Money Map: thoughts on M.T. Walker’s ‘Explicate’
Catalogue Essay for M.T. Walker's 'Explicate', 2014

Visiting the beautiful and disorienting metropolis of Mexico City I take the monumental sights of derelict buildings as signs of precaution. Their decay strikes me as indexical of disaster and abjection. In a city in which a wrong turn (even in an upmarket neighbourhood) can easily lead to a ghetto, I become hyper aware of any cue that may signify marginality. However, as the borders between safety and criminality are deeply blurred in Mexico this method rarely goes without its flaws. In my mind, as an interstate visitor, associations between decay and danger become exacerbated by foreignness. In the context of overseas travel, the sight of forgotten structures subjugated to an alien economy and an unfamiliar political history become an intriguing symbol of hazard.

The manner in which the traveller or the tourist relates to these cultural objects must be measured against a wider context – one in which the subject position of the beholder is considered with deliberation. M.T. Walker’s Explicate acknowledges an emotional response (fear, disorientation, and curiosity) to an abandoned building found in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – primarily via a play with sound (industrial soundtrack) and image (quick and dazzling multichannel shots). Presenting this footage in the context of Australia opens an enquiry regarding the manner in which Western countries relate to ‘Other’ nations. Indeed, the work generates a narrative between Australia and Malaysia’s political relations by virtue of its maker’s nationality, site of production and country of exhibition. In the words of Walker, Explicate deals with “Western economic principles being supposedly validated by the ‘rise of Asia’. However, although the West champions this ‘feat’ of capitalism; it also ignores wealth disparities”.[1] The work addresses the way in which Western countries perpetuate the state of lack that haunts formerly colonized territories and problematizes the ‘prosperity’ of economic neoliberalism.

Video is a privileged vehicle for this query as a medium related to the archive, memory, consumption and tourism. Walker emphasizes this link between the moving image and archival material by framing a poetic pile of VHS tapes surrounded by debris. The scene is post-apocalyptic: even though the tapes may contain crucial information regarding the decadent state of the building, M.T. Walker possesses no technology at hand to access their contents. The weaknesses of the VHS tape makes one presume that their messages are degraded and corroded, just like the building in which they lie. There is no objectivity or realism when it comes to video communication – every image is decoded and understood through a cultural prism. The ‘Western gaze’ is a particularly problematic and loaded one, infected with the colonial project that precedes its power. Walker deals with the ‘Western gaze’ by asserting his position as an Australian dealing with global economies and questioning the accumulation of wealth (and the spread of poverty) that characterizes the capitalist system.

Tourism is a maximal expression of excess – it implies agency, wealth and a panoptical gaze (the resources to observe the world). Explicate is not a utopian touristy video but rather a crude reminder of the downfalls of capitalism. The artist splits the footage taken during a trip to Kuala Lumpur into a fast paced 3-channel installation and transforms it into a jarring experience of socio-economic decay. The title of the work, Explicate, points to an interesting strategy of scrutiny, not via discourse but rather through silence. To name, categorize and explain is to dominate, a mode of conquest linked to the ‘Enlightenment’. Walker’s silence is a critical gesture, one that allows the material to speak for itself and circulate the Australian imagination with a multiplicity of meanings. It presents itself as a demand for answers, and not an explanation – effectively avoiding the tendency to articulate foreignness through a Western vocabulary.

I’m packing up my luggage in Guadalajara to return to Melbourne. I will miss my family and the chilli popcorn sold at the cinema.

 

[1] M.T. Walker, Online Correspondence, (May 18, 2014)