Tuesday, December 9, 2014


Emily Sandrussi_Domino Theory_2013

"Three years ago I discovered a collection of Kodachrome transparencies belonging to my stepfather. These were taken in a timeframe spanning the 60s and 70s, documenting a life rendered wholly inaccessible to me by the decades since. Some of the images are familiar, despite this distance: a young family in fluorescent swimming costumes running under the spray of a backyard sprinkler – same dad, same scene, different kids, different time. The images that most interest me, however, are those that are entirely alien to me. Documents of the time and place a 23-year-old man (who remains unknown to me) found himself in – the Vietnam War. Upon discovery of these images, I was simultaneously fascinated and terrified. Even now, I look at them with a guilty hunger – lapping up the details, constructing my own narratives, all the while feeling like an intruder. Like many veterans of this war, my stepfather rarely spoke of his experiences. As a child I always wanted to know more. As an adolescent I came to understand the reasons for his silence. Now, with the stories finally, truly, eternally beyond my reach, I hold these clues to all those untold stories, passive under my gaze and my imagination. 

The discovery of these images, and the subsequent sorting and scanning of them for personal archives, marked the beginning of a project that has stretched across the years since. Following the death of my stepfather, they were revisited briefly, but after that it was years before I gave them any further thought. In the meantime, I began to work with corruption in digital image files. I had been working with spontaneously corrupted images in order to explore notions of mortality and memory. For this purpose I considered the breakdown of digital files as conceptually similar to ash or dust. After extensive work with spontaneously occurring corruption, I became intrigued by the possibility of manufacturing corruption in image files. It was at this stage of the process that I revisited the scans I had made of my stepfather’s images of the war...

The resulting images are fragmented and disjointed, with the appearance of horizontal lines reminiscent of sedimentary layers of rock in the earth’s crust. This digital glitch, or corruption, mechanical in nature, is combined in these images with the remaining evidence of the more organic disruptions accumulated by the slides – in the form of dust, fingerprints, scratches, and even what appears to be mould. Despite the various scars and colour variances that occur as a result of the corruption process, the corrupted images still retain some of the signifiers of the original photographs. Visible through these disruptions, we are able to make out the clouds, aircraft, flora, sun, and distant cities of Vietnam, as perceived by a 23-year-old Australian boy in 1969. 

The digital image is built of code comprised of letters, numerals, punctuation, and symbols. This code is like a roadmap, or a series of instructions defining the contents of the image. When there is an error during the reading or writing of this code, the resulting image is corrupted, with visual disruptions to the colour or form of the image. This corruption is often harnessed in the production of glitch art. By using data corruption, or “the glitch”, glitch art examines the nature of the medium, working with and exposing the materiality of the digital photograph. In my practice I have come to see the visual effects of the glitch as a symbol of breakdown and decay, of the transient nature of life. Mobilising the glitch in this way allows me entry to wider reflections on the nature of mortality and remembering, and the way we collectively and as individuals relate to these themes. Like memories and photographs, the nature of life and matter is that it inevitably comes to an end. Bodies, as well as memories, break down, fail, and ultimately return to dust. 

Symbolically, dust has often been linked with themes of death or decay. Once thought the smallest divisible particle of matter, dust serves as a reminder of the fragility and temporality of existence. During the prevalence of analogue photography, darkroom-dwelling photographers fought a constant battle against the threat of dust – a substance that permeated every stage of the photographic process from exposure to print. With these historic and thematic understandings of dust in mind, my work has introduced the glitch as a contemporary digital incarnation of the occurrence of dust. The glitch, like dust, serves as a reminder of the materiality and fragility of the photographic image; its presence signifies an absence, a failure in the act of documentation. Like dust, it is used as a testament to the frailty of existence. 

The discovery of my stepfather’s photographs from the Vietnam War filled me simultaneously with awe and sadness. Awe because of the revelation of this chapter of history made available to me through the photographs, sadness as a result of the realisation that these photographs represented so many stories I would never hear. This sense of loss reawakened in me a familiar grief, as I felt as though my stepfather had once again died, at least in part. The photographs were representative of a man I had never met, my stepfather as he existed before and during the war. The version of him that I met years later was a product of this experience, as well as the decades of experience in between. The version of him depicted through the photographs had long since died. Like Roland Barthes as he viewed one of the final portraits made of Lewis Payne, I was struck by the realisation that “he is dead and he is going to die”. This notion of the erasure of a past self made possible a wider reflection on the nature of remembering and history, and the effects of time on memory. Even without the experience of an event as significant as war, individuals are constantly dying to their former selves through the passage of time. The “me” of five years, or five minutes ago is just as dead in the present moment as my stepfather at 21, or even 64 years old. The war, as a moment of significant change, offered me a specific event by which to explore this sense of recurring death... "

Excerpts from Domino Theory. A research paper by Emily Sandrussi completed as part of her Bachelor of Visual Arts (Honours) in 2013 at Sydney College of the Arts.

Emily Sandrussi is currently a Master of Fine Arts candidate at University of Sydney, Sydney College of the Arts, having completed a Bachelor of Visual Arts (Honours) at the same institution in 2013 for which she was awarded the University Medal.

She was a finalist this year in the prestigious William and Winifred Bowness Photography Prize, Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne and the prize forContemporary Landscapes in Photography, Perth Centre for Photography, Perth. Emily Sandrussi is recipient of the 2013 Artereal Gallery Mentorship Award offered in association with Sydney College of the Arts, and Domino Theory is her culminating solo exhibition from that program.

Domino Theory can be seen at Artereal Gallery until 20 December 2014.

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