ‘Killing Time’ were shot using a digital camcorder between 2002 and 2009, and are populated with a cast of rebel characters including poets, sock-fetishists, film-noir characters and Japanese surfers. These are stories woven around an unlikely collection of protagonists that do not, cannot, or will not fit within ‘normative’ societal roles, and who move through landscapes both historically loaded and poetically charged.

In 2002, Köller wrote that ‘historically, writers and artists have acknowledged that actual aberrance (such as murder, suicide, extreme romantic, sexual and religious passion) is not only fascinating to ourselves, but also that ‘normality’ can appear aberrant when shifted in context.’ This acknowledged link between context and consensus was the lynchpin for Koller’s ‘Aberrant’ series, represented in this exhibition by three short videos Shrink, Spike and Loop (all 2002). Shrink investigates the pathology of the ‘Koro Syndrome’: a psychiatric disorder in which the sufferer believes his penis is slowly disappearing into his body, and that this genital retraction will eventually result in death. Spike is based on the story of a German veteran who was hospitalised for severe skin infections caused by obsessively pinning his World War II medals to his naked chest.

Loop was inspired by the story of a pair of sock fetishists in the UK who duped thousands of British citizens into donating their socks to a non-existent ‘charity’, and then incorporated the socks as props in their sado-masochistic rituals. When Detective Sergeant John Belger entered their flat, he had to step through an 18-inch carpet of worn socks: ‘they were everywhere and anywhere. All over the furniture, hanging from lampshades and even in the microwave, frying pan and cooker.’ The couple were arrested for ‘conspiring to commit acts of gross indecency and incitement to commit unlawful wounding on each other’ and jailed for 18 months.

The punitive eradication of ‘aberrant’ behaviour reappears in Köller’s 2009 works around the ambiguous murder of poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca. Lorca was allegedly executed in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War, in retribution for his leftist political affiliations and anti-fascist views. In his production of A One Legged School Teacher, Two Anarchist Bullfighters and a Poet (2009), Köller visited the forest in which Lorca may have spent his final moments. He took with him historian Ian Gibson’s book The Assassination of Federico Garcia Lorca as a kind of guide-book or map for his journey. Although Lorca’s body was never found, Gibson’s book includes testimony from a grave-digger who claims to have buried the poet along with a one-legged school-teacher and two anarchist bullfighters in the hills of Granada. ‘If one proceeds along The Archbishop’s Road,’ Gibson writes, ‘leaving the colonia behind and still accompanied by the acequia that winds on around the valley, crossed at intervals by attractive little stone bridges, one arrives after a few minutes walk at a sharp loop in the road where it passes over a small gorge …’ Retracing these steps to the site of execution, Köller’s gritty, hand-held walk-through of the forest is intercut with footage captured in a hedge-maze, the images merging and melding in a dark and unsettling meditation on the termination of ‘unsuitable’ individuals by the State.

A One Legged-School Teacher
is presented together with a large-scale colour photograph of the forest (Alfacar, Site of Execution, 2009), and a second, silent black and white video projection (The Shadow, 2009) As an actor in a student theatre company, Federico Garcia Lorca played the part of the Sombra (the shadow) in a recital of a 17th century play called ‘Life is a Dream’. Only a few seconds of silent film and a single photograph survive as documentation of the recital. Lorca is pictured ‘swathed in black veils and capped by a strange, two-horned headpiece that almost hides his face, [h]e moves like a ghost across the stage.’ For Köller, the image proved irresistible, and he directed a re-enactment of the imagined moment in The Shadow. In this re-interpretation, Köller pictures Lorca carrying a branch from a pine tree – both a reference to the pine forests that have since sprung up around the site of Lorca’s death, and a traditional symbol in Japanese Noh-theatre for ‘the realm of the absolute’ – a sublime place where good and evil no longer exist. The Japanese reference testifies to Köller’s ongoing fascination with Japanese culture, a fascination that is translated aesthetically in this work through its careful, Noh-like choreography and slow, dramatic pacing.

Köller had already begun to explore similar territory while researching literary and cinematic occurrences of ‘death-bed monologues’ in 2005. The short videos in his series ‘A Time To Die’ (two of which have been selected for exhibition) are connected through the use of voice-over monologues taken from doomed film-noir characters in their final moments of life. Roy Batty’s classic closing speech in BladeRunner (1986), and Blinky Franklin’s death-bed monologue from The Killers (1946) appear in this exhibition as ‘ghost speeches’ that punctuate the different rooms of the gallery with bursts of dialogue. The character’s parting words are put on repeat against a backdrop of noir-inspired, urban imagery: ‘I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion … Time. To Die.’

Film noir is an ongoing inspiration for Köller, who is a self-confessed cinephile with a passion for the works of Chris Marker and Alain Resnais. It is then not surprising that Köller’s treatment of the moving image resembles that of a filmmaker: Köller researches, scripts, storyboards and directs his scenarios, and many of the videos in this exhibition have the narrative rhythm of experimental short films. Produced with a ‘zen-like’ rejection of technological finesse, these works are imbued with the punky, low-fi aesthetic already familiar from his ongoing photographic work with cheap, plastic cameras, such as his garden series.

The exhibition title ‘Killing Time’ takes on new associations with the inclusion of Köller’s works on golf and surfing. Mizuno D301, 2004 (named after the golf ball of the same name), and Kujukuru (from the series ‘Floating Worlds, of 2007) both engage with humans’ attempts to ‘kill time’ through the leisure activities of golf and surfing. Drifting off the shore of Chigasaki beach in Kujukuru (2007), a Japanese surfer waits for the next wave. Rusted industrial detritus juts out of the ocean around him, cutting through the bleak, grey water like strange, post-apocalptyic ruins. For many Japanese surfers, beaches like this one are viewed as sites of resistance or as antidotes to mainstream corporate culture. As Köller has noted, the surfers’ ‘fanatic pursuit of authenticity through connection with the natural world’ is a bid to escape the ‘phantasmagoria of signage, neon and LEDS’ that saturate their everyday environments.

Similar motifs course across the green in Mizuno D301 (2004), a 20-minute loop set in the spectacular, mesh-enclosed environs of the Takashimadeira Golf Garden in Tokyo. Köller ‘s tripod-mounted camera takes in the vast expanse synthetic grass. Golf balls arc out and into the dark, seemingly infinite recesses of space beyond the green. Accumulating on the driving range like a bizarre dusting of synthetic snow, the balls are eventually swept away by an automated, mechanical arm. Suspended in an endless state of ‘play’, human activity is here completely subsumed by the rhythm of technology and the regular automation of the machine. Escape, in this exhibition, becomes a viable alternative to escapism. The point, to return to Ranciere, is not to announce the reality hidden behind the frame, but to build over this reality other communities of perceptions and meanings, ‘other settings of time and space’ that demolish the terms of ‘acceptable’ and ‘unacceptable’ in the pursuit of dissensus. Normality is a fiction, Köller suggests, that constantly provokes dissent.

For a PDF copy of the original catalogue for this exhibition, please email info@christopherkoller.net

LIST OF WORKS

Gallery One
Kujukuri, 2 channel video, 5 mins, 2007 (from the series ‘Floating Worlds’, 2007)
Mizuno D301, single channel video, 20 mins, 2004
Roy Batty (Nexus 6), single channel video, 4 mins 20 sec, 2005 (from the series ‘A Time to Die’, 2005)
Aberrant, inkjet pigment print on archival rag paper, 2010

Gallery Two

A One Legged School Teacher, Two Anarchist Bullfighters And A Poet, single channel video, 5 mins 45 secs, 2009
The Shadow, single channel video, 4 mins 15 secs, 2009
Site of Execution, Alfacar, eco-solvent print on adhesive fabric, 220 x 260cm, 2009

AV Gallery

Blinky Franklin, single channel video, 5 mins 30 sec 2005 (from the series ‘A Time to Die’, 2005)
Loop, single channel video, 5 mins, 2002 (from the series ‘Aberrant’, 2002)
Spike, single channel video, 5 mins, 2002 (from the series ‘Aberrant’, 2002)
Shrink, single channel video, 5 mins, 2002 (from the series ‘Aberrant’,2002)

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