The Fight by Eric Bridgeman

When I was in Sydney in August I happened to stumble across the exhibition Last Words (Phase 1 : 16 July-28 August 2010) at the 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art. The exhibition featured Eric Bridgeman, an Australian/Papua New Guinean artist.

Last Words is a curated two-part exhibition of works that tackles issues of communication, memory and history. These artists articulate that it is no longer straight forward to answer questions such as who are you? where are you from? how do you fit in? Our ideas and experiences of place and locality are increasingly defined by the intersection of local, national and global references – colliding histories, traditions and politics are what define our contemporary experiences.

Last Words explores language, knowledge and communication in an age of cultural diversity and globalisation. We have entered a period where traditional forms of identification are neither consistent or certain. Last Words highlights the need to find new ways of thinking and talking about culture.

Extract from Last Words Exhibition Brochure.

The exhibition space at 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art is small, so when I walked into the exhibition I was immediately drawn  to the screening of The Fight as it sat all alone in the far end corner in darkness.

The video was projected onto tarpaulin that had been painted.
Detail of video still from The Fight 2010 by Eric Bridgeman

The Fight (2010) is one of Eric Bridgeman’s recent video works, and was developed from a recent trip to his mother’s village in Papua New Guinea. As an artist with both Anglo-Australian and Papua New Guinean heritage, Bridgeman has become increasingly interested in returning to his family’s country in order to better understand his own history and culture. Growing up in Australia, Bridgeman states that he became interested in his cultural heritage through coffee table books, ethnographic photography, National Geographic Magazines as well as the gifts sent down from family in PNG. Bridgeman acknowledges that his recent photographic and video work results from the complicated relationship he has as a consumer of these genres of image making and photography. On this research trip he became aware of the great differences between the lived experience of his family in the Highlands compared to the cultural “shows” put on for passing tourists. For these reasons he found taking photographs and video difficult, becoming aware of his own “whiteness”. Bridgeman understood that during his research and travel through PNG he was as much a consumer of these potentially exploitative forms of image making, as he was its subject. The Fight carefully makes these contrasts visible. There are moments that this film has the feeling of a documentary, the realisation that The Fight is a mock fight that was presented especially for their wantok artist armed with a video camera, makes for a less straightforward relationship between the artist, camera and subject.

Extract from Last Words Exhibition Brochure.

Details of video still from The Fight 2010 by Eric Bridgeman

For most part of the video, it felt like a documentary and I felt disconnected from it…until there was a screen shot of a young boy who looked up at the camera and had this grin in his eyes. I know that look, that grin – it was familiar and personal and aimed at the person behind the video camera and not us the viewers. At that moment I felt the connection between the artists and the fighters in this mock fight.

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