Dirk de Bruyn’s extensive body of work is marked by an experimental ethos that consistently challenges formal cinematic conventions. Steven McIntyre1 has drawn attention to de Bruyn’s contribution to “expanded cinema”, a performative practice that utilises multiple screens or other projection surfaces. This form is often presented in a variety of locations: theatres, urban spaces, museums and galleries, and may incorporate non-cinematic forms such as theatre and dance. While Threshold does not include this aspect of de Bruyn’s oeuvre, it does underscore his interest in bringing cinema into dialogue with adjacent artforms in the spirit of expanded cinema. In this instance, de Bruyn’s work is productively juxtaposed with the work of two visual artists, Guy Grabowsky and Mat Hughes, whose art displays an avant-garde sensibility that resonates with Peter Gidal’s account of materialist film practice2

Put simply, Gidal championed a non-narrative, self-reflexive film practice that brought the acts of cinematic production and consumption together. In its most effective manifestations, materialist film disturbs routine modes of human perception, or what we might call habitual ways of seeing the world. Of course, it is not uncommon to find what are essentially cinematic works in art galleries. Julian Rosefeldt’s multiscreen work, Manifesto (2015), is an obvious example of this tendency. In fact, many artists regularly straddle the worlds of cinema and visual art by often displaying overtly cinematic works in art galleries. What is perhaps less common is the practice of group shows that deliberately include both forms of image making.

Group shows inevitably suggest that there must be a degree of commonality between the works on display even when their curatorial commentary flags them as disparate. This is certainly the case with Threshold, a compelling exhibition that contains pieces that either disturb or exceed the capacity of ordinary human perception and share an interest in combining analogue techniques of image-making (photochemical exposures, manual film inscriptions and so on) with various digital technologies (the use of digital negatives, NLE software and on on). In their own ways, each artist provides a unique way of apprehending various environments. That said, contrast and difference are as important as commonality, and each artist has a distinctive voice and a unique approach to the theme of threshold, which, for me, is concerned with the crossing borders both thematically and formally through framing, repetition and abstraction.

The Image, Guy Grabowsky

Guy Grabowsky’s large format photographs are a case in point. The Image (2018) is a C-Type print that apparently captures a commercial airplane in the throes of a fatal nose-dive. The concurrence of the jet with what looks like a telegraph pole suggests that the photographer has snapped a tragically decisive moment. Today, of course, no image is above suspicion. From its inception, photography has always flirted with deception, but this flirtation has become a fully consummated affair in the digital age. Has the artist used photoshop or some other form of digital trickery to create the arresting photograph? It’s impossible to tell, which is, of course, the point of the work. Grabowsky suggests that The Image “forces the viewer to confront and question its authenticity,” but, as I have already suggested, everybody who takes a simple cell phone image engages in various forms of deception. In its most banal manifestation, filters, computational photography, and ubiquitous editing software has made photographic (and cinematic) authenticity a quaint memory from a distant era. 

Untitled ruins (artwork on the right), Guy Grabowsky

For me, Grabowsky’s abstract photographs, A Moment (2019), Untitled ruins (2020) and lost then found (2021), are more successful. Not because of the technical processes that he used to generated them, which he outlines in the exhibition catalogue, but because of their cinematic qualities that invite the spectator to revel in the beauty of the abstract shapes, lines and colours that mark an obvious rejection of literal representation. Indeed, all these images reject the indexical quality of the photographic medium thereby crossing the threshold that separates the real from the virtual. These still images create the illusion of mobility by inviting the spectator’s gaze to wander across the hues, lines and squiggles of each piece. 

Mat Hughes also works with large format cameras, but his work is firmly rooted in the landscape genre. Each work was shot during a family road trip around Australia. These photographs are exquisite. They convey a sense of meditative bliss, an almost impressionistic rendering of Australian scenery that incorporates various botanical materials, such as fenugreek seeds, sourced, presumably, from the land itself. This process chemically transforms the surface emulsion of each sheet of film and adds a range of organic hues to pictures which makes them appear otherworldly.

Towamba River, Kiah, Mat Hughes

Hughes makes his work in camera and prints the full frame images. His creative process is fascinating on both a technical and political level since he values the photographic image as a material object, noting that, today, most people experience photography on screens. Indeed, Instagram culture, while democratising the medium, to a limited extent, tends to mask the material heritage of photography, which is, arguably, a significant precursor to the practice of material cinema. Like all the artists in this exhibition, Hughes bridges the threshold between virtual and material image making by combining digital and hand-made analogue processes. All his photographs are beautifully composed, but I was especially drawn to Towamba River, Kiah, NSW (2022). This image is especially haunting. The light protruding from the misty smudges of the clouds above the river evoke a sense of celestial mystery that provides a glimpse of the transcendental threshold between spirit and world. This spectral quality is lost in the reproduction of the image in the catalogue. Hughes’ work thrives in the gallery space since the spectator’s mobility from one image to the next is an integral part of the collection’s travel motif. These images, after all, represent a journey, a journey that is both physical and incorporeal.

223, Dirk de Bruyn

 Dirk de Bruyn’s contribution to the exhibition is a retrospective of sorts. It contains a small selection of works from his extensive career that demonstrate his impressive command of disparate approaches to screen art. The earliest work, 223 (1985) is a cameraless animation that is created by inscribing various abstract shapes and lines directly onto 16mm film with a variety of implements (pens, dyes, bleach). In this piece, we see geometric patterns and colours overlaid on images of buildings that evoke a sense of domestic space, an impression reinforced by photographs of a boy and his mother. These images flicker and flash to a soundtrack composed of various electronic pulses and what sounds like phased white noise. The work evokes something akin to a traumatic psychedelic trip. The overall effect is disturbing and heady.

The latest work, Looking for Birrarung (2021-2022), comprises of a series of time-lapse sequences filmed on a digital camera. This film is projected on a large screen, which dominates the gallery space. It is accompanied by a soundtrack, which I could only access online since it was not playing when I visited the gallery. This piece truly transforms our perception of Nairm (Port Phillip Bay) by speeding up the movement of natural elements such as clouds and water as well as the movement of boats (yachts and even the Spirit of Tasmania). The film reveals a poetic choreography that exists beyond human perception. Sometimes, the water looks like abstract noise and the intrusion of the human form intensifies the way the work makes the area strange by unsettling the relationship between landscape and human form. The glitches and self-reflexive sequences which capture de Bruyn in the act of creation, so to speak provide another layer of intrigue to this complex work. In fact, the proliferation of white bodies in the ancient landscape recalls the political themes present in WAP (2012) arguably the most compelling work in the exhibition.

WAP, Dirk de Bruyn

WAP comprises of archival found footage that stands as a damning indictment of Australian racism. It also captures its subjects in the act of crossing thresholds, from one country to another, from one state of dispassion and degradation to another. In short, it articulates the trauma of migration. WAP contains excerpts from Rabbit-Proof Fence (Phillip Noyce, 2002), in which Chief Protector A.O. Neville (Kenneth Branagh) justifies the disgraceful policy of exterminating indigenous Australians by controlling their sexual reproduction. This official policy uses the vocabulary of racial science to justify the ‘merging’ of the Aboriginal population with white Australians. Another section of this work re-edits an archival newsreel clip of the notorious Arthur Calwell begrudgingly welcoming ‘new Australians’ to their new ‘home’. The scene is awkward enough in its unedited form, but de Bruyn astutely zooms in on the hapless migrants whose faces express bewilderment and confusion. This piece also demonstrates the artist’s sly sense of humour. He draws attention to the subtext of Calwell’s “welcome” by reediting the sound to emphasise the ‘alien’ sound in the word ‘Australian’.

Rote movie, Dirk de Bruyn

Perhaps the most poignant piece in the exhibition is Rote movie (1994). This work comprises of another set of animations, which are not dissimilar to the techniques used in 223. This time, though, de Bruyn provides a long rambling monologue which evokes a bleak, Beckettian world view. The artist uses the road and the car as a metaphor for futile movement – at one point he states that he is “running out of juice.” It is clear that he is on the road to nowhere, he feels that while he may be walking, or driving he is certainly not moving since he finds himself caught in the repetitive grind of banal everyday actions. The tone of this lament is sombre and foreboding. The artist, here, is crossing another kind of threshold: the one that marks the line between stability and the dissolution of the self.

This exhibition rewards those who take the time to immerse themselves in what is a collection of extraordinary and thought-provoking art.

Threshold (works by Dirk de Bruyn, Guy Grabowsky & Mat Hughes)
29 October – 18 December


  1. Steven McIntyre, ‘Theoretical Perspectives on Expanded Cinema and the “Cruel” Performance Practice of Dirk de Bruyn’ Senses of Cinema, 46, March 2008.
  2. Peter Gidal, Structural Film Anthology, BFI, 1976.

About The Author

Glenn D’Cruz is a Melbourne-based writer and filmmaker. His latest work, Vanitas, co-directed with Steven McIntyre, premiered at the Revelation Perth International Film Festival in 2022. His latest book, Hauntological Dramaturgy, was published by Routledge in March 2022.

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