Australian Video Art Archive

Catherine E Bell


Exit Stage Left

00:01:23 (Single channel dual image video/audio projection) 2009

“Is nothing sacred? Family life should be private! This is only a family joke.”  This was my mother’s response when I told her I was using footage of my father in an artwork.  I tried to explain that it is because it is so sacred that I want to share it with people.  In this work I’m interested in that moment when the private family joke becomes the public joke; the professional artist becomes entertainer and the artwork becomes entertainment.  I ask the questions: If it is entertaining is it still art?  Is it ethical for artists to use family members in their work without permission?

I grew up on bawdy English comedies like Dave Allen, Dick Emery, Benny Hill, Fawlty Towers, The Two Ronnies, and Are You Being Served.  These were shows the whole family would watch together and imitate the skits after the show to perpetuate the hilarity.  My father had a vast comedic repertoire but one of his favourite ways to make the family laugh was to wear my great grandfather’s itchy, knitted-wool bathers.  Accentuating his puny physique, he would pose in them like a circus muscle man and remind the family of the geriatric bald guy on Benny Hill.  He would often appear dressed in these togs to dispel moments of family tension and his performance would always generate hysterical laughter.  The work is a tender portrait of my father and the burlesque hysteria of family life.  I am also conscious of critiquing Funniest Home Videos formula of canned laughter, themed music, sound affects and voiceover to bolster the footage that often shows violent, publically humiliating and perilous scenarios.  In this nostalgic work the subject is not lampooned, the laughter and verbal commentary are authentic and the looped footage enables it to transcend the punch line and become the eternal encore. 
- Catherine Bell

DVD available