Hannah Jones

Everyday Ogres, Visual Arts Center, Austin, TX

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’s large scale videos 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 being 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. 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. 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. 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. The noise from these two videos are deafeningly loud, overwhelming. 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. 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. 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. These objects start to take on human properties and emotional connections begin to form. 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 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. Mouraud has said 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 you not?

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