Cockatoo Island Aesthetics Assignment

As I mentioned a few posts back I’ve been getting pretty into Glitch and experimental video recently. I used a university Aesthetics assignment to experiment with a few things. The assignment brief was as follows:

“Use the site (Cockatoo Island) as a platform for hosting these walking or location based media pieces. You can build imagined narratives, respond to site histories, take any aesthetic or conceptual approach you can imagine to the Island, anything that will assist in building an interesting imaginatively suggestive experience for your audience.” 

Here is the rationale I wrote up, followed by the resulting work.

Through our Cockatoo Island video walk, it is our intention to recreate the physical history of the island through the medium of film while examining the aesthetics of natural, artificial, and accidental beauty. To do this, we will film a walking tour of Cockatoo Island, then we will effectively destroy all semblance of coherent and structurally-sound filmmaking through the process of editing and databending.

Looking for a visual foundation, we have taken YouTube Poops as a starting point for the basis of this project. Looking at YouTube Poop, editing has been taken to its most violent extreme demonstrating editing’s essence as a destructive action. Coherent footage has been cut up, spliced, diced and above all broken. However in this destruction, something new is created and formed. New meaning is generated from the destruction of old.
While this aesthetic style of cut-up and collage is firmly rooted in DADA and Surrealism, our philosophy here shares a stronger affinity with Glitch. As Menkman writes in the Glitch Studies Manifesto (2010, p. 5), “somewhere within the destructed ruins of meaning hope exists; a triumphal sensation that there is something more than just devastation…the glitch can reveal a new opportunity, a spark of creative energy that indicates that something new is about to be created.”

By destroying and reconstructing our recorded footage, we aim to destabilise all prior conceptions of the island and form new, unseen meaning. In this act of destruction, the image is released from all restraints of narrative cohesion, and in the interstice between images the unseen is made visible. Tangible space is dematerialised and reimagined, allowing new experience and interpretation to occur.

As we are dealing with heavy elements of unexpected juxtaposition, Breton’s ideas of “the marvellous” can also be drawn upon. He declares “the marvellous is always beautiful…only the marvellous is beautiful.” The marvellous can be interpreted as that which is surprising or inspires wonder. Reverdy writes in relation to the marvellous, that the marvellous image cannot be born from a comparison, but instead from a juxtaposition two contrasting images. The more distant the relationship between images/realities is, the more emotionally powerful these images become (Seaver & Lane, 1972).

Our act of destructive cutting acts to create beauty in the unexpected—the marvellous.

If we are to summarise the physical history of Cockatoo Island to its base level, it can be described as follows:

I. The Island began as a natural formation, inhabited originally by Indigenous Australians. We can assume that the Island was beautiful in it’s unadulterated natural presence.

II. The Island was subject to European colonisation. As a result, natural beauty was partially and almost entirely destroyed.

III. Natural beauty was destroyed in the name of human progress. Taking the place of the organic, was the artificial—the Island becoming a place of incarceration, ship repair and ship building. At its most active period—World War I to World War II Island served as the largest shipbuilding yard in Australia.

IV. In 1992, the shipyard closed. For a decade the Island lay dormant, falling into disrepair. The Sydney Harbour Federation Trust was then established with the aim to revitalise the Island as a significant site.

Natural beauty was destroyed and replaced by mechanical artifice, brandishing the gruesome face of wartime endeavour. However, once this artifice was left to rot and decay, a new sort of beauty has emerged through ruin and entropy. Our video walk aims to replicate this — by filming the Island as we find it (in a state of original or ‘natural’ beauty), we will take this state and destroy it in the hope that something beautiful will emerge from our created ruins.

Dir/Editor: Ryan O’Donnell
Camera: Ryan O’Donnell, Jorja Brain
Sound: Jorja Brain, Chris McKay





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