Handle on Nowhere

Deej Fabyc

The central screen of Deej Fabyc's three-channel video projection Handle on Nowhere shows the artist confined within the narrow space of a provisionally constructed room. Like a stage set, viewed from one side, it is empty, but for the prominent fixtures of three door handles attached to the walls and Fabyc's own vulnerable, naked presence. As a white cube, reserved for the presentation of art and its objects, it also highlights the more confronting domestic and clinical associations with madness and hysteria, and of being stuck, suspended for a period of time, in a locked room. Like the subject of some kind of behavioural experiment, Fabyc is filmed pacing back and forth, pulling and tugging on the handles to no avail. After a while, the futile act of grasping and releasing the handles becomes itself the focus of attention, propelling her from one side of the room to another. Losing any true sense of the passage of time, each touch of the handle, triggered by the momentum of successive camera flashes, appears to facilitate a sequence of edited jump cuts and accompanying sound effects like those of a pinball machine. After what is only, in fact, five minutes, but could be hours, she falls to the floor, in resignation and apparent exhaustion.

This is not the first time that Fabyc has indulged in the fantasy or tested out her endurance by living in a padded cell. In The White Room, first installed at Artspace, Sydney, in 1995, she created a PVC-lined, deep-buttoned boudoir as an aggressively defined space of feminine sexual control. In Green Room Arcadia, at the W139 Gallery, Amsterdam, in 1997, she inhabited a sealed-off room in the gallery for the duration of the exhibition (a period of one month), communicating to the outside world through an internet diary. Fabyc's performance and video works generally revolve around situational tableaux with the artist often employing stand-ins or doubles. Often semi-autobiographical in her approach, the use of furniture and other essential equipment is central to her narratives.

In Handle on Nowhere, Fabyc's actions revolve around these solid, cast-iron appendages presented in close-up of at the start of the video. Like those featured in the period dramas of classic film noir, or the pared down gothic realism of mid-twentieth century surrealist-inspired figurative paintings, the door knob looms large in the graphic imagination. As symbols of domestic order, in the move from one contained space of life's everyday rituals to another, a lot hangs on this humble motif. Like the painterly and filmic versions from a period drama, the handles are like a trompe l'oeuil illusions, a mere construct and a fiction, like the very configuration of the room itself. Modeled on classic Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian examples, they also represent for Fabyc a personalised form of the heritage trail.

Fabyc's interest in domestic spaces and tableaux scenes of re-enactment was sparked off by living in a Georgian house, and the association with the colonial period when the British first settled in Australia, and where her parents some 200 years later also chose to move their young family. Try another handle and you might find yourself moving forward into a period when the invasions of psychology became a significantly established point of view in explorations of feminine madness and hysteria. Growing up with a mother who herself spent time in mental health institutions Fabyc uses the vehicle of performance to explore aspects of her own troubled biography, with a forensic eye for the salient details. Like the revelations of psychosis in Charlotte Perkins Gilman's remarkable short story The Yellow Wallpaper (1899), drawing attention to the decorative detail of the domestic space, this object fetishism, is expanded into the very stealth-like adaptive, animal nature of the feminine self involved in strange rituals of self-debasement and escape into the realm of an overactive imagination.

So, too, in Fabyc's accompanying landscape sequences, that make up the left and right screens of this video triptych, there is this sense of another kind of doubling, like that between art and nature, of the interior and exterior worlds that constitute our natural habitat. One era's curling yellow paper becomes another's obsession with a clinical, clean whiteness, here transferred to the snow-covered scene of a winter garden, a local patch of wilderness. These walls in between, like the borders of the film frame itself, are strangely provisional but not quite permeable. Entry and exit points don't line up in a narrative that is otherwise far from seamless. There is a worldweariness in this restless presence that Fabyc also invokes through her wandering between the frames and the spaces described. The predicament is not unlike that presented in William Morris's News from Nowhere(1890), a utopian world based on the medieval model of an agrarian lifestyle as a further potential reference point flagged by the work's title. Returning to the basics, to work out systems of how to inhabit this earth, remains civilisation's uneasy challenge and something of its archly, grand intent, as interpreted by Morris. For Fabyc, the more personal challenge, viewed through the expression of life's symptomatic vulnerabilities, is reliant on this more palpable, physical experience of life's border zones. Rather than building castles in the air, this viewpoint is perhaps made more concrete through reflections on the anchor of a more humble domestic detail.

Eve Sullivan, November 2007.

Deej Fabyc

3-channel DVD installation

Presented in the Fire Room Artsadmin

Toynbee Studios

28 Commercial Street

December 2007