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Griffin, Matthew - 2017.10

Matthew Griffin

Common Sense 2009
3-channel colour video with sound
63 minutes
Purchased 2017

Matthew Griffin is an Australian artist best known for his use of humour to interrogate the way humans interact with the world. Working in an aesthetic loosely classified as ‘post-internet’, Griffin regularly uses new digital technology to produce disquieting alternations of familiar images and environments.

Common Sense is a long-format, three-channel video shot in a single take, which depicts a conversation between Griffin and renowned Australian philosopher Peter Singer, who is best known for his work on the ethics surrounding the treatment of animals. The video is completely unedited, showing every moment of the conversation, as well as the technical set up in the moments proceeding. Throughout the video, Griffin poses a number of questions to Singer around the treatment of animals, both hypothetical and real. He begins with a proposal for an artwork in which he would rescue dolphins destined for slaughter in Japan and tattoo them, as a form of trade-off for saving their lives, before continuing with various other examples.

At seventy-two minutes, the video is a test of endurance. This is compounded by the palpable discomfort in the interaction between Griffin and Singer. At times, Griffin appears to push or trivialise the philosopher’s expertise: is it unethical to dress a dog in clothing for the entertainment of humans? What if it isn’t a dog but a miniature pony dressed to match the outfit of its owner? At other points, a certain intellectual disparity causes Griffin to overcompensate, with rambling monologues, humour and self-deprecation.

The three channels offer different perspectives of the single scene: one channel each fixes on Griffin and Singer, while the central channel focuses on the duo, zooming in and out and panning from one to the other regularly. Occasionally, the arm or hand of one of the men will enter the frame of the other, reminding the viewer that each channel is simply a different perspective of the scene playing out in the centre video. The separate close ups of Griffin and Singer allow the viewer to study the expressions and body language of each, which betray slippages between the performed self and the actual self.

Griffin has stated that the intent of Common Sense is to create a double portrait, ‘of myself trying to elevate my intellect and understand ethics, and not succeeding, and perhaps a portrait of a philosopher attempting to lower their gaze and misunderstanding art’.[1] The general nature of these portraits is not straightforward, however. Griffin is himself while also acting in the role of interviewer. Meanwhile, Singer is expected to embody his professional persona but glimpses of boredom or impatience remind us of his personal perspective, outside this role. Ultimately, Griffin debunks the classic doctrine of the documentary as bearer of truth, offering instead an unedited, longwinded interaction between two people who uncomfortably enact prescribed roles.

Amelia Winata is a writer and curator, and a PhD candidate in art history at the University of Melbourne.

[1] Matthew Griffin, email to the author, 27 September 2018.