A Visual Exploitation

Tania Mouraud has taken over a space at the Visual Arts Center on the campus of UT Austin, bringing her conceptually based video installation to the heart of Austin. Mouraud is a celebrated conceptual artist who has been working since the 1960s. She works primarily with video and sound-based installations. The focus surrounding her art is to explore relationships between art and society, and we see that in the work of Everyday Ogres. Mouraud’s large scale videos shown at the Visual Arts Center depict the relationship between humans and earth, machine and land. Visuals and sound are juxtaposed together to create an eerie narrative on machinery and energy, and how far humans will employ our man made devices for monetary purposes.

The room in which Mouraud’s videos are projected is closed off by a thick black curtain. You hear this installation reverberating off the walls of the Visual Arts Center long before you enter the exhibition space. Hearing this overwhelming, monstrous sound before being immersed with the art, creates a foreboding in you; you wonder what you are about to be introduced to. So in a way, you begin interacting with the art before visually being connected to it, and it impacts the way you interpret it. Upon entering, you are overcome by a strange haunting feeling. The room is completely dark; the only light source comes from Mouraud’s videos being projected directly onto three walls, from floor to ceiling. The first video you encounter is titled Face to Face. According to the exhibition pamphlet, this video was filmed at Schrottinsel in Duisburg, the largest European garbage dump for metal. As you stand before it, you are greeted with a mountain landscape of debris, poking and prodding; the magic of light on metal. It is mesmerizing at first glance, but as you take a moment to stand before it, the magic and the light, it is total destruction. It is loud and abrasive, and you can’t look away. As you turn to your left, you find yourself vis-a-vis with Mouraud’s Once Upon A Time, mainly filmed in the French countryside, as well as Canada. Once Upon A Time depicts the deforestation of an area. Trees are being violently bulldozed down; mangled and obliterated. There is no beauty in this one, as the sounds of machinery blast in your ears, you are somber. The noise from these two videos are deafeningly loud, overwhelming. The harshness of the noise reverberating through your chest adds to an overall crushing feeling that begins to spring up; as the implications of these videos starts to sink in. As you turn a right hand corner, you are met with Mouraud’s final video, Fata Morgana. This video was filmed at a power plant in Houston, Texas, at night. You stand before larger-than-life constructs out of which billows of exhaust pour into the night sky. In contrast to the other two films, Fata Morgana is hauntingly quiet, unsettling so. With the sounds of a forest being destroyed and metal being wasted in the background, you silently watch toxic fumes spill into the air.

Upon exiting this exhibit, interpretations flow freely. Political concerns have been stated through images and sounds, and these concerns are not hard conclusions to reach after experiencing Mouraud’s work. When it comes to the first two videos, Face to Face and Once Upon A Time, the proximity with which Mouraud has filmed these acts separate you from the idea you are simply watching a tree being cut down or metal being flung about, and pulls you into a completely different narrative. These objects start to take on human properties and emotional connections begin to form. You become completely removed from the fact that you are looking at pipes and trees, compassion for these objects is born, and it flips a switch. If you are viewing a tree as more than a tree, it is disquieting and upsetting to watch it be flattened by this machine that has become more like a monster in your mind, or perhaps, more like, as Mouraud refers to in the shows’ title, an ogre. In a matter of minutes, you are paralyzed. There is no help you can offer in that moment. In Fata Morgana, you watch helplessly as the towering giants empty their poison into your home, into the space where you feel safe. Yet, you are powerless to stop it.

These massive man-made machines are calling into question the impact we have on our earth, and asking us to take a critical look at what we are willing to do to our home. Ultimately, do the benefits outweigh the colossal impact we are creating on our forests? On our waste? Our air? While you are engrossed in this show, you feel powerless, but are you, really? Perhaps these videos will prompt discourse on the relationship between greed and nature, and the fact that what we are doing to our earth will have massive impacts on future generations. We live in an instant gratification culture; patience is no longer a virtue and we are perpetually demanding instant results. If we can slow down long enough to watch a video that speaks directly to this problem, maybe we can slow down long enough to critically explore new ways of addressing these issues. Mouraud has said in an interview with the curator of this exhibition, Allison Myers, that she is not interested in the viewer taking a critical viewpoint of her installation — she has meant for it to be an “objective testimony” to these collective tragedies. But my question for you is, after watching these everyday horrors, how could we not?