Interview with Tristan Jalleh

Screen Shot 2015-12-01 at 11.49.00 AM
Tristan Jalleh, Android
s Dream (Video Still) 2015, HD Digital Video

Five mannequins stand in a store window, shadows of their unclothed forms stretch out behind them, so distorted they become alien beings. The burning lights of cars flash by, temporarily illuminating the scene. We can hear the crunch of wheels on wet tarmac, the splash of footsteps, the patter of rain.

We stand engulfed in these shadows, or are we looking out from a store security camera? Like something out of a Hitchcock’s Rear Window, we become conscious of our selves as viewers. It’s voyeuristic, it’s mysterious-everything’s set up for someone to watch-but who?

There’s something not quite right about this scene. On first glance it seems real, but if you stare long enough the dimensions begin to break down. The distortions are subtle, but it’s enough to evoke the uncanny. The scene is constructed using found footage; the lights and sounds deceive our senses. Video artist Tristan Jalleh’s video Androids Dream presents a false world, a composite of multiple times, a new fictional reality.

KP:      After the opening of Inaugural, in the spirit of new beginnings, tell us about a moment within your practice that marks the birth of change, of something new:

TJ:       I’ve always drawn growing up, all the time. But I wanted to take it [drawing] further, so I decided to go and do a short course in computer animation. Because I was always interested in how animation was used in film-particularly in fantasy films…I was really into replicating images-I’m more interested in the forms of objects, and how you represent them in a two dimensional sense. When I make the work, first and foremost, it’s from a visual starting point.

Screen Shot 2015-12-01 at 11.51.25 AMTristan Jalleh, Juanita’s Birthday, 2005, Graphite on Paper

 KP:      Thinking about the way you make videos, you talked about how films are a major source of information:

TJ:       Well, any film that uses special effects in general. I’m fascinated by the way that modern cinema concentrates on making these indelible images. Would you believe that I didn’t have a TV as a kid? I only got to watch movies –So I just loved it, I watched as many as possible. As a kid I remember seeing Jurassic Park, that realistic blending of special effects into the reality of the film.

KP       It’s interesting, you’re taking found footage, there’s this real mingling of narratives:

TJ:       I’m kind of fascinated with narrative, but the narratives you see in my work are like a side effect, a by-product-I’ll be thinking about something or responding to something when I’m making it. I’ve created a narrative unconsciously. When you’re borrowing footage, you’re also borrowing from those narratives.

KP:      Speaking of technology, have you ever read the book Neuromancer? When I view your work, I can really see influences:

TJ:       Yeah. Well it’s really relevant to the Androids Dream. It’s all about cyberpunk. It’s based on the writings of William Gibson and Phillip. K. Dick’s novel, that we know as BladeRunner, but it’s originally titled Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep? Films like Bladerunner and Ghost in the Shell-I was attracted to works like those, because at the moment, a lot of people are making work about technology and the internet, and it’s quite often…I find that when people are making work about technology nowadays it’s begun to adopt a kind of aesthetic that is common to work about the internet, it talks about things in really broad terms, and it’s all quite speculative…

And I was thinking, what is a particular aesthetic, not based on this internet style? What is a good way of explaining how I feel towards certain aspects of technology? And then I thought-this cyberpunk thing that came out in the 70s through to the early 90s…it was an aesthetic that was primarily concerned with technology and our attraction to it. It was all about slightly dystopic society, this idea of people being bound to technology and the internet, relationships being via a screen.

A lot of the things that were being talked about 30 years ago, if they are thematically relevant, then what about visually? Do they have some resonance? It’s (cyberpunk) so interesting because it came from a pre-digital, pre computer graphics time but was describing internet culture. I’m attracted to it because it’s a non digital aesthetic associated with living with technology…It was a lot more focused, it wasn’t as broad as the language used today. Well a lot of the work is made in response to ideas in technology in a way.

KP:     Considering the change that has been brought about in the past, maybe 20 years, is so huge and despite all those things people didn’t expect to happen…It’s pretty fascinating that this genre is still so relevant, despite all the other developments in technology. It’s like they foresaw what was about to happen:

TJ:       Yeah, it’s prescient. Also, the reason why these people got it so early on, they were looking at human nature, and how that would deal with technology. And it is so hard to extrapolate, to foresee these changes, but it is possible to predict human nature, human responses.

I’m also conscious of trying not to sound too wary of technology. I don’t want it to be like this doomsday kind of thing…I love it, I mean I’m right into it. I think when people are discussing technology they’re slightly wary of the coming technology, every generation. This generation might say: “oh, we’re overloaded with information” -the kids of today, they’re fine with that, that’s what they’ve grown up with. In a lot of the discussions I’ve been reading about in the past 10 years, regarding the internet, people getting obsessed with Facebook, video games-It sounds really really similar to what people said about television when that came out, that whole mass media, thinking: “Oh people are going to be glued to these boxes”. Yeah, I’ve found that this conversation hasn’t changed much.

KP:      Sometimes I see a correlation between your work and video games, has that influenced your work?

TJ:       I think it has, I’ll show you a new work that is totally into that…

Screen Shot 2015-12-01 at 11.54.04 AMTristan Jalleh, Patio Ops, 2015, HD Digital Video

I’m interested in computer games because the graphics are so good now. I was never into it when I was younger because the graphics are so crude with immature game play, but now that they’re getting more complex…I’ve kinda used an aesthetic for this new piece I’m working on. So I’ve tried to create this really digital garden, where there’s nothing going on. It’s perfectly relaxing but the overlay of the sniper rifle sight, over the top, it’s kinda a lot more ominous, there’s a paranoia, viewing life with a paranoid filter…

KP:      Yeah. I’m just waiting for someone to come bounding round the corner! Or to see blood splatters everywhere!

TJ:       But none of that will happen. It’s how a lot of people are engaging with these virtual spaces and digital effects through these games.

KP:      How do you go about making things like this?

TJ:       I use a piece of software called Motion, which is basically the same as After Effects, which is a compositing program, where you can import images and footage, and you can rearrange them however you want. And then I’m using a virtual camera to move around this world that I’ve built as a 3D model. It’s a virtual space that I have to choreograph my way through. Each one of these elements is a still image, and you kind of arrange them in this space. If you twist that around a bit, it looks three-dimensional.

KP:      There’s really that sense of something that I saw was written about your work: that it’s something like an ‘empty set’. And it does really remind me of when you see maybe a play, or actually a film set, and like you see it on the screen with actors and you think: Oh, that’s a real house! But then if you visited that set, you’d see that there is something wrong, something artificial, like fake fruit, or furniture. This work is the same, I look at this composited world and I can now see that it’s not real, I feel like there are all this hidden tricks, these illusions:

TJ:       Yeah, I deliberately leave clues. Once you know how this stuff works you can pull it apart. It’s like old wild west films, you walk down the middle of the street and you see all these saloons and bars, and the you go round the back and you see that they’re fake facades. It’s the same-it all has to be facing the camera.

This is a flat picture of an Aloe Vera plant, but if I moved the camera to the side you can see that it’s a still image. It is like a film set, it’s all set up to face the camera, to deceive. Sometimes I feel like I’m making a sculpture-A three-dimensional space, a combination of animation and sculpture.

KP:      Its so immersive, so sneaky; it’s a world you can envelope yourself in…

TJ:       I prefer a moving camera, because then your eyes perceive depth, through paralaxing…

Born in Adelaide, Tristan Jalleh works predominantly with video, but includes sculpture and drawing in his gallery installations.

He has had exhibitions with The Powerhouse Museum, ISEA 2013 and Galleries UNSW (COFA) in Sydney, QUT Creative Industries Precinct in Brisbane, RMIT Gallery, BUS Projects, Utopian Slumps Gallery, Platform and Federation Square in Melbourne. He has also been involved in Asia Link’s Put Up A Signal project with Indonesia and the 2013 Experimenta International Biennial of Media Art. His work has also shown in the video program at Sydney Contemporary 2015.

Patio Ops will be exhibited at C3 Contemporary, Abbotsford from the 13th of April 2016.

Katie Paine is an artist, curator and writer and currently the Public Programs Director for Nicholas Projects.