Underwater video art featuring South Australian marine life

Being a documentary filmmaker and public interest researcher is hard, slow and often thankless work. Investigations take time and energy, the process can be intellectually taxing and any rewards may take many years to crystallise. Fortunately, I’ve kept one foot in the camp of the practising artist, and this year I’ve focussed on producing and sharing new nature-based video works.

During 2017, I’ve made seven new works featuring South Australian marine life for exhibition in public art galleries and at special events. This blog post gives an overview of these works. All but one were shot this year.

Collectively, they are intended to present some of nature’s less familiar wonders to the wider public and make the underwater world accessible outside of the tiny community of snorkelers and divers that explore SA’s temperate waters.

The images below are all screenshots from the complete video works, each of which run for between 2 and 15 minutes. They can be presented in a “play once” manner or as looping installations.

Port Jackson Sharks

Port Jackson Sharks - Dan Monceaux (2017)
Port Jackson Sharks – Dan Monceaux (2017)

This video captures a previously undocumented aggregation of Port Jackson sharks on rocky reef north of the Port Noarlunga jetty. It runs for approximately 2 minutes and 15 seconds and premiered at the Friends of Gulf St Vincent’s event: “The wonderful world of sharks and rays… and why they need our help” on November 19, 2017.

Southern Fiddler Rays

Banjo Sharks - Dan Monceaux (2017)
Banjo Sharks – Dan Monceaux (2017)

This video captured the casual grace of Southern fiddler rays, cruising and resting near the jetty at Port Broughton, South Australia. It premiered at the Port Pirie Regional Art Gallery, where it was projected in a dedicated video theatrette.

Giant Australian Cuttlefish

Giant Australian cuttlefish - Dan Monceaux (2017)
Giant Australian cuttlefish – Dan Monceaux (2017)

This video was recorded during the annual giant Australian cuttlefish aggregation back in the winter of 2009. It is a one-shot film that show interactions between cuttlefish as males compete for the attention of a female, hidden beneath a ledge on the rocky reef between Whyalla and Point Lowly. The video runs for approximately 5 minutes.

Anemone Bloom

Anemone Bloom - Dan Monceaux (2017)
Anemone Bloom – Dan Monceaux (2017)

Anemone bloom captures the bizarre phenomenon of biofluorescence. This occurs in some living organisms, when they are subjected to blue-ultraviolet light. The resulting colours can be very intense, as the contrast between the anemones and the algae beside them shows. It was shown at Gallery 1855 in Tea Tree Gully as part of the group exhibition “Bloom”.

The Anemone’s Garden

This experiment in blue-ultraviolet light and biofluoresce peers into a tiny crack between two rocks underwater in the Port River estuary, at Garden Island, South Australia. Anemones are a constant, but cameo appearances feature two crustaceans and several sea slugs. It was shown during the exhibition Neon Revival at Gallery Yampu in August 2017.

The Mangrove Jellyfish

The Mangrove Jellyfish is a simple study of Cassiopea ndrosia, the Mangrove Jellyfish. It occasionally blooms in the Port River, and this piece shows a larger speimen, pulsing on the mucky seabed in its feeding position. It was shown at Gallery Yampu during the Adelaide Fringe in March 2017.

Sea Anemone

This simple one-shot film shows a sea anemone feeding. It was filmed near the Garden Island fishing jetty and was shown at Gallery Yampu during Adelaide Fringe in March 2017.

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Art: Adelaide artists get a raw deal when producing Rundle Lantern animations

When the Rundle Lantern was first illuminated back in 2008, my mind boggled at the creative possibility of producing pixel art works for public display on a giant scale. The innovative screen design, a 34 x 21 panel matrix of illuminated metal panels, wraps around the facade of a multi-storey car park at one of Adelaide’s most renown intersections, where it teases and titillates pedestrians with its silent lo-res animations and video each night. Making effective content for such a screen is no mean feat and requires a balance of technical competency, design, timing and conceptual creativity. It is also time consuming (especially for dedicated pixel animators like ourselves). Regardless of these barriers to entry, the initiatives we’ve been involved with to create new artistic content for the Lantern have gone unpaid and largely uncredited. The following is an account of our experiences producing lantern content for display during two major cultural festivals in South Australia.

Photo by Kentaro W, courtesy of flickr.com

During Adelaide Fringe back in 2009, Emma Sterling and I were part of the first group of artists offered the opportunity to create and display works made specifically for the lantern. No money was to grace the artists palms- the initiative instead offered artists a waiver of the ‘load-up fee’ the Adelaide City Council and contractor Fusion had worked into the screen’s initial operating business model. Seizing the opportunity, we each produced a new work, and took careful note of the council & Adelaide Fringe’s production guidelines. In order to protect the screen’s integrity as a ‘cultural canvas’, the artists were not permitted to display logos within their work.

As experienced practising artists familiar with the concept of ‘droit morale’ or the ‘moral rights of the artist’ we asked about accreditation for our unpaid productions. We were informed that there would be no accreditation offered to the artists at the site of any kind, despite the works being programmed to loop for the duration of the Adelaide Fringe Festival (which runs for over three weeks). Instead we were offered a credit buried in the bowels of the Adelaide City Council’s website. Again, there was no signage indicating the existence of this website at the Lantern site, which in our opinion rendered the gesture tokenistic and almost entirely pointless.

In light of this oversight on the initiative’s organisational part, as artists we decided to exercise our ‘droit morale’ and add our names as closing credits to our work. The notion of the Moral Rights of the Artist protects the artists right to claim authorship of the work wherever it is displayed (attribution), and with it the right to preserve the integrity of the finished art work (ie, no unauthorised modifications to the work are permitted). At the launch night to our shock and horror our rights had been flaunted on both accounts. The Lantern’s content committee (whose persons remain unknown to us) had edited our work and removed our credits without our permission. While this issue of ‘droit morale’ may cause councillors eyes to glaze over, our right as artists to sign our own works is fundamental, and has been protected by Australian law under the Copyright Act. You can learn more about Moral Rights for artists in Australia at the website of the Attorney General’s Department.

Learn more about the Moral Rights of artists in Australia

This year, we were offered an opportunity (again without payment) to produce work for the Rundle Lantern. An initiative of the South Australian Living Artists Festival (an event we have been involved with since 2006) the financial model was slightly improved for at least one member of the local artist community. The Helpmann Academy offered a paid commission to one artist recently graduated from a Helpmann Academy school. The commision offered a $2000 fee to produce a new work and lead a workshop of participants in the generation of a wave of (again unpaid) new content from other local artists.

Once again the artists’ ‘droit moral’ has been flaunted by the lantern’s custodians with credits again barred from the exhibited works. To date there is no evidence of physical signage accrediting the artists as producers of the work, despite this being promised weeks in advance. It is now the 16th of August, and the works have been showing without credit to the artists since July 31st. From the public perspective, passers by will have no idea that light displays on the lantern have been created by local artists at all, and stand no chance of being able to identify any of the creative residents responsible. SALA festival concludes on August 22nd.

Despite ours and others’ ongoing grievances with the Lantern and the business model which cuts artists out of the financial equation and defies their inaliable right to be attributed as the authors of their own work, things may be changing for the better. At the SALA Awards, a new prize was offered: the Adelaide City Council Encouragement Award. One of the richest prizes on offer, it presented one Adelaide artist with a $2000 commission to produce a new work specifically for the Lantern.

When a piece of public infrastructure like the Rundle Lantern is constructed and a business model created around it, why should the content creator get the raw deal? Why is it that the contractors should command a ‘load-up fee’ for each video posted and annual maintenance fees while the best artists can hope for is an uncredited display and a free load-up? If the power of this structure as a cultural canvas is to be realised, the Adelaide City Council should look at genuine, sustainable incentives to generate content, not convenient cost-saving measures which benefit the council, break Federal Australian law and stiff the artists in the process.

Dan Monceaux

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Art: ‘Heartsong’ performance combines music, animation, video mixing, sculpture and text

Several months back, Emma Sterling and I were invited by Sophie Hyde of Closer Productions in Adelaide to join a project out of Flinders Medical Centre’s Arts in Health program. The project entitled Heartsong was inspired by the experiences and thoughts of patients and their carers on the Cardiac Care Unit. Fittingly, the resulting multimedia performance was to premiere in an adjoining space, and did so last week.

Heartsong poster & performance details
Heartsong poster & performance details

The project’s video design task was almost an open brief when we were first introduced, though other elements of the performance had been roughly hewn. A text had been assembled by the project’s producer, Cheryl Pickering, constructed from patient and staff testimonials. Accomplished musicians Richard Chew (keyboards) and Ian Dixon (flugelhorn) were involved, and successfully plotted an improvised musical course which supported the text with colour and emotion. A large scale sculpture of a human heart (approximately six feet tall) was constructed by Diwani Oak, and then lit by Emma Sterling and myself, using a combination of projected and LED rope lighting. Diwani also produced several screen-printed and hand-crafted hangings which also adorned the space, and provided a canvas for the thematically connected poetry of Ian Gibbins to feature on.

Heartsongs central sculpture by Diwani Oak (as installed at FMC)
Heartsong's central sculpture by Diwani Oak (as installed at FMC)

Emma Sterling’s and my greater commitment though was the production and presentation of video and animated content to harmonize with Heartsong’s other elements. We called upon many of the approaches we used to produce our first documentary film ‘A Shift in Perception‘ back in 2006 and set about crafting stop-motion animations, moving textural sequences, lifting public domain found footage from The Internet Archive, and preparing them all for live delivery.

When audience members enter the Heartsong space, they are first drawn to Diwani’s light sculpture, which sits as the work’s hearth. An animated rendition of it also rotates on video screens, while another projection presents a faithful recording of a medical heart monitor read-out. When the improvised music begins, pre-recorded voices recall the words of patients and nurses alike, and lead the audience through the patient’s journey- from symptoms and hospital admittance through care and recovery. In performance, my task is to react to the text and emotions presented by Richard and Ian with improvised video, which I layer, blend and loop for the duration of the performance using Arkaos GrandVJ and a Korg NanoKontrol MIDI controller. The piece is designed to have a meditative, gentle and nurturing quality about it, and audience responses thus far have suggested we’re striking that chord.

Heartsong is installed and performed at the RiAus
'Heartsong' is installed and performed at the RiAus

The first performances of the work are behind us now, with only one remaining performance of our debut season remaining. On Friday, December 11th at the Royal Institution of Australia from 6-9pm, the installation will be open, with the performance occurring around 7pm. The performance runs for approximately 25 minutes, and will be followed by a panel discussion with the involved artists plus another artist also currently exhibiting at the RiAus, George Poonkin Khut.

Dan Monceaux

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