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AIVF '91 - Peter Callas - Our Potential Allies (1980 & 1991)

Peter Callas
8 November 199130 November 1991

The Australian International Video Festival, 1991 - Video Installation

Peter Callas - Our Potential Allies (1980 & 1991)

Our Potential Allies was originally made in 1980 "in the umbra of post McLuhanesque suspicion about the increasingly 'subtopian' aspects of the 'Global Village'.” This version is a three channel video installation, presented as a reconstructed version of the original piece. I originally made this tape after I had completed three years apprenticeship as an assistant film editor in television. Most of the programmes I worked on were news-related. The very first job I had as editor was to cut up footage from the Vietnam War and set it to music as a “closer" to a current affairs programme.

Our Potential Allies examines the "truth" and explores the very processes of editing and ultimately concealment which are used in the service of spectacular "revelation" on television. The more I learned about the techniques and processes of television journalism the more I found that the "truth" could be manipulated or fine tuned through the very processes which editors took most pride in. The aim of the edit, in news as in feature films, was to be seamless, so that the spectator would think of her/himself as an invisible observer. In achieving this “naturalism" the "cut-away" (to, for example, the journalist who is usually filmed at another time after the interview) was stock in trade. At the same time the cut-away device allowed the sequence of statements made by an interviewee to be re-arranged by cutting up and re-ordering the sound track, concealing the breaks in the image this would cause with a "noddy", "two-shot" or by inserting footage related to what was being said. This style of editing has more or less been superseded today, where the so-called "jump-cut”, which was anathema to every editor then, has become an accepted and indeed credible editing technique.

I intended Our Potential Allies as a metalogue to this process of duplicitous concealment in the service of spectacular "revelation" on television. The layers of political and topical imagery suggested the mechanics of a sophisticated language structure akin to processes like metaphor and simile, but ultimately they mimic the random associations provided by television itself in the switching of channels or the butting of programme to programme, segment to segment, segment to ad.

The voice track came from a text I found in the back of a book in a second hand bookshop in Mount Hagen in the New Guinea Highlands. It is a series of instructions issued by the headquarters of General Douglas MacArthur to American soldiers fighting in Papua New Guinea in the Second World War. It is aimed at getting the "best service" out of the natives by understanding their "inferior" psychology. In Our Potential Allies the artist poses as "native" in the extended electronic village.

This version of Our Potential Allies has been reconstructed from the original camera footage specifically for a new installation as part of ReFiguring the Media Image. Total running time15:00 mins. Awarded the Most Socially Relevant Video Art prize at the Portopia '81 International Festival of Video Art, Kobe, Japan, 1981.

Peter Callas, Sydney, September 1991


Peter Callas is one of Australia's most respected video artists having worked in electronic media for over 17 years. His extensive travels have included several years in Japan.

Callas' work demonstrates a strong interest in popular culture, especially Japanese urban popular culture. Much of his imagery is drawn from Japanese comics or manga. For Callas, the use of and attitude towards technology in 'post-culture' Japan, a culture which freely appropriates, is an ongoing concern: "Video brings the world to Japan, and makes it part of the architecture... a Tokyo without television is unimaginable. " says Callas.

His work has been screened in a number of important curated exhibitions including Taormina Arte, Italy, 1991; the 1st Biennial of the Moving Image, Reina Sofia, Madrid, 1990; and Video and the Computer, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1989.

Retrospective screenings include: the Kunsverein, Cologne, 1991; the ICA, London, 1990; the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1989; the Berlin Film Festival, 1988.

Recent awards include: Grand Prix, International Festival of Video Art, Locarno, Switzerland, 1990; Best Computer Art, Festival Fotoptica Brasil, Sao Paulo, Brazil, 1990; and The New Horizons Award for Innovations in New Media, International Society for the Arts, Sciences and Technology, Berkeley, USA, 1989.