Torrent – catalogue essay


Derived from ancient Greek, the word photography can be translated as ‘drawing with light’. Thinking about this in a contemporary context, Martine Corompt does exactly that—using a lens, she creates representations with light. Unlike the still image—made with light and fixed onto paper with chemicals—this light cannot be harnessed. Continually moving, the projected beams draw on the surfaces of the building, animating windows, spilling down walls and dancing across the floor before disappearing through a hole.

In stark black and white, and with a nod to both the stylised black and white films of yesteryear and the most up to date method of file sharing, Torrent surges through the Centre for Contemporary Photography, engulfing its audience and offering a space to wait and weather the storm. Water drips slowly down the wall, building to a trickle, a flow, and finally a downpour—abundant and unceasing, water is depicted as as a force to be reckoned with. Coupled with the idyllic sounds of the harp, played by Mary Doumany and scored by Philip Brophy, this outpour lulls the listener into a false calm that gradually dissipates as the music increases in intensity and abstraction. It is an experience that shifts between indulgence and discomfort.

Corompt turns the CCP building inside out, exposing viewers to the elements. As they stand in Gallery Three, she drenches

them in the very substance they are often implored to conserve. Outside the building, when one looks from the street to view Torrent—the endless storm on the CCP’s exterior Night Projection Window, Corompt casts the CCP as a ship, and locates her spectator inside the vessel—looking out. The viewer peers through a porthole, out to sea at a storm unrepentantly repeating.

It’s an uneasy sight for a curator—water seeping in through the ceiling and cascading down walls, then spiraling across the floor. However, for most, the sight and sounds of moving water has a calming effect, and is often employed to make people more relaxed and patient with wait times. In an exhibition space, one is expectant—waiting: to absorb, to learn, to feel, to be moved, impressed, challenged, besotted… In CCP’s Gallery Three, Corompt and Brophy subvert ‘the wait’, it becomes an experience, an opportunity, a calm that grows into a provocation. Here ‘the wait’ holds more weight than the climax.

CCP is pleased to have partnered with Melbourne Festival annually over many years to present a diverse and dynamic range of national and international exhibitions. We thank the Melbourne Festival for their continued engagement with CCP. We extend our thanks to Lovell Chen and the City of Yarra for their significant contributions to this exhibition.

We are grateful to other supporters of Torrent: RMIT, Victorian College of the Arts and Contemporary Art Tasmania who have been swept up with the tide, enabling Torrent in a number of ways. Our thanks also to Rowan Cochran of Prodigious Concepts—the lighthouse keeper, as it were, guiding our way through Torrent and many a storm at CCP; and I acknowledge the CCP team: Naomi Cass, Missy Saleeba, Joseph Johnson, Pippa Milne, Michelle Mountain, Pip Brumby and Lily Wang. And most of all for whetting our senses with their audiovisual deluge I thank the artists Martine Corompt and Philip Brophy.

Karra Rees, Managing Curator, Centre for Contemporary Photography




I sometimes imagine the gallery as a type of waiting room.
A waiting room that is constantly being redecorated with new artworks, a clean well-lighted place1 an antechamber to be occupied only until I get to the main event—whatever that is. A therapist might advise me that this is very common, that we all feel like we are waiting for something to happen, waiting for our real life to start. Siegfried Kracauer says those who wait2 are in a state of suspension, of intellectual and spiritual homelessness.

But life is a constant series of moments of waiting: waiting for the doctor, waiting in traffic, or waiting for the tram; waiting to fall asleep, for the rain to stop, or just for the end. If we think of the gallery, specifically this gallery at CCP as a very stylish architecturally designed waiting room, then Torrent becomes the distraction, the kinetic waterfall painting, the tinkling water feature in the corner, or the desktop screen saver at reception. Torrent taps into the cultural allegorical associations of water as both palliative ambience and rousing spectacle. Water running amok, and water gentle and sublime. Engulfing Gallery Three at CCP, Torrent converts the white cube into a giant shower cubical, an otherwise pristine archival space now leaking and dripping from every wall, pooling and swirling on the floor and then draining into a hole, where for a moment once again, there is nothing but the dark quiet waiting room.

There is also another very familiar type of waiting, waiting for the download—the torrent file. On Friday family movie night, it is usually quicker to download a movie that we already own, than look for it on the DVD shelf, providing the title is popular. With a torrent file, popularity and high demand leads to speed efficiency, better flow and less waiting. Obscurity on the other hand equals a data trickle, or nothing—a movie wellspring yet to be tapped.

Water as a spectacle of disaster is a familiar movie motif, where forces of nature gone awry act as a narrative test for the human spirit and capacity for endurance. But we all know that the real meta narrative of the blockbuster disaster movie is not really about the human spirit or even climate change, it is about the challenge of depicting the elements as an animated CGI special effect—a movie length software showcase. However the visual representation of water in Torrent, is a very different kind of animation more akin to the flattened screen space of the title sequence than the deep pictorial space of cinema. The innovative title sequences designed by Saul Bass in the 1950s and 60s, with their stark black and white graphics, channeled earlier avant-garde short filmmakers such as Hans Richter, Walter Rutman and Oskar Fischinger, in which pure form and the dynamics of movement were the focus rather than detailed representation. The black and white animation of Torrent continues this tradition of flatness and deliberate reduction, but harnesses very simple visual stylisations of water borrowed not exclusively from the avant-garde, but more so from early animation shorts of mainstream cinema before processes became overly sophisticated and realistic. In the era of hand-drawn cell animation in the 1930s and 40s, it was a challenge and a quest to accurately represent water, and often a popular theme used to showcase an animation studio’s expertise. During this time Disney was the leader in animated special effects, with studio animators such as Ugo D’Orsi meticulously analysing and reinterpreting visual experiments, reference material and field footage into sequential drawings, trying to strike a balance between realism and the capacities of frame by frame animation. Disney represented animated water in a way that was overly luxurious and detailed, almost baroque compared to the stylised simplicity of other studios. My preference is for the graphic style created in studios where the tighter budgets and timelines generated a more streamlined representation, much easier on the eye and of course easier to draw. To be able to animate water is to control it, like the wizard of The Sorcerers Apprentice,3 conjuring it into the spectacular, thrilling, but always compliant.

It is interesting that so many allegorical expressions of finance are related to water, with expressions such as: money down the drain, bail-out, cash flow, liquidate, liquid asset, fluid economy, and economic downpour, as if money has physical properties that drive its transfer and mobility, always in a state of flux and making it impossible to hold on to. But increasingly the allegorical plays against the real thing, and more than ever water has value. Not so long ago water was considered to be something infinite, like air, emanating from the sky, free for all to use as they pleased. Now water has a price, ($2.62 per kilolitre according to my last bill), not really high enough to deter us from wasting or using it decadently, but an indicator of our consumption and something that plays on our conscience. In Australia, the threat of running out of water, compounded by the desire to have constant access to it in abundance, is an uneasy counterbalance. Torrent invites the spectator to walk into the water, to revel
in it and become immersed in the kinetic excess of the reductive animated substitute, despite it being a minimal imitation of the real thing.

Philip Brophy’s accompanying soundscape of prepared harp recordings, draws on the popular motif of the harp as a conventional metaphor for heaven, utopia or paradise, fortifying the depiction of water as something divine or miraculous, appearing out of nowhere. However, this utopian association is soon dispelled as the water builds up and the harp sounds gradually take on a more malefic presence of excess.

After the gallery has closed for the day, Torrent extends
into the night occupying the CCP Night Projection Window with the work Torrent—the endless storm. This part of the exhibition frames Torrent from the outside, like an inside-out version of the Playschool windows, the round window of Torrent is viewed from the outside looking in—the endless exterior tempest feeding the interior maelstrom. This is a silent storm, and so the familiar motif of the magical harp shimmer heralding the dimensional shift between inside and outside of the Playschool studio, may only be found inside the gallery, exploded and reworked as Mary Doumany’s prepared harp improvisational passages are woven into Philip’s 5.1 surround sound composition. In Philip’s composition the harp has become the central identity,
playing upon the historical iconography of the harp and its associations with swirling water and dimensional shifts, while also allowing it to break out of this archetype to produce rich textural sounds, oscillating between representation and abstraction, combining melodic muzak-like gestures with the more concrete sounds of the experimental avant-garde.

The complete sequence of Torrent is exactly seven minutes in duration starting from the first trickle down the two walls to the final puddle of water that drains away down the hole in the floor. Unlike the cinema window, Torrent was not made to be watched, but instead should be inhabited, allowing the sound and image to wash over the participant so that they are drenched in its spectacle of light and sound.

I hope you enjoy the wait. Martine Corompt 2015


1 Ernest Hemmingway’s well known short story A clean well-lighted place written in 1933, was also the title for Dave Hickey’s Austin-based gallery established in 1967.

2 Kracauer, Siegfried, and Thomas Y. Levin. The Mass Ornament : Weimar Essays. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1995.

3 Disney, Walt. Fantasia. 126 mins. United States: Walt Disney Productions RKO Radio Pictures, 1940.