HE PUSHES THE DRILL TO THE POINT OF ABSTRACTION AND EVEN ABSURDITY
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