Driving along Stirling highway, sometimes Rottenest Island appears in perfect Fata Morgana, transformed into vertical cliffs and high-rises. To those that see it, they know that this appearance, unlike many illusions, is impossible to resist. It is an optical event, and no rubbing of the eyes can dispel the perfectly vertical realignment of the island on the horizon, as if it sat upon towers. The mirage, in altering perception of the landscape, causes doubts and sows confusion, even when we know what it is. Similarly, the titular ‘event’ in Kieron Broadhurst, Oliver Hull and Giles Bunch’s show destabilises our vision like a mirage, despite the ready admission that it is fictional. Viewing it is similar to seeing a mirage: No clearing of the eyes dispels the vision. Like any fiction, it comes with a dangerous power of transformation. A peculiar accompaniment to this exhibition, and what will be the focus of this essay, was the website, that remains live here.
An Event inserted a fiction into peculiar and obtuse narratives of recent history. While walking through this space, where a desert and an office are compressed into a single gallery, it is as if one is traversing a variety of sets, or a delirious dreamscape. Several realities are pressed up against one another. I am reminded, in this speculative idea of an event, of J.G. Ballard’s Hello America – a future where the baring straights have been dammed, transforming America into a vast desert while a man who models himself as ‘Charles Manson’ rules America from Las Vegas with a set of nuclear missiles. The most important revelations in Ballard’s works always occur in a space that is seen as a parallel to the altered psychology of the characters. Hello America is as much a passage through the image everyone holds of this enormous imperial power as through the desert it becomes – ghosts haunt this arid land. In the extreme landscape, the mind’s depths are brought to the surface, like a bubbling cauldron from which the oil of hundreds of millions of years of extinctions comes to the surface. It is no accident that the old prophets go into the desert or the wilderness and return with the messages of divinity – or perhaps the messages of madness.
These slight alterations in the shape of the world: of America’s desertification, or the consideration of a fictional event in Australia’s desert; they offer us a new way of considering the perceptions and possibilities of these spaces. The wild science fiction splendour of Broadhurst, Bunch and Hull’s work proffers a vision of the altered psychological scope of the world when it is made strange. The work offers us a narrative too: of cool offices of anonymous government workers and farmers in the country with their strange diagrams and specific knowledges, looking out over a world that is half mirage and half real. It is also a vision of a psychological state we might have seen, or even experienced ourselves: an uncertainty regarding reality. This psychological state is reasonably pervasive, but also gives way to a more dangerous secondary reading, proven to be true in various Copernican moments: that common sense is the actual delusion.
There are various references to mapping and landscape in the website. It is crucially not an actual map that this website seems to represent, but the image of a psychological state, one obsessed with a paranoid vision of the world. Most usually these maps are empty of all content and merely stand as signs for the idea of traversing space, and they frequently interrupt themselves with idiosyncratic and incongruous content, such as termite mounds mushrooming and growing. The entire website is in the format of a maze, a series of cul-de-sacs and complex hyperlink chains that lead into each other and back into themselves; some objects can be clicked, others simply rotate as gifs. The navigation of this online space is undirected, without a clear organising principle. This confusing network of tributaries gives the impression of hiding the very thing it is trying to reveal – the fictional event the show alludes to.
One particularly interesting manner of navigating an image is to be found in the collages, which appear as if pressed onto the surface of our screen, presumably through the operations of a scanner. We traverse them while remaining close to their surfaces; we are unable to move back from them. While computer screens are typically used to visualise, to allow us a vision of the world that is uninterrupted, this image is instead one across which we must scroll without the option of zooming in an out. This inability to get a sense of the whole picture without investigating it, your face only several inches from its surface, resonates with the exhibition’s eponymous event that always seems to be occurring somewhere just beyond our comprehension. The images pressed up against our screens, across which we can only glide, offer us a variety of clues that, like a landscape rather than a map, we must interpret and piece together. Yet this method of operation is one that we are all familiar with from browsing Wikipedia or youtube or even google. The many-forked path of hyperlinks invites this navigation via connection, and from it we must attempt to form an image.
The website is an accumulation of ephemera – the Tokyu corporation’s plans for a north-west corridor of developments after the failure of Alan Bond’s sea world (of which they were part owners), a collection of rocks with faces labelled ‘my friends’, a fake censored document detailing the now-unknown specifics of the event and paraphernalia from the legendary Hutt River. Yet perhaps to explain these elements we need to look elsewhere in the exhibition: Oliver Hull’s drawings and book of birds flying in formations, for instance, point to a certain logic, one of coincidence and happenstance that offers a passage through the inexplicable. This accumulation points to fragmented narratives that often fail to make sense – or at least make logical sense. Aborted histories and derailed stories, they are pieces of a puzzle, but pieces of weird shapes and dimensions and that finally serve less to insert a fiction into the past or future than to show the weird and strange underbelly of official and important histories with the peculiarly local and absurd.
by Graham Mathwin