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Uncle Bill

Debra Petrovitch

Set against the industrial backdrop of a post-World War II Australian steel manufacturing town, Australian multimedia artist Debra Petrovitchís semi-autobiographical work Uncle Bill is a dark and disturbing narrative that explores a young girls memories of growing up in a harsh and at times violent environment. A cross-platform interactive CD-ROM, Uncle Bill takes the viewer on a journey that investigates memory, catharsis and child abuse through the interface of interactive, non-linear technology.

It is through this juxtaposition of industrial debris with the human detritus of domestic violence that Petrovitch undertakes an exploration of the mechanisms and processes that drive the ways in which we remember. For Petrovitch, memories are inherently disjointed and fragmentary. Memory is neither linear nor sequential. Combining video, 16mm archival film footage and sound using digital technology, Petrovitch has created a disturbing psychosexual space, a virtual theatre, in which memory is experienced through cut-up visual and sonic residues. The screen interface is used to distort and fragment recollections of the past, creating a synthesis of memory that is both bizarre and hyperreal.

Uncle Bill attests to the importance of remembering as a means to confront the demons of the past. By bringing into focus images and feelings that so often remain submerged in individual histories and memories, Uncle Bill is a healing release for both the artist and the viewer. Raw and unrelenting, Uncle Bill is a cathartic and unsettling work that investigates the ways in which interactive technology can be used to explore complex, emotional and highly charged subject material.

"The responses I seek/expect from the audience, vary according to the individual. Some will feel disgust as they search for meaning, accuse me of being immoral, and in the process reflect where they themselves are coming from. So confronted are they by just glimpses of these subliminal images, that their reactions will be reflexive rather than rational.

I would expect the audience to be inquisitive and feel part of a fractured drama as they navigate through, negotiating some of the issues that relate to them, which they can either deal with or move onto another environment but the prevailing mood will not leave them. I also see the audience as spectators as I like to play with the idea that I have created a spectacle which they must experience or confront, one that is raw and unrelenting and which takes them to the edge as they witness my catharsis of image and sound." (Debra Petrovitch 2001)

Set within the stark interior of a fibro house, Uncle Bill takes the viewer into an immersive environment that evokes a menacing and brooding atmosphere. Navigating the rooms and corridors of this fibro home, the viewer becomes part of a fractured drama of domestic violence and insidious cruelty. As the viewer drags the mouse across the screen, randomly clicking on links, fragmented and disjointed images flicker into vision.

The viewer enters this landscape of memories through a macroscopic aerial view of Petrovitch's childhood neighbourhood in Wollongong. The screen zooms into the microcosm of the family home. A montage of images, words and sonic resonances evoke the terror of abuse. A child plays innocently with a bucket of water. A Hills Hoist stands upright beside an aluminium shed. The abrasive bark of a dog punctures the silence. Two drunk men bend menacingly towards each other over a rifle. A mound of industrial waste rises to meet the horizon. Workmen descend the exterior staircase of a factory, anger and disappointment struck across their faces. Bored teenagers and bikies hang outside the milk bar. Car crash victims lie by the roadside surrounded by the wreckage of their vehicles. Uncle Jack snaps his shaving strap threateningly. Pulsating images of violence and domestic life envelop the viewer in a sense of entrapment and foreboding.

Fragmented sentences, drawn from a series of raw performance texts that were originally performed at Artspace in Sydney, roll down the screen set a family portrait of dysfunction, violence and abuse. "I had most of life's intense experiences by the age of the other forms of mysterious aggressive acts. A harsh cacophony, an oppressive drone, a voice repeating "shut up, shut up", builds this ambiance of threat and unease. Escape is both urgent and futile. 

opening Uncle Bill Interactive CDROM - Documentation Artspace Installation, – via Vimeo