Avoiding Climax: Bella and Theo Understand it Better But the Frog Dies

Documentation provided by Sam Hartnett

Documentation provided by Sam Hartnett

Avoiding Climax: Bella and Theo Understand It Better But the Frog Dies, was a collaborative intermedia sculpture by Isabella Dampney and Theo Macdonald, installed at Auckland’s Window gallery in 2017. The exhibition models the form of a museum display, mock-historicising a supernatural-procedural serial called “Bella and Theo: Detectives of Crime.” Within the exhibition, six episodes of the drama were displayed over the duration of the exhibition, which concluded with a screening of the complete series.

These videos can be viewed at the following link: https://www.windowgallery.co.nz/2016/avoiding-climax/

Documentation provided by Sam Hartnett

Documentation provided by Sam Hartnett

The following text accompanied the piece:

The field of gallery-specific video art carries a set of conventions which defines a range of outcomes within it. This genre is identifiable by features of a direct monologue, fragmentary narrative, shoddy special effects, disjunctive editing, amateur actors, extended takes, play with exposure and duration, and allusions to popular media modes of the past.[1. Brakhage, Stan. A Moving Picture Giving and Taking Book. West Newbury, MA: Frontier, 1971. Print.] This latter convention drew us to the supernatural investigation dramas of the 1990s. The TV shows within this genre–think Twin PeaksThe X-FilesBuffy the Vampire Slayer–are marked by serialised storytelling, monster-of-the-week episodes, government conspiracy, smouldering tension between leads, Emmy bait special episodes, and reboots and rip-offs.[2. Cook-Wilson, Winston. “Why the New ‘Twin Peaks’ Will Save Reboot Culture.” Inverse. N.p., 24 Feb. 2016. Web. 30 June 2016.]

The video artist Dara Birnbaum, who rose to prominence in the 1970s with work appropriating television content, said of her practice: “I wanted to use video on video...television on television”.[3. Demos, T. J. Dara Birnbaum: Technology/transformation: Wonder Woman. London: Afterall, 2010. Print] Single-channel video distribution has the advantage of increased accessibility to a more diverse range of audiences. Single-channel, unlike multi-channel, does not require a sophisticated installation to be presented outside the gallery, worldwide, and can utilise languages innate to television viewers. Recent moving image practices have shifted towards the spectacular, destination viewing in staged site specific, gallery environments.[4. Balsom, Erika. Exhibiting Cinema in Contemporary Art. Amsterdam: Amsterdam UP, 2013. Print.] In Bella and Theo: Detectives of Crime, the serial videos that make up Avoiding Climax take both modes of distribution. Each episode in the series airs on a twice weekly schedule within the Window space or are available to be viewed anytime, on Window’s online space, as are the shooting scripts.

Avoiding Climax is a response to the recent battlefield of on-demand streaming services, and to the resistance shown by certain established international broadcasters to engage with the full-season release strategy. In line with that, it is a response to the proliferation of viewer-supported reboots and the rise of DIY video culture through youtube and other streaming services. The web-series is a contemporary answer to the 1950s studio freeballing that allowed untested talents such as Edward D. Wood Jr to break through, albeit with significantly less budget.