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Williams, Justene - 2015.26a

Justene Williams

She Came Over Singing Like a Drainpipe Shaking Spoon Infused Mixers 2011
HD single channel video with sound
18.11 minutes

Justene Williams’ practice takes the form of live performance, video performance and sculptural installation. Her work draws from a broad range of influences: the modernist avant-garde, her father’s Bankstown wrecking yard and the aesthetics of the Australian suburbs.

What could be trashed goods and debris, Williams shapes into bustling, spectacular new worlds. Throughout her video and performance works, the wrecking yard is reconfigured; compulsively putting discarded objects and common materials to use through costuming, set and gesture, Williams shapes a vision of adorned bodies in frenetic action. It is often the artist herself who performs estranged, improvised choreographies that suggest broken production lines that lead nowhere or loop over and over, collapsing in on themselves. This repetition suggests the toil and physical economy of the worker, which Williams describes as speaking ‘to the ethos I grew up with’.[1] Labour and modes of production are recurring concerns in her work, giving critical weight to the seemingly absurdist action.

This performative repetition is made more disorientating through her video-editing techniques. Williams approaches video as though it were painting or photography, using a collage-like treatment during the editing process. She often splices and rearranges the recorded material from her performances across multiple screens, or else employs parallel editing techniques. Temporalities, actions, bodies and sets are multiplied and layered, experienced in short, erratic bursts. As such, the viewer can quickly consume the entirety of Williams’ durational actions.

The title of this work, She Came Over Singing Like a Drainpipe Shaking Spoon Infused Mixers, refers to multiple sources: an opera singer’s description of her own voice, Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven’s ready-made artwork God 1917, and a woman’s vocalisation during orgasm.[2] With this title, Williams reclaims peripheral figures from art history and speaks to the emphatic power imbued in women’s voices and actions. In this single-channel HD video, the artist performs in two montaged scenes in which time and space become unanchored. One scene is hyper-pink, constructed from magazine clippings depicting toothy white women. A bird-like character tips these clippings into churning cement mixers, with liquids and chunky brown goop. The other scene is of coloured geometric patterns featuring a seated figure rocking back and forth, twisting plastic tubing to create distorted sounds. Both scenes play with optics: one references op art and its illusion to movement in the visual plane; the other references the hypnotic repetition and the superficiality of mass media. Dressed in dark masquerade, the body of the female artist is the disruptive force in both scenes. The historical narratives and familiar images we consume become disorienting and compromised, vestiges of other worlds on which Williams gyrates with glee.

Frances Barrett is an artist, curator and PhD candidate at Monash University.


[1] Justene Williams, correspondence with the author, 25 September 2018.

[2] The work was originally commissioned by the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art for the exhibition NEW11.