Megan Keating and Samuel Johnstone: The Onlooker

The act of observing is imbedded in the daily routine of contemporary culture. A shift has occurred in our relationship with images; from a semi-annual flick through the old family photo album, to a social media binge during the work lunch break. Tuna sandwich in one hand and a device in the other, 30 minutes can pass by as we trawl through a mass of images, hyperlinks in bios, news updates, memes, GIFS featuring flying pepperoni pizza slices and advertisements. Despite this change in the rate of consumption, and apparent material qualities, the digital screen still produces a similar effect to the photographic image.

Megan Keating and Samuel Johnstone, The Onlooker #3, 2017, cut out mock ups, digital prints. Courtesy the artists and M16 Artspace, Australian Capital Territory

Megan Keating and Samuel Johnstone’s exhibition, ‘The Onlooker’, raises questions about our relationship with, and participation in, contemporary screen culture. Their video work is ambitious as it questions the point where the author of an image, the subject of the image and the viewer converge. The digital realm is a representation of the real. However, the stability of what we are viewing is always in flux. Liked, shared, copied, edited, commented on and saved to a Pinterest board our role continuously slides along the edges of an author/ subject/ viewer triangle. The screen is a contemporary platform that severs, displays and reveals our experiences in the real world. What is forgotten, more often than not, is that a frame (analogue or digital) does not only reveal its subject matter, it also excludes any additional content and context around it.

Megan Keating and Samuel Johnstone, The Onlooker #1, 2017, cut out mock ups, digital prints. Courtesy the artists and M16 Artspace, Australian Capital Territory

 

What are we seeing, what are we showing and what is withheld? The screen is an aspirational device which we use to locate ourselves. Keating and Johnstone push audiences one step further to question whether or not an individual can actually influence the screen, they explain, “Trends, memes and  fashion also play a huge part in what is seen and not seen. If something is ‘liked’ or becomes popular it can receive millions of views but it may just as quickly be forgotten as the audience moves on to the next popular thing. This type of engagement is unprecedented.”

Megan Keating and Samuel Johnstone, The Onlooker #2, 2017, cut out mock ups, digital prints. Courtesy the artists and M16 Artspace, Australian Capital Territory

‘The Onlooker’ suggests that we cannot actively influence the lifecycle of screen culture – an onlooker is a witness; a sightseer, a bystander, a non-participating observer.  Our access to viewable content is predetermined and what could result in a Google search one day will alter the next, as trends dictate the proliferation of imagery online. The aim of the work is not to provide a solution to the complexity of this platform, their intention is to bring our attention to the process of looking. ‘The Onlooker’ is a video work which is as aspirational as the digital environment. It urges audiences to consciously acknowledge how screen culture operates and to reconsider their ethical and social responsibilities within it.

Anja Loughhead is an emerging visual artist and curator based in Queanbeyan, New South Wales.

M16 Artspace
23 March to 9 April, 2017
Australian Capital Territory