Up in the Sky and Heaven
9 February - 4 March 2000
With thanks to Roslyn Oxley Gallery, Sydney
In the last ten years, the work of Australian photographer-filmmaker Tracey Moffatt has become required reading in postcolonial-art courses, but the work is not as dry as that might suggest. Moffatt puts a unique spin on class, gender, and race politics. Her work is full of eroticism, violence, and madness. This volatile mix has made her Australia's hottest artist internationally.
With Moffatt, there's always a conversation between photography and cinematography. She's a 'directorial' photographer, setting up her photographs like a filmmaker: storyboarding them, constructing sets, casting and directing characters. Up In The Sky was not only shot like a film, it looks like a sequence of film stills. The twenty-five images were shot 'on location' in the Australian outback, near Broken Hill. The work involves a cast of rednecks and deracinated aborigines embroiled in a torrid drama. A mother nurses her baby; the baby is confiscated by a posse of nuns; an aboriginal man and a white man rumble in the desert; a tribe of woman car wreakers, heirs to Mad Max's road warriors, brandish sledge hammers; a loony nuzzles a chicken like a security blanket, and crosses the road on all fours. The final image is a figure exiled in the desert, engulfed by landscape, recalling Paul blinded on the road to Damascus—in pain, ecstasy, or both. Betraying an interest in Southern American writers like Carson McCullers and Tennessee Williams, Up In The Sky cross-references the Australian outback and the American west as mythic sites.
Heaven couldn't be more different. It's an amateurish handicam study of spunky boy-surfers at Sydney's Bondi Beach. While Moffatt is acclaimed as a maker of stylised, highly art-directed, finely detailed films, this one is more like a prank video. Catching her prey changing in and out of their speedos on the street, behind car doors or under towels, Moffatt encourages them to expose themselves for her camera. Teasing and pervy, Heaven turns the voyeuristic gaze back on men. 'You could call Heaven a revenge film, but I would call it a comedy', says Moffatt. 'Most straight guys hate it. But I didn't make it for men—I made it for all the women in the world who like to look.'