Running the City, Curator Felicity Fenner
CoFA, UNSW, 7 June-20 July
An agoraphobic rendition of a gymnasium treadmill, Run Motherfucker Run, confronts you on arrival at the centrepiece of Running for Sydney at the College of Fine Arts. At least three times as wide as the conventional machine and four times as long (5m x 2m), equipped with sidebars you are forbidden to touch, a low mattress at the rear (in case you’re swept off your feet) and a giant screen (8m x 4m) in front of you displaying urban scenes filmed from moving vehicles, this interactive installation not only offers a sense of virtual exploration but a test of physical capacity and especially balance.
The latter comes into play when you have to choose between two sets of flickering images, right and left, to determine which kind of ‘scape you’d like to enter. To do so you have to step in the direction of choice while the treadmill pulls you back if you drop pace. Once you’ve regained equilibrium (some users don’t) the screen fills with near life-size streets, alleys, docks and a brilliant red running track among other cityscapes.
I walk hesitantly and then jog a little, following tram tracks on a wide neon-lit street. But the treadmill seems to have a hyperactive tendency: my small increase in pace triggers much greater speed, because I’ve moved closer to the screen’s sensor. On instruction from the sidelines I drop back and the machine slows and, giddy, I stagger off and the screen image dims and disappears because I’m no longer powering it. It’s not called Run Motherfucker Run for nothing. The artist, Marnix de Nijs, suggests that the work can evoke a sense of being pursued.
A visit to his website reveals that “the distance you run on the conveyor belt is the same as you will cover in the virtual city in front of you. By quickening your pace, the acceleration of the belt, as well as the speed of the image, increases and, depending on your running behaviour and the directional choices you make, the progress of the film is determined” (http://www.marnixdenijs.nl/run-motherfucker-run.htm).
Media artist Keith Armstrong arrives, leaps onto the treadmill and shows us how it’s done with an energetic workout—he’d enjoyed Run Motherfucker Run years ago in Rotterdam and knew how it operated. It can ‘run’ at up to 30km per hour. Next, three ten-year-old boys easily engage with this outsize substitute for the real-street experience. Gymnasium proprietors might well take note but hip-hoppers in search of a bit of Snoop Dogg gangsta angst (the work has the same title as the song) could find it a tad tame, even though the musical score is full of ominous beats and rumbles—just why is not clear. As in some other works in Running the City there’s an element of risk and romance attached to racing through the unoccupied realms of the city at night, as well as a topical fascination with fitness and speed.