by Dirk de Bruyn

My history is a history of absence that is: absent. I am caught on this mobius strip in my relations to Australian cinema. How and where do I or any of my colleagues exist here? What is seen? What is known? In my past ‘in-articulations’ I have placed myself ‘outside the outside’ or in some kind of negative cultural space. This I have learnt to understand as some kind of aesthetic and political processing of my parents' migrant position, my father’s mental illness, early death and related family traumas. Having seen experimental work more recently from other European countries and Asia through international travel, I also wonder whether my dependence of North American and British alternative film histories has been a productive project. This ‘English’ history settles my Australian film history as an absence.


Instead I find something of interest in Serbian formalism, Croatia’s Tomislav Gotovac or Ivan Ladislav Galeta’s TV Ping/Pong (1975/78), Mihovil Pansini’s ‘anti-films’, his Scusa Signorina (1963), Dvoriste (1963), or the erased K3 (cloudless sky) (1963). There was something personal and hard edged political in this minimalism. An exhibition of post-war art from 1945-1968, pre-occupied with trauma, containing numerous moving image works at ZKM in Karlsruhe, Germany in 2016, whose dysfunction also caught my eye and ear.


I remain interested in how objects, ideas and gestures appear and disappear. I am particularly attracted to that instance just before or as they do. I am interested how that instance is constructed as a denial, as a trace, as an image, as a sound, and then wrapped into a tight incoherent ball.


Animation by Dirk de Bruyn


I am coming to terms with a kernel of insight, that there is something unique, personal and artisanal in Australian experimental moving image works that has not been called out yet. This tight ball is an uncanny mixture of brutality and honesty. There is something more direct and autobiographical in work from the 1970s and 1980s, particularly from the Melbourne I knew, that sets it apart from the formalisms developed elsewhere during this period. Frank Lovece’s Te Possino Ammazza (1987) or Lee Smith’s fragile Tin Jan Istra (1994) are later high points in this personal aesthetic. I have been approaching this difference by trying to write seriously about the forgotten work of some of my contemporaries; Michael Lee’s feature length The Mystical Rose (1976), Neil Taylor’s flip book animations, Lynsey Martin’s formalism and Noel Richards hybrid analog-digital One Complete Revolution (1989). That is as far I have got. So far.


On top of all this I recently had a number of hard drives stolen, of incomplete work. All gone. This sleight of hand now invades my thinking every day. My body deals with it as the termination of a decade-long intimate relationship with digital film-making. I get prompted back into mourning these lost works when I see an object, a location, a place which I previously filmed off-the-cuff in my ‘native’ Melbourne. I then have to remember and walk through the knowledge that these shots, this sequence, this intimacy of images has been materially erased. Unrecoverable. Here is another layer of disappearance that I get to witness. Lucky me. I have learnt to do this in an instant, the smallest packet of time. I have had to do this before with other ‘obsessions’. We all have. As with the bullied Racisms and Sexisms that survive and thrive in inner city living, like my mourning, such ideologies play out in small concussions of self-recognition. They promenade through daily life. These slight demeaning moments and events are the most effective means of control operating on all our bodies. An ideological nudge on Facebook. A look away on the street. An unspoken compliment. There are new duplicities constantly being invented in academic life. Many of us struggle, get weighed down by such an inexorable flow that bypasses our thinking and goes straight for the body.


In mainstream film I am in awe of those violent concussions that punctuate Warwick Thornton’s Samson and Delilah (2009). What essential Australian road has this artist travelled? Let me stand in his shadow. This film’s brutal biographic violence says more than any moralising tale about what survival means in Oz. Direct and to the point. It is easiest to stutter this history. Break it down into piles of dust. So, just leave me alone to re-enact the moans my mother uttered, and the pain on my father’s face. I don’t need any money, just time.


Dirk de Bruyn has been making moving image works in various guises for more than 40 years. His book The Performance of Trauma in Moving Image Art was published in 2014.

Published March 27, 2018. © Dirk de Bruyn, February 2018