Setting the stage: BIFF 2019


GOMA’s Australian Cinémathèque curates and presents its second Brisbane International Film Festival in October. To accompany the Festival, ‘Setting the Stage’ brings together works across various media that use sets, props, costumes and staging to explore the emotional truth at their core.

Founded in 1992, the Brisbane International Film Festival is one of Australia’s premier celebrations of cinema, including exclusive international new release features, documentaries and shorts. The Festival also incorporates curated thematic and retrospective programs, and a line-up of special events offers panel discussions, screenings with live music, industry events and more.

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A mixed media exhibition titled ‘Setting the Stage’ (21 September 2019 to 22 March 2020) also accompanies this year’s Festival, bringing together selected works by artists who construct performative spaces across the media of film, video art, photography, painting and sculpture.

Drawing on the formal aspects of the stage, from its construction, aesthetics, language and purpose, the artists in ‘Setting the Stage’ engage with the dislocated reality of these crafted environments to highlight social and political messages, role-play ideas of identity, fantasy and reality, and explore notions of preconception, repetition and composition.

Using performative elements from theatre, film and television — such as sets, props, costumes and staging — enables each artist to explore more deeply the emotional truth at the heart of their work, whether created in their studio or offsite. These simulated spaces help frame ideas through narrative, performance and setting, using the artificiality of the environment as a delivery method through which to have conversations about social, political and cultural issues underpinning the work.

Tracey Moffatt

Tracey Moffatt, Australia/United States b.1960 / Night cries: A rural tragedy (still) 1989 / 35mm film and Digital Betacam formats: 17 minutes, colour, sound / Purchased 2004 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Tracey Moffatt

Tracey Moffatt’s short film Night Cries: A Rural Tragedy 1989 exemplifies this use of the stage as conduit by situating an artificially vibrant landscape (inspired by Albert Namatjira’s watercolours) on a sound stage and incorporating rear-projection, set pieces, costuming and props. A richly constructed soundscape by Jimmy Little heightens the tension and grief between a dying white woman and her adopted Aboriginal daughter. Night Cries was, in part, the artist’s response to Charles Chauvel’s 1955 film Jedda, Australia’s first major colour film, which remains important for its portrayal of relationships between Indigenous and European society. Moffatt further explored this technique of highly stylised, hyper-real landscape in her feature film Bedevil 1993, which challenges Australian racial stereotypes through the telling of three ghost stories.

Related: Albert Namatjira

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Hetain Patel

Hetain Patel, United Kingdom b.1980 / Don’t Look at the Finger (still) 2017 / Courtesy: The artist / © Hetain Patel

Hetain Patel equally embraces the artifice of staging, exploring the way cultural traditions and languages can become entangled with today’s ideas of adaptation, dislocation and appropriation. Set in a church, and inspired by the stylised genre conventions of Hong Kong martial arts films, Don’t Look at the Finger 2017 combines elements of combat, ritual, culture and language drawn from South and East Asia, West Africa, the United Kingdom and North America as the two protagonists enact out a distinctive interpretation of a wedding ceremony.

Related: Hetain Patel

Sharif Waked

Sharif Waked, Palestine/Israel b.1964 / To be continued… (still) 2009 / SD video: 4:3, 41:33 minutes, colour, stereo (Arabic with English subtitles) / Purchased 2010 with a special allocation from the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Sharif Waked

Unlike Moffatt and Patel’s collaborative works, Sharif Waked achieves similar impact with a minimalist approach while still discussing ideas around identity and expectation. To be continued… 2009 features Palestinian actor Saleh Bakri reading from a script in Arabic in front of a flag with a logo flanked by machine guns. By mimicking the direct-to-camera videos of radical terrorists, Waked provokes the viewer to face their cultural preconceptions when the text is revealed to be the medieval Persian folk tale One Thousand and One Nights. Itself a complex tale of historical significance, in which Scheherazade must successfully entertain the King each night with fantastical narratives in order to prolong her life, the lyrical prose challenges the expectation of Middle Eastern masculinity and purpose.

While these are but a small selection of the works in ‘Setting the Stage’, they highlight the versatility and power of constructed environments, whether they use professional or amateur performers, staged or assembled locations. Some works involve a crew of fellow creatives; in others, the artist also becomes the director, stage and costume designer and performer. But each interweaves truth and fiction to illustrate an array of personal and
sociopolitical ideas.

Amanda Slack-Smith is Curatorial Manager, Australian Cinémathèque, QAGOMA and Artistic Director of the Brisbane International Film Festival.

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‘Setting the Stage’ is at Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) Level 2 from 21 September 2019 until 22 March 2020. BIFF runs from 3 to 13 October 2019 at GOMA and selected partner venues across Brisbane.

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BIFF 2019 is supported by the Queensland Government through Screen Queensland and the Australian Federal Government through Screen Australia and is presented in conjunction with cinema and venue partners throughout Brisbane.

Feature image detail: Hetain Patel Don’t Look at the Finger (still) 2017

Olaf Breuning / Easter bunnies 2004 / Type C photograph on paper / Purchased 2010 with a special allocation from the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: QAGOMA / © Olaf Breuning

Rosemary Laing / groundspeed (Red Piazza) #2 2001 / Type C photograph on paper mounted on Perspex / Purchased 2002. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: QAGOMA / © Rosemary Laing

Jay Younger / The blue kingdom 1987 / Direct positive colour photograph on paper / Purchased 1989 / Collection: QAGOMA / © Jay Younger

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