In computability theory, a busy beaver is a Turing machine that attains the maximum ‘operational busyness’ (such as measured by the number of steps performed, or the number of nonblank symbols finally on the tape) among all the Turing machines in a certain class. (Wikipedia)
With a beaver-like ethic, Justene Williams’s seven small monitors in the group show FX at CCP generate a machine-like image and sound of whirling activity. There is a lot of action, as the not-quite-stuck-down papier-mâché sets, figures, costumes and world heave with Germanesque robustness. The dancing figures look and move like Vikings, their strength generated from the hips with a slow metronomic measure. The tone never sets because every time you think you have it figured out, you realise it’s not quite right. It doesn’t quite work.
The monitors are packed with detail, as the videos construct the illusion of a work ethic, but don’t compute towards efficiency. You feel art—Monet, Seurat, Berlin—but the rhythm takes you somewhere else. If you stay long enough, you might stay forever, waiting and hoping it’ll get somewhere, that the cake will be baked and come out of the oven. It never does. Williams’s work hits off lo fi not as an apathetic romantic hipster naval gaze, but as a kind of despair, like when you beaver away in the studio with anything and everything that is around you and then realise in fright that what you have created is something like a black hole.
Williams seems at one level to invert the Protestant work ethic. But if the Protestant work ethic emphasizes hard work, frugality and prosperity as a display of a person’s salvation, when Williams’s works go a little bonkers, it feels like a Mercedes spinning out of control. How could this happen? Failed Fordism through troubling German (in)efficiency? It wasn’t supposed to be this way. And, in true Williams style, just as you register a bad feeling that it won’t work out, a figure will dance, have a light foot and you’ll laugh. Busy, busy, busy.
FX (Steve Carr, Greatest Hits, Lou Hubbard, Taree Mackenzie and Justene Williams), Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne, 3 April – 19 May 2013.