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del kathryn barton: RED

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del kathryn barton, Australia, born 1972, RED, 2016, high resolution digital video, 15 mins, patrons edition 3/3 (film still); Gift of the Art Gallery of South Australia Contemporary Collectors 2016, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide. Images courtesy of the artist and A3.

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Standing at a wall outside the viewing space, I first experienced del kathryn barton’s debut film RED as a soundscape of pulsating beats and breaths. Waves of high energy music fused with intermittent stretches of silence punctuated by mournful wails and muffled battle cries. I stood and imagined distant tunnels and the tiny, helpless creatures lost to them.

Drawn into a cavernous nest of enveloping sounds, the interior space feels like a warm, secluded chamber and it is here that we are reminded that nature is a dark and dual entity.  Red is the colour of passion and seduction, danger and violence. Red is the blood of life and of death.

The arachnid Mother writhes in sexual angst, compelled to mate and reproduce. Taking inspiration from the cannibalistic mating rituals of the Australian red-back spider (Lactrodectus hasseltii), Barton’s powerful representation of female sexuality explores the turbulence of human relationships alongside the imperative to propagate the species. Mother’s menacing shears snip and strike away at her suit covering layers of net in a frenzied act of metamorphosis, her perilous blades instruments of maternal instruction as much as tools of harm. Daughter born of blood and star dust emerges from the primordial swamp of Creation as lurching waves roll in against the family dinner table and Daddy’s warm embrace. Mother’s loving and sacrificial acts are committed to create life, to protect and nurture in her role within the endless cycles of nature, birth and death.

Presented through a series of overlapping layers of image and sound, the microcosm of the family and the spider’s world is a compelling, and at times terrifying, metaphor for the dual characteristics of love and nature. It also responds to the idea of destruction as an essential component of creation. In this way, the richness of Barton’s electrifying film confronts the viewer with the raw power of female sexuality and nature as a place in which pleasure and pain, love and sacrifice lie disturbingly close together.