Sightlines Journal, issue 2, 2017
Name: Danielle Zorbas
Film: Ants in the Legs
Length: 41 minutes
Set in Sydney, Australia 2016, ants in the legs is an absurdist alien pop image agency of decentered fiction science ‘healthy lifestyle choice’ scenarios, abstracting the mimetic image data economy.
This PhD video research project is inspired by the contemporary nexus of cinema, film and video art under the influence of the internet. The research involves an improvised deconstructivist approach to the moving image, addressing complexities surrounding identity as the site of exchange and consumption within the limitations of patriarchal capitalist linear narrative genre cinema and social media networked public mimesis.
Through an experimental mix of anti-performance, elliptical and overtly iconic modes of cinematic representation, the project engages questions of cinema beyond dogma and affinity after identity, abstracting tropes and affects in light of the internet data economy spectacle.
“As confronting as the relentless, oversaturated mania of Ants may be, it feels undeniably true to the cultural moment we’re in right now. Truth is precisely what Danielle seeks to “queer” with her practice and in a media landscape scarred by fake news and anxious to define itself as “post-truth,” there is nothing we need more.”
Xiaoran Shi, i-D Vice
“This film overwhelms me completely. It certainly will be in the list of my top ten most favourite films I saw in 2017…It reminds me of two of my most favourite films of all time. One is I-BE AREA (2007, Ryan Trecartin), because both ANTS IN THE LEGS and I-BE AREA are extremely funny and energetic, and portray one actor or one actress in various styles. The other film is VIDEO 50 (1978, Robert Wilson), because both VIDEO 50 and ANTS IN THE LEGS put scenes which seem to be unrelated to each other with each other, and sometimes this kind of weird juxtaposition results in one of the most hilarious moments I have ever experienced in my life.”
Jit Phokaew, Independent Reviewer
“Set against the backdrop of contemporary Sydney, Danielle Zorbas explores the depravities of modern living with a cinematic barrage of ‘bad art’ aesthetic drenched scenarios and absurd archetypes in this mimetic piece of non-linear video art that will leave you second guessing your surroundings.”
Sam Freeman, Bangkok Underground Film Festival
Screenings to date: AVIFF Cannes Art Film Festival, May, 2017 Bangkok Underground Film Festival, February, 2017 Chicago AMARCORD Arthouse Television & Video Awards, December, 2016 RE/NIGHT/LIVE/MARE, ACRE TV, 1 November-31 December, 2016 Sightlines: Filmmaking in the Academy Conference, RMIT University, November, 2016 LA Underground Film Forum, (Honorable Mention), November, 2016 Pune Independent Film Festival, November, 2016 Women’s Only Entertainment Festival, October, 2016 safARI Arts Festival, Alaska Projects, Sydney, March, 2016
Biography: Danielle Zorbas is a Sydney video artist and creative practice PhD candidate interested in abstracting tropes and affects at play in the data economy spectacle. Her work has screened at festivals and galleries including Bangkok Underground Film Festival, Revelation Perth International Film Festival, LA Underground Film Forum, ACRE TV, Chicago, AVIFF Cannes Art Film Festival, safARI Arts Festival, Sydney, Chicago AMARCORD Arthouse Television & Video Awards, dLux Media Arts, Sydney, The Picture Show, NYC, Underbelly Arts Festival, Sydney, Demons Mouth Gallery, Olso, Volumes, Zurich.
Danielle has co-curated exhibitions for Underbelly Arts Festival and Macquarie University Gallery, presented at conferences such as Revelation Perth International Film Festival and SYNC! Media Symposium and has been published by Dissect Journal. Danielle is a casual academic at the University of Technology, Sydney and Macquarie University.
Peer Review 1 (Allister Gall)
Danielle Zorbas’ film, ants in the legs, is a post-digital, post-punk blast of a movie. Absurd scenarios and committed performances intercut with satirical examinations of consumer society – underpinned with a varied sound design and eclectic score. It is relentless, messy and immediate, featuring Internet memes, improvisational performances and disconcerting film and TV satire of tropes and conventions. In addition, Zorbas’ film creates a space for a dialogue between screen-based practice as research and more traditional modes of knowledge acquisition. Whilst the submission is short on exposition – in regards to process and methodology – the resulting 42-minute film cleverly displaces the viewer: a disruptive mimesis and examination of spectacle.
Ants in the legs examines and holds up a mirror to a contemporary present overloaded with digital media and bursting at the seams. It examines the Internet’s impact on our behaviours through an ephemeral intersection of poor images, satire and improvisation cinema. Some of the sequences emerge on the street like an ethnographic fiction, improvisational performances engaging with the public and selfie culture, whilst others are clearly a set piece, such as a parody of Yoga, fitness and mindfulness; or when we see a woman on the street – voice and movements sped up to absurd lengths – hugging trees and seemingly humping bins, reminiscent of Harmony Korine’s 2009 film Trash Humpers.
Music and sound is at the foreground of this strange experience. The multi-layered sound conveys and critiques emotion: creating atmosphere, rhythm and repetition, consumer media is playfully constructed and deconstructed. At other times, it’s a kind of doom-cinema on the verge of morphing into an Aphex Twin video, as young women drive around the city at night in a limousine – dancing and attempting to engage with the public. There is a mixture of electro music, guitar and synth – sometimes seemingly overlaid together; ripping apart Robert Bresson’s famous maxim: never use two violins when one is enough. In ants in the legs, there is never enough. It drenches you like an anarcho-punk record, or perhaps the Ramones: a fast twitch refusal to pause for breath, reflection, respite or recourse.
Simultaneously there is an interesting structural engagement with filmic language. In her 1926 lecture, Composition as Explanation, Gertrude Stein called for a ‘groping for a continuous present and for using everything by beginning again and again’. At one point, during a red-tinged seduction scene, a female character, framed by roses, quotes Gertrude Stein: ‘a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose’. Whilst there is little explanation of methodology in the submission, perhaps this is an insight into Zorbas’ compositional process – an interrogation of filmic composition representing an alternative representation of the present.
The idea of the avant-garde, as Professor John Roberts describes, is perhaps not something out of the past. Instead, if engaged with the social world as praxis, it’s a research project: to be renewed and rediscovered in reaction to issues around inequality, labour and artistic expression. Roberts describes the avant-garde as a ‘multiple, temporal sequence of actions, strategies and events, determined by, and ‘out of joint’ with, the spheres of commodity relations and its heteronomous identities’. Zorbas has constructed a film that challenges the conventions of linear narrative, as well as video art and more broadly, the ubiquity of digital visual culture. In this sense, the film could be seen as a continuation of the avant-garde project and a critique of spectacle.
I am supportive of the value of film as research and this film certainly opens up connections, questions and ideas. You could make the argument that a visual-sonic work such as ants in the legs speaks with more authenticity of the incoherence of the present, rather than a linear academic text. However, whilst the accompanying written text does provide some context, it does pose some questions around art vs artistic research – and how the community of researchers working in visual fields share knowledge. Whilst Zorbas does communicate her ideas in the form of the film – there is no clear communication of methodology, theory or contextual analysis. As a film text, the piece certainly reflects an approach that challenges sustained narrative coherence, but perhaps there would be scope to frame the project with more theoretical and contextual analysis. This could support the communication of insight and knowledge developed through the creative practice. Connecting this work with other practices, strategies and methods from the past, could open up a space for future practice and reaffirm why her work is important.
Walter Benjamin suggested that insight could be gained ‘less by demonstrating found similarities than by reproducing processes which produce such similarities’. In this sense, whilst one would like to know more of Zorbas thinking, methods and processes, the film is an exciting example of film as research investigating the present, where the mimesis function exposes knowledge around film, visual culture and its relationship to the Internet. However, there is perhaps a contradiction. Specifically, that making a film addressing the complexities of the spectacle feeds back into Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle. This supports the value of artistic practice as research – opening up contradictions and spaces of inquiry. Perhaps a coherent literary text would undermine the core investigation and dilute the radical nature of Zorbas’ filmic work, as ants in the legs articulates the incoherence and wildness of the contemporary media context. However, as a community of artistic practitioner researchers, it would be useful for further comment around contexts, theoretical frameworks and methods and methodology.
What is certain is Zorbas has made a film that demands to be experienced. Whilst there could be a contradiction around an interrogation of spectacle that becomes a spectacle in and of itself, ants in the legs continues an important critical avant-garde dialogue – challenging the viewer to consider our current situation. The fetishisation of cinema and the image – as well as issues around digital ubiquity – pose new important questions for artist to navigate. Debord suggested ‘spectators do not find what they desire; they desire what they find’. In Zorbas’ film, the viewer will find a dizzying play with form, conceptions and anarchy, splitting the language of the medium against itself and into two. What emerges, on the one hand, is a playful examination of filmic composition. On the other, as a wider research project, it’s a film that opens up a space for reflection around perhaps the core question of our times: how the mass of images and the Internet impact our lived experience.
Peer Review 2 (Marsha Berry)
This PhD video project by Danielle Zorbas is an intriguing practice-based screen research project that explores the themes of identity and performance in a cultural moment where lifestyle tv, consumption and the image economy collide. The film uses a surfeit of juxtaposed images to create a rolling collage of performance art scenes that draw tropes and devices from music video as well as advertising and lifestyle television cooking shows.
The work is self-consciously ironic and fragmented in keeping with a postmodern deconstructionist approach and the cycling sequences descend further and further into a state of excess as the film progresses. The problems of consumption and waste are addressed through performance art – a way of pushing the boundaries of traditional filmmaking where performances are in the background rather than overt. The work is relentless in its pace and manic energy. The cycling scenes do progress over time, and the viewers can attempt to find connections between the disparate scenes to form their own ‘narrative’.
The video has strong resonances with the performance and process art of the 1960s and 1970s. In the spirit of performance art, ants in the legs challenges the conventions of film and television and borrows from dance, sport and even includes a mock yoga instructor encouraging his class to work from the core to express their core. The film also borrows from process art in the task based cooking segments where there are repetitions and where the screen production process itself is part of the subject matter.
The flatness of the cycle of erotic scenes between the man and the woman and their obvious and inauthentic performance of sexual desire is reminiscent of Andy Warhol’s oeuvre. The glamorous girls in the back of a luxurious car speak to music video, as does the scene of the homeless street performer.
The scene of the girl in the bath is a multisensory cut-up that hints at a theatre of cruelty surrealism with its roots in the 1930s which has echoes of Antonin Artaud’s philosophy of performance. The male photographer performance, on the other hand, channels the spirit of 1960s avant-garde movements and fashions.
As a piece of practice-based research, “concerned with the improvement of practice, and new epistemologies of practice distilled from the insider’s understandings of action in context” (Haseman 2006, 100), the film ants in the legs is performative and successfully interrogates forms and normative conventions associated with lifestyle tv from the early 21st century. It does this through a series of cycling performance art scenes that provide an obviously ironic and somewhat subversive commentary on popular media in an age where free to air television is being challenged increasingly by streaming options provided by the Internet.