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Move On Asia
Clash and Network, Single Channel Video Art Festival 2006

Catalogue Essay by Vikki McInnes and Simon Maidment


Arlo Mountford
Universal Language – Alternate Reality 2005

One of Arlo Mountford’s key themes is the vexed position of art, and the artist, in contemporary culture. His work, at once violent and humourous, reflective and reflexive, negotiates intersections between cultural elitism and social activism. Utilising the mediatised framework and terrain of animation, Mountford creates spaces that offer up the potential for violence as well as its actualisation. Mountford’s characters undertake complex, sometimes fatal, existential journeys by occupying these spaces, which also hold a mirror to us, the audience, in the throes of cultural self-immolation. These characters typically attempt to find meaning in strange environments from which they cannot escape. These are not solitary journeys; generally, there is a pair of protagonists (which may include the viewer) variously supporting and obstructing each other, in the passages to selfhood. Employed by the artist as vehicles for investigating what’s real and true, and what we can ultimately trust in our modern lives, these characters are visually represented as generic stick figures, similar to those depicted in early interactive computer games.

In Universal Language – Alternate Reality (2005) a duo of Mountford’s faceless caricatured figures intrepidly explore a labyrinthine series of hallways and rooms, in which they encounter various figures and archetypes from the canon of modernist art history. At points in their travails, it is possible to continue their journey only by crawling across a rickety bridge of Carl Andre’s wooden blocks, or floating across a chasm by hanging for dear life onto Andy Warhol’s silver inflatables. They are aided and abetted along the way by Robert Smithson, Joseph Beuys and Warhol himself, who must each deconstruct his own practice to assist the progress of the expedition. The image of Warhol and his team of assistants frantically loading numbered capsules into a furnace is a particularly memorable scene in these fabricated histories.

When the characters in Universal Language finally appear to reach the end of their journey the viewpoint expands to reveal that the labyrinth they have endured is not an inter-connectd series of rooms at all. In fact, the action has taken place within Piet Mondrian’s painting, Composition with Red, Yellow and Blue (1921) and the characters are doomed to repeat their journey over and over again. Mountford guides his viewers on a voyage through minimalist and conceptual art, both clear influences on his development as an artist. While revisiting episodes from twentieth century art history, his characters travel widely but never reach a final destination.

The sense of compulsive repetition in Mountford’s work provides both slapstick humour as both a potent visual tendency and a conceptual strategy. His works refer back to both computer gaming and science fiction narrative in that just as one level of reality is exposed as fake, the second – supposedly more real level – turns out to be inauthentic as well. Mountford’s works are a sustained meditation on the divergence between reality and the idea that any reality whatsoever is false.

By Vickki McInnes and Simon Maidment