Amos Gebhardt

Amos Gebhardt’s immersive multi-channel video works offer affective moments of exchange between viewer and artwork. The striking and poetic moments sliced from real life contained within them break with traditional understandings of the cinematic experience, unlocking new potential for meaning-making and the inclusion of other voices. Artist Profile spoke to Amos from their artist residency in Regional South Australia.

You have a substantial history working in both film and contemporary art. How do you find traversing the two fields?
Video art and film pose different challenges, mainly in the distinct architecture of the viewing experience and the way meaning is made. Mixing techniques from both fields is really exciting to me. I began my career as a filmmaker, working with scripts, dominated by dialogue and the single screen of cinema. I’ve since opened up my practice to still photography and multi-screen installation as a way to upend narrative convention and experiment with more impressionistic representations of human or non-human subjectivity.

In many ways your work challenges these traditional modes of spectatorship from cinema …
The experience of making and watching cinema will always hold a special place for me. There’s a unique power to the experience of storytelling through a vast, single screen. That singular perspective doesn’t give the viewer much agency, though, and conventional cinema is so often prescriptive. The thing I like about multi-channel work is that it can have the power to deconstruct screen language and encourage a more critical gaze. I’m interested in being able to invite the viewer to engage with that critical thinking about moving image and an awareness of their own agency as they move through the work.

There is a generosity in opening up these spaces for audiences and encouraging a multiplicity of gazes.
I’ve been drawn to the way multi-screen installation explodes the telescope into a kind of kaleidoscope, activating multiple, simultaneous perspectives. It invites the viewer to use their body to edit their point of view in time and space, offering them a kind of kinesthetic agency. I like the possibility of multiple perspectives that allow a pluralism of gazing, of contemplation of the world. It reflects the approach I take to identity and place being more open-ended and not
so cloistered by dominant ideals.

And you achieve this despite the power that comes from the privileged structural position of the camera in still and moving images.
You can’t ignore the construct of what you’re doing, but I’m always interested in the disrupters, whether that’s in terms of gender expression or notions of history or some other framework. It’s like queering the process. It’s looking at filmic techniques and asking, ‘how can I disrupt what is habituated here? How can I move this language in a way that creates more open-ended possibilities that are non-conforming, radical encounters with space and time?’.

I’m wondering how you perceive the space available for resistance in the face of dominant social norms.
My work features a range of bodies, elements and landscapes, whether the subjects are human or animal or plant, and I‘m asking the viewer to contemplate what’s behind their material essence. My hope is that the work might allow a different entry point and way to connect, that circumvents judgment or phobia or the other negative connotations that dominant cultures ask us to think about when we think of different ways to be in the world. I hope that my work’s openness takes people off guard and disarms through both cinematic techniques and embodied exchanges.

Do you think the intimacy of your work allows audiences to connect through a shared subjectivity and pathos?Experimenting with different modes of subjectivity is a core interest of mine; exploring the poetics of space and the body in particular. I’m drawn to the way light and composition can have a deep impact on our emotions and relational instincts. Many of my works end up being portraits which are the result of my attempts to deeply listen to a subject, and in that effort to bridge the divide between us I hope that there is a sense of intimacy that emanates through and across the work.

There is a complex relationship between humans and nature throughout your practice. In Evanescence (2019), for example, the hierarchy between human subjects and landscape almost collapses. Would it be right to think of your work as a critique of anthropocentrism?
Aspects of my work definitely call into question a human-centric worldview. I see human exceptionalism as a kind of pathology. All things, living or not, have presences and histories lurking below the surface as much as we have under the human skin. I’m interested in making space for these inter-subjectivities, to allow viewers to become aware of, even sensitive to elements beyond common human perception. I’m interested in the power of narrative to exist beyond the human dilemma into more of a meta-world.

Are the diverse bodies in your work, that expand notions of normativity, extensions of your own personal explorations?
From my own lived experience I’ve always been drawn to the outside, in spaces of resistance, fluidity, impermanence. I’m interested in interrogating the layered histories of place and the way dominant culture shapes personal and collective narratives. These intersections reverberate through my cast choices. I hope to bring into focus frameworks at play that normalise one way of being at the expense of another. In activating counter-narratives, space might be made for more open-ended ways of thinking about place and identity.

Sound is central to the affective and poetic effects of your work. Do you enjoy collaborating with sound artists and musicians to realise your projects?
Sound plays a crucial role in forming the emotional arc of my work. Sonic vibration has the power to lead you into portals that are deeply familiar yet somehow impossibly hard to find. You might discover a whole new extrasensory plane without noticing how you got there. Sound can also allude to the multi-storied nature of place. I love that about sound. It is very personal too. So working with sound artists is usually a very intimate process where we share a language for things that can often be sensed but hard to speak of. I’ve been lucky enough to work with brilliant artists like Oren Ambarchi and Lawrence English to collaborate on scores for my work, and really enjoy the collaborative process.

As an artist working with video, duration and time are obviously central considerations for you. Do you think of the temporal as a material in your art?
I think time is perhaps the most powerful instrument in moving image. Tarkovsky said cinema is sculpting in time. Time can be experienced in such a myriad of ways and I hope walking into an installation can invite a departure from conventional concepts of time. I’m particularly interested in slow cinema which leaves shots long enough not to indulge the pleasure of your cinematic expectations being met. By subverting these expectations, room is made to look beneath the surface of things and allow more complex ideas of representation and memory to seep in. I became interested in the way such temporal alienation not only breaks cinematic convention but can challenge the audiences’ habituated view of the world.

This interview was originally published in Artist Profile, Issue 52, 2020

Amos Gebhardt: Small acts of resistance
16 October – 28 November 2020
Samstag Museum of Art, Adelaide

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