Last week I went along to RMIT Project Space here in Melbourne and stumbled across this pink work by Jessica McElhinney as part of the It's Not You, It's Me exhibition which show cased five local artists exploring video performance, self representation and role play within their video works. Oscar by McElhinney is an acted out role play of what seems to be a young teenage girl's first experience of death. Here, McElhinney surrounds the young teenage girl with the colour pink to represent her girly characteristics and to frame her age group, a repetitive melancholic soundtrack and what appears to be family pets.
For most of us, our first experience of death is through the loss of a family pet. As you will see from the video excert below, the work guides us through from the beginning of how the young girl comes to terms with that loss. The quality of the sound is not great in the documentation I took, but in general, I found the sound of each work competed with each other so it was very difficult to really experience the full effect of this work's soundtrack. I found the bleeding of sounds coming from outside the gallery and the sounds from the other video works extremely distracting but this was no fault of the artists involved but a bad decision made by the curators.
Oscar begins with the young girl sitting with her cat in front of a television. She acknowledges the cats presence by patting it before she goes ahead and puts a DVD into the player. We watch as she presses play and we begin to see on the television what she sees. The music is repetitive and non descriptive, acting as a generic soundtrack to what is about to unfold.
Using real footage mixed in with simple animation, the video shows a black Labrador dog sniffing it's way through a snowy landscape of pine trees and falling snow. After a short while, the dog seems to acknowledge the girl and the cat on the other side of the screen watching him. The girl then picks up the cat and holds it in her arms as a mother would hold her own baby. The video extends for a while in this exchange between the dog recognizing the girl and the cat and the girl recognizing the dog is watching her too.
We finally see the dog move on, sniffing it's way through the snow to what appears to be it's final destination; it comes across another Labrador, this one belly up. The girl is taken aback by the vision of the golden Labrador and sways the cat in her arms. As a viewer, it is difficult not to be roped into this video and the feelings it is trying to evoke in us. We feel the girls loss. There is a moment when it appears the golden Labrador is alive as it moves a little and looks into the camera But did the dog actually move, or was this a moment of hope that us, the viewer and the young girl imagined?
The video ends giving us no more real hope that the dog may be alive. It does appear to be dead and with it's abrupt ending, we are now left feeling the loss the girl is experiencing.
Oscar is a compelling video, one that is hard to drag yourself away from. It succeeds in bringing us along the girls journey of dealing with death and makes us think about our own first experience of death.