Portraits in Motion a moving finale

26 March 2017 Blogger in Chief

Is Volker Gerling’s Portraits in Motion art or performance? Or something else again?

The premise is simple: Gerling sets off on foot each European summer – without money in his pocket – and comes away with people’s stories, which he tells through a very old medium: the photographic flipbook.

Simple. But so bold… I mean, could you do what Gerling does? Inveigling your way into someone’s personal space, let alone asking if you can take photos of them to show to other people? That’s courageous.

The secret must lie in his easygoing nature; 75 minutes in Gerling’s company slips by and it’s as much the gentle recollections of his time on the road and the stories of his subjects that beguile.

The flipbook of the woman who sat for seven hours while a candle burned out and, in particular, the Iranian engineer who died not long after sitting for Gerling are absolute highlights. Not just of this show but, for me, of the whole festival.

I figure he must come across any number of volunteers who insist on being snapped but I don’t know that many, if any, make it into¬†Portraits in Motion. Most of the featured subjects appear at least a little reluctant and that puts the viewer in an unusual space. A slightly voyeuristic one.

In a sense, this is pure art and the pathway from concept to realisation is, literally, a long and winding one. Unlike so much performance art today, there’s no suffering in front of an audience for Gerling. Any hardships, blisters or other privations he’s endured – over more than 3,500 kilometres on foot, across 15 summers – are not part of the narrative and that’s something to really appreciate.

From Flinders Island to Franklin’s beautiful Palais Theatre, it was an inspired moved to introduce Gerling’s foreign, yet all-too-familiar, characters to some of Tasmania’s most far flung communities.

In the ‘look-at-me’ disposable age of the selfie, I’m glad Gerling is finding an audience for something that would otherwise be lost.