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The Weekend Australian - Review - - Visual Arts - Bron­wyn Wat­son

BADEN Pailthorpe, a me­dia artist who grew up watch­ing war films and play­ing video games, seems an apt choice as the in­au­gu­ral artist-in-res­i­dence at Can­berra’s Aus­tralian War Me­mo­rial.

Al­though the me­mo­rial has been work­ing with con­tem­po­rary artists for more than 100 years, this is the first time an artist will not be em­bed­ded in a war zone. Rather, Pailthorpe is work­ing in-house, ex­am­in­ing the ex­ten­sive his­tor­i­cal ar­chive to de­velop new work ex­plor­ing the im­pact of war on con­tem­po­rary Aus­tralian so­ci­ety.

Pailthorpe says the three-month res­i­dence is an amaz­ing op­por­tu­nity, and it cer­tainly fits neatly into his artis­tic prac­tice of ex­plor­ing themes of mil­i­tary tra­di­tion, tech­nol­ogy and mod­ern war­fare.

Us­ing video, video games and sim­u­la­tors, he com­ments on mil­i­tary ag­gres­sion, the eth­i­cal im­pli­ca­tions of tech­nol­ogy and the ef­fect of mil­i­tary tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ments.

Pailthorpe, who was born in 1984, first be­came in­ter­ested in geopol­i­tics dur­ing his bach­e­lor of arts de­gree at the Univer­sity of Syd­ney, where he ma­jored in Ara­bic and Is­lamic stud­ies and French.

He fol­lowed this with a mas­ter’s de­gree in Paris, and stud­ied photography at the Univer­sity of NSW’s Col­lege of Fine Arts. He is com­plet­ing a PhD through the Univer­sity of NSW, look­ing at the work of Ger­man philoso­pher Peter Slo­ter­dijk.

The me­mo­rial al­ready has three of Pailthorpe’s works in its col­lec­tion, and when I visit Can­berra I have a screen­ing of th­ese videos, ac­com­pa­nied by Pailthorpe and the head of art, Ryan John­ston. It is ev­i­dent Pailthorpe’s work is tech­ni­cally skil­ful, us­ing cut­ting-edge soft­ware. In Very Few Good Men, for in­stance, he has ap­pro­pri­ated the open­ing se­quence of A Few Good Men, a clas­sic Hol­ly­wood film about a mil­i­tary court mar­tial star­ring Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise.

Pailthorpe takes a straight­for­ward scene from the film, a 30-sec­ond clip fea­tur­ing a tra­di­tional US Marines pre­ci­sion drill. He then slices it up, remixes it and kalei­do­scopes it so pre­cisely to cre­ate some­thing en­tirely dif­fer­ent. In ef­fect, he has ma­nip­u­lated the drill and the rit­u­als of mil­i­tary per­for­mance to dis­rupt and sub­vert the mes­sage. By play­ing with the in­tense tempo and the vis­ual rhythm of the drill, and us­ing tech­niques of rep­e­ti­tion and mir­ror­ing, he pushes the drill to the point of ab­strac­tion and even ab­sur­dity.

John­ston says Very Few Good Men has im­por­tant things to say about the con­nec­tion be­tween mil­i­tary tech­nol­ogy and pop­u­lar cul­ture.

‘‘ What be­comes very clear is the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the way mil­i­tary tech­nol­ogy over­laps with pop­u­lar en­ter­tain­ment,’’ he says. ‘‘ One thing that comes out of his work is that tech­no­log­i­cal ca­pac­ity is driven by war­fare. We in­vent things be­cause we need to fight, like things be­ing de­signed as mil­i­tary sim­u­la­tions, then be­ing re­leased as in­cred­i­bly so­phis­ti­cated com­puter games. So we see the tech­no­log­i­cal cy­cle be­ing driven by war­fare and mil­i­tary en­gage­ment on the one hand, and by pop­u­lar cul­ture on the other.

‘‘ His work also shows how it is im­pos­si­ble to dis­en­tan­gle the Aus­tralian ex­pe­ri­ence of war from the Amer­i­can ex­pe­ri­ence of war, from the Bri­tish ex­pe­ri­ence of war. War­fare is glob­alised and there are shared his­to­ries.

‘‘ But,’’ John­ston con­tin­ues, ‘‘ while I think Very Few Good Men is a very so­phis­ti­cated re­sponse to war­fare, I also like the fact that there is a very strong sense of hu­mour in it. It is very hard not to laugh the first time you see the work and the ex­tra­or­di­nary vis­ual con­stel­la­tions that Pailthorpe de­vel­ops.’’

HD video, 16:9, colour, sound, 2 min­utes. Edi­tion of 5

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