14 May 2014

Callum Morton’s ‘The Other Side’ at Sydney’s 2014 Biennale

Images: Jonathan Rae
Words: Saskia Edwards

Callum Morton’s ‘The Other Side’ modernises the entrenched image of a ghost train.

Revellers aren’t plunging into the ominous jaws of a giant skull fit with all the quintessential tacky graffiti adornments.

Rather, a miniature train enters a giant Google home page screen and hurtles into the depths of virtual reality.

“There was kind of an image of a little train going inside that portal, so this kind of lo-fi version of virtual reality,” says Callum, who's also the Head of Fine Art at MADA.

“There was a sense, I suppose, you could go with a ghost train ride into a skull and go through the mouth of a skull and do the kind of thing that’s typical of those kind of rides and I didn’t want to do that.

“I wanted to I guess collage or update that image, if you like and what is the contemporary ghost train ride look like, what are the kind of portals you go through.

“And I suppose the internet was one of those.”

Once passengers enter into the Google screen the same bewildering fear typical of any ghost train ensues.

Passengers are cloaked in a tumultuous, and at times claustrophobic, cavern of visual and audio tricks.

“I wanted to do most of all was to put the person not through the theme park language of skulls and skeletons and all that kind of stuff, but to try to do it with smoke, lights and sound.”

Viewers emerge from the chaotic journey after an abrasive series of strobe lighting effects and haunting musical scores.

The artwork took over a year to come into fruition, from development to the actual engineering.

The pre-existing track at Cockatoo Island was the ideal platform to realise Callum’s fascination for fusing modern art and theme parks.

“I’ve always been interested in the idea of theme parks in relation to contemporary art. I guess my practice tries to be inclusive of all sorts of spheres of cultural production, popular culture.

“I sort of draw on lots of things: cinema, theatre, literature, architecture, design, theme park design, I love world expos.”

The installation is embodies of the idea of liminality: as a threshold is crossed in order to go through a transitional process.

Preliminarily, the Google façade presents viewers with an identifiable symbol – searching, the internet and a necessary tool for modern existence.

But once they’re submerged into the liminal terror of the ghost train, views are forced to reconsider their connotations with the internet and its potentially destructive force. It’s a restructuring of knowledge.

The postliminal emergence from the track creates a conceptual change to people’s view of the internet, now more aware of its danger.

It poses the question: in an era dominated by the internet, is anyone looking out for you on the other side?

Cockatoo Island is also home to a series of other sculpture pieces at Sydney’s Biennale.

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