New media art, in Sydney, in The Very Near Future

“The Very Near Future presents a unique temporal, sensory, and conceptual experience.” Alex Davies

When visitors walk into Sydney’s Artspace Gallery, they find themselves on what seems to be a live film set. A noir feature film called The Hop Head Hatchet Man is in production. It’s a studio operation run by Harvey Lebnitz Productions.

Actually, it’s an installation work, The Very Near Future, by Sydney artist Alex Davies that’s part of the 2014 Sydney Festival. Once you’re inside the film studio “complex” – inside Artspace Gallery itself – things become rather more interesting.

Film poster for The Hop Head Hatchet Man (1953 / 2014). Ali Crosby

What ensues is a mysterious mind-bending event, resulting in a series of time loops, and déjà vu-inducing reruns of the space-time continuum every five minutes. Anyone – and everyone – inside the studio skips across the same five-minute time interval in eight parallel universes. The events - not just in the film, but also behind the scenes in the film studio itself – are revealed by means of eight different narratives.

The first iteration of the work was installed at Sydney’s Carriageworks in 2013 as part of the International Symposium of Electronic Arts. Over the two-year life of The Very Near Future, some 30 cast and crew have been involved (and just to be clear, I was one of them.)

The Very Near Future at Artspace. Alex Davies

As a hybrid film/art installation, The Very Near Future presents a unique temporal, sensory, and conceptual experience. It combines many of the immersive technical techniques that Davies has been honing over a decade-long international career.

On set at Harvey Lebnitz Productions

Live security-camera footage provides visitors with glimpses of “30 seconds into the (very-near) future” in the various rooms of the film studio complex itself; it takes around half an hour of watching the “live film shoot” play out inside the film studio set to experience the eight different parallel universes.

The story is told by means of many different media forms and, as such, the installation is a good example of transmedia storytelling, as articulated by media theorists such as Marsha Kinder, Henry Jenkins, Jeff Gomez and Christy Dena.

The Very Near Future at Artspace. Alex Davies

As you wander around the studio/installation work, and examine the props, notated scripts, and other media lying around, such as carefully labelled 16mm film cans, and you’ll recognise references to classic cinema history including films such as The Maltese Falcon, Sunset Boulevard, Zentropa, Barton Fink, Looper, Primer and the Spanish time-travel film Timecrimes.

Such self-referentiality is typical of film noir, and critic Alison Castle’s summation of Stanley Kubrick’s classic noir in her collection The Kubrick Archives serves as a perfect gloss on The Very Near Future:

True to noir tradition, the story begins at the end, and is told in flashback, with the beleaguered hero serving as the narrator of his own downfall.

You are the villain in the window

Described as: “a Charlie Kaufman take on Groundhog Day as a noir film”, the work involves interactive cinema.

The Very Near Future at Artspace. Alex Davies

If you stand at the window in the “film set” for five seconds and peer through the window, into the darkness, you find yourself in the frame.

If you then walk over to the edit suite you are likely to find yourself inserted as “the villain at the window” into the feature film itself. You’ll watch the film being edited in real time – and see a scene play out in which Scarlet the nightclub dancer (played by Annabel Lines) notices “someone” spying on herself and Detective Eddie Getz through the window. It’s a puzzle for film aficionados and lovers of time-travel, M-theory, and parallel universes.

The Very Near Future at Artspace. Alex Davies

The storyline of the feature film at the centre of the installation – The Hop Head Hatchet Man – includes a murder-mystery, a love triangle and a “suitcase-bomb” that the femme fatale Evangeline Montgomery has planted for her unsuspecting husband, Senator Montgomery, in their mansion’s sunroom.

The question is, will Detective Eddie Getz be able to get to the scene of the would-be crime, in time?

And – when he does – which of the eight parallel narrative universes will he find himself in?

The Very Near Future by Alex Davies is showing at Sydney’s Artspace until February 16. Details here.