The End of the Holiday
Robert Cook

Holiday-like. That’s how David Rosetzky’s work has always struck me. It is like a break from something, a getaway into another world, a world with a complete absence of any kind of urgency. Slow, bouncing along at its own lilting speed, Rosetzky’s work is never forced or rushed; it occupies space and time comfortably. Similarly, it is formally relaxed. There are no aesthetic body blows; his subjects and their surrounds palpate a beautiful languor. Of course, the mellow chill-out vibe is always pitted against a perpetual uneasiness. His characters, whether in their physical attitude or through their monologues are never as composed as they first appear, or as composed as the visual structure of the work otherwise proscribes. Though they are cool and perfectly self-contained, their voices and glances are forever in the process of eating this away. No matter. The thing is, Rosetzky’s works present this in such a mature way as to make us simply aware of the pervasive dis-ease, not compelled to fix it. So instead of feeling like interfering to sort things out we are more than happy to float along, bobbing over a sea of interpersonal melancholia. Our typically somewhat removed responses are very carefully focused to this end by Rosetzky’s diligent orchestration of background music, pastel shades and gloomy-cum-ecstatic stares. Within this complicated web, the holiday motif functions as a sort of subjective framework.

Supporting this notion – albeit, in an entirely personal way – is the fact that I cannot help but see all of Rosetzky’s work through the lens of Eric Rohmer’s films, particularly The Green Ray. Rohmer’s radiant French (slightly extended) new wave halo illuminates Rosetzky’s guys and girls tilling over their lives. In a way, however, Rosetzky’s works are more radical, and more radically still, than Rohmer’s films. While the threads of Rohmer’s characters meandering lives at least suggest a rudimentary story, Rosetzky’s are almost completely aimless. The content, usually about fitting in, physically or socially, and how that affects and shapes the personal sense of self, never actually pushes out to a society broader than that of the immediate group. Their words, thoughts, ruminations become irretrievably abstract therefore. In this, Rosetzky fashions a kind of figurative emotional minimalism. Humans exist as movement, thoughts, semblances, arbitrary anxieties without recourse to a bigger, redeeming (or even just contextualising) narrative arc. What we are offered as a result is a take on social life at its most intensely pure and crystalline. It is something we are not used to holding so intently in our minds and our lives, even though it is the very foundation of them, us.

The ways in which these key ideas emerge from the latent conceptual form of the holiday are foregrounded in the new work in this exhibition: the DVD Nothing like this (2007) is a specific meditation on the holiday experience. It opens with one of the most glimmeringly beautiful shots seen in one of Rosetzky’s works so far. A group of twenty-somethings amble down a gentle hill. We are incredibly close to them, almost breathing down their necks. The palette is rich with greens, yellows and full of ambient, refracted light. It is a citrus-lime explosion that looks like José Gonzáles sounds. Amidst this splendour a girl kinda shows an awareness of the camera as a presence, as an equal subject. Her awareness is alluring, inviting – even as it is just a hint of a knowing smile – and in this we are brought into a Rosetzky film like never before; there has been nothing like this. And though it occurs in just a moment, it propels us to track and trace in an intensely involved way. This opening, emotionally framing series of shots then opens into a blithe water scene. The group of kids lug a useless longboard out to a bay with no surf. They roll and loll, posing like Dick Diver on the Riviera. It is all form and no function. Their activities are purely purposeless, pure play. They exist as pure image, as intently relaxed as they are comfortably contrived; it is as if their awareness of themselves as form has bled them of something.

Against this concretely animated fashion magazine glamour, an audio track features monologues of gruelling holiday despair. One track has a girl complaining of being forced to go on holiday by a newish boyfriend. It is an affront – he booked it without asking her if it was okay. Fits of sulking ensue. Another track has the flipside, the male talking about trying to organise something and knowing he has, frustratingly, failed in every possible way to make the right impression. Both audio-characters display a deft understanding of themselves and the outcomes of their actions. Even so, nothing is fixed, nothing is shifted. No lessons are learnt and no deeper state of relationship is achieved; their subjective smarts mean zip. Here Rosetzky offers a Woody Allen style anti-psychology where all the self-conscious flapping of jaw in the world does not make people better or happier or saner or more connected. As a result, there is no real journey, despite the car moving, the scenery changing. At least not on this level.

There are, however, hints that things are not as frozen as all that. This is subtly apparent in another audio tale where a girl worries about herself. She frets, in a mild, almost clinical way, about her lack of connection to her friends, her difficulty of fitting into their personal categories. Another is of a guy whose girl has wheedled into his friends and then got him dumped by them. Both are about closure. There is a sense of limit as if the holiday, this metaphorical period of protracted adolescence, is coming to an end. We get the impression that the guy will be okay, will find another group, but that the girl is set for troubles, an unfolding of depression perhaps. The formal issue though is that we, as viewers, fill in these gaps. They don’t simply settle matter-of-factly in place, but open up an imaginative set of possibilities. They take us somewhere else beyond the space of the work.

The other DVD in the show, Nothing like this (Autumn) (2007), features a male in bathers, shirtless, floating in a pool of inky water. It is utterly simple: after a few minutes he flicks back into his original place again. His floating is endless, but broken. Despite this, his buoyancy seems intent on making the most of a period about to change and end, a period after the loop is shattered. This is a seasonal thing. The water will grow cooler, unbearable, as Autumn deepens. The boy will get out of the water, get fat, get a job maybe, start worrying about how badly his career is going. Of course, the pool is in the other film too, where it is the site of encounter, in an almost English garden that carries with it a hint of mystery, and concealment and revelation. This lends the body in the water a vulnerability, a heightened awareness of mortality, and by extension, an oblique glimpse at the aging process that will envelope him eventually.

Through the two DVDs (and their associated drawings) we move from the opening immersive sunlight experience to a potentially dark chill. The hints of narrative at play here bring out a form of F. Scott Fitzgerald-type romanticism – the beauty in the tragic demise, the failed dreams, the ambition gone rotten. The holiday has come to an end … even though it keeps on looping, the form refusing to acknowledge its own demise. In this move, Rosetzky eschews the usual tropes of narrative conclusion, the sad-happy picking over of the good times and bad – the big season-finale hoopla shtick. Instead, Rosetzky seems to hone in on the point in the internal order of life’s changes and plays this back and back and back to us. We encounter here, therefore, a ‘period’ when things are paradoxically both as they always were and when they are in the process of changing. It’s a weird space this, a poignant, impossible space. It signals that the world-apart of Rosetzky’s oeuvre is meeting, almost, another world. As it prepares to do so, the holiday, the support, the structure, is folding in on itself; the emotional minimalism is pushing out. Heartbreak and loss are on the way. Soon as the leaves start turning.


Robert Cook is Curator of Contemporary Art and Photography at the Art Gallery of Western Australia.