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Review: ACMI Daniel Crooks ‘Phantom Ride’

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ACMI EXHIBITION – Daniel Crooks: Phantom Ride.

Showing 16th February – 29th May, admission free

I went along to see Phantom Ride, a moving image artwork by Daniel Crooks, on its first day out at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image. I started watching the first of the two screens in the exhibition, which both show a slow train journey along a track that travels through portals to about a dozen very different locations in a short amount of time. Since I started with the screen that gave me a rear view of the journey, I could see, behind us, all of the rectangular screen-shaped portals we had travelled through, and all of the different locations and worlds we had visited, appearing smaller and smaller as we ventured further away. Of course, when I moved to watch the journey from the front, I was staring ahead of me at the portals we were yet to travel through.

These worlds certainly aren’t static. You can see some of their inhabitants moving about and some of the objects inside being blown around by the wind. You’ll pass from lush green rainforests through to harsh desert landscapes, from urban stations straight to a rural track going over a bridge, and from an underground depot to a track running deep into the wilderness.

Crooks lines up the tracks so that the transitions are seamless. There is something quietly hypnotic and soothing about the regular movement through each portal. He has quite clearly taken inspiration from the very first films ever made, which were of course the Lumière Brothers’ creations from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The work is reminiscent of a time when capturing the simple movement of a train from the perspective of a passenger was enough to captivate cinema audiences.

Something I also couldn’t help thinking of was the train scene in Back to the Future: Part III where Marty McFly travels across a bridge that is half-completed in 1885 to the end that has been completed in 1985. However, spectacular as it is to travel through both time and space at an accelerated rate, I do wish that Crooks had taken the opportunity to play with them both separately, to isolate one and connect with his audience on a simpler, more targeted level. While his manipulation of space is certainly captivating, time in this piece was so fluid and indistinct that I no longer took note of it. Time becomes much less clear the further from the city we are taken. For instance, when the train went from a city to a forest, I had no idea whether it was travelling through the forgotten forest that the city was built over or just a forest existing elsewhere at the same time as the city. The track that runs through all of the locations is a good anchor, but when both time and space are potentially in a state of flux the novelty of it all wears off a little too quickly.

It also would have been interesting to see Crooks play with more than just the direction of travel with the presence of two screens. I noticed one pair of visitors had sat for a long time on the front side, enjoyed taking in the many detailed worlds and the entrancing visual effect of the cascading portals, but then when they came around to the other side one of them just said “oh, it’s the same thing” and they both walked off. I would still recommend watching the journey from both sides, but you should probably do this by switching back and forth a few times during the one ride, rather than sitting through a whole ride on one side and then attempting to sit through the entire thing again on the other side.

Either way, though, you’ll be treated to some nifty special effects, a beautiful variety of landscapes and some time to sit and reflect on how vast, diverse but, in certain ways, connected our world is.

Review written by Christian Tsoutsouvas

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