Tracey Moffatt, Art Calls: Episode One 2014 (video still), courtesy the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney, image courtesy of Mulesfilm.
In Art Calls (2014), art superstar Tracey Moffatt plays herself as a sort of mystic or soothsayer, and like a soothsayer, Moffatt seems to have predicted today’s social dependence on the video call. In the wake of COVID-19 and its impact upon freedom of movement, video-conferencing has emerged as the new norm for communication and connection. A candid, comic, and enticingly unruly two-part TV pilot, Art Calls sees the artist interview eight creatives over Skype about what art means to them. With Tracey’s generosity, CCP has been given the opportunity to re-exhibit the 2014 work online, with renewed significance as we temporarily close our physical site and commit to #stayathome.
Dialling in over Skype, Moffatt chats with contemporary artists, architects, writers, filmmakers and fashion designers from around the world, including Destiny Deacon, Clinton Nain, Janina Harding and Deborah Kass.
Tracey Moffatt, Art Calls: Episode One 2014, HD video: 28 min and 0 sec, black and white colour, stereo sound, dimensions variable, courtesy the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney.
Throughout the work, we encounter the artist as our mystic guide and seer. The mood is set as the opening credits recall the beating, high drama of 1920 German horror The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, or the surrealist classic Un Chien Andalou. Waves crash against drifting clouds, while the artist’s superimposed face fades in and out of frame, placing these Skype calls in an uncanny cinematic historical context. In 2020, just five years on from the presentation of this work at CCP, the aesthetics of these Skype calls are loaded with even more cultural significance – our cinematic inheritance as en masse we begin to use video as our primary way to communicate, work, and interact from self-isolation, informing how we engage with the medium.
In characteristic style, Moffatt leads the conversations with humour and flirtation. Speaking with “rock star” American painter Deborah Kass, Moffatt muses that she’s “evergreen… always ripe… like a tree, I’m always in bloom.” Kass considers this at length, eventually responding with, “Well, I think that’s great Tracey. I’m always frustrated, so there you have it.”
Tracey Moffatt, Art Calls: Episode Two 2014, HD video: 28 min and 6 sec, black and white colour, stereo sound, dimensions variable, courtesy the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney.
Moments in the work reflect the strange, intimate and mundane interruptions that inevitably go hand-in-hand with video calling. In a familiar turn, Kass is interrupted by a call during her interview (albeit from Larry Gagosian). These moments are reminiscent of the increasingly common phenomenon of housemates or children bursting into the background of work meetings. Moffatt’s voice hits a regular though slightly unnatural beat at times, as she evades software glitches or muffled transmission. Lines are blurred between Moffatt’s over-enunciated oracle persona and her attempts to simply be heard amongst signal delays and interviewees speaking over one another — “Destiny [Deacon], don’t ruin this!”.
It’s now almost half a decade since Art Calls was shown in CCP’s Gallery Four. Technology has come a long way – the then-dominant Skype’s stocks have dropped where new kids on the block Zoom’s have skyrocketed and Houseparty has invaded our social lives, COVID-19 births a new generation of video chatters looking for up-to-date technologies.
Despite its now superseded web-chat hosting platform, Art Calls has never been more relevant than now. While Moffatt performs on camera with her tongue firmly in her cheek, there are also many moments of clear insight into her subject’s work and lives. Technological barriers are overcome as Moffatt’s humorous artifice works to undermine her subjects potential defensiveness on camera, and real moments of connection and honesty about their lives and work are manifested.
CCP is passionate about connecting with our communities despite physical distance, and amplifying the work of lens-based practices in Australia. During 2019’s Government enforced closure, CCP presented a series of video works online via our website and social media platforms. The series, Moving Images, will highlight new and existing artworks, from emerging and established artists. Works will vary in length, format, and subject matter, but we hope they will be unified in their ability to keep you feeling connected and inspired, and bring our communities together while we are physically apart.