Experimenting extensively with photography, film and video, Tracey Moffatt’s work is a prime example of the way contemporary artists range across media to explore ideas, themes and concepts. In 1983, after graduating with a Diploma of Visual Communication at Queensland College of Art, Moffatt moved to Sydney to work as an independent filmmaker.
Her early film Nice Coloured Girls (1987) is a narrative that tells two stories simultaneously – the images depicting the contemporary story of three Aboriginal women meeting a white man in a bar, getting him drunk and stealing his money, while on the soundtrack, a voiceover reads journal entries written by a white settler recalling Aboriginal women in colonial Sydney. This tension between layers of narrative has been the basis of much of the artist’s subsequent output, Moffatt often foregrounding the construction of a concept as a way to question the validity of stereotypical modes of representation.
During the 1980s Moffatt made frequent visits to New York for travel and group exhibitions, eventually basing herself in the city. She is arguably one of Australia's most acclaimed and well-known artists, with work represented in the Guggenheim and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Tate Gallery in London.
Heaven (1997) was Moffatt’s first foray into video art proper after an extensive career in documentaries, shorts, feature films and music videos. Using a low-end domestic camcorder Heaven consisted of surreptitiously recorded shots of male surfers showering and changing at beach-side car parks. As the piece progresses, Moffatt’s camera moves closer to her subjects, changing what had begun as a piece of voyeurism into an interaction between the unseen director and her subjects.
The majority of Moffatt’s subsequent work in video has been in collaboration with Gary Hillberg and has eschewed further experiments in documentary for a series of hectic montages. The first work in the series Lip (1999) collated clips from dozens of feature films that featured black servants talking back to their bosses, or giving them “lip”, with a soundtrack of soul classics such as Chain of Fools. Artist (2001) and Love (2003) repeated the formula of dense montage and ironic musical accompaniment for, respectively, a look at the way artists had been represented in cinema, and a thematically grouped series of scenes tracing a love affair from first sight to ultimate destruction. Moffatt and Hillberg’s follow up Doomed (2007) is a dense collage of delirious scenes of destruction from films depicting the end of the world, car crashes, explosions and volcanic eruptions.
This suite of video works, collectively known as "Montages", represents a decade-long labor of love in which Moffattt and Hillberg have crafted “hymns to cinema” by mining Hollywood films in order to invent new narratives relevant to Moffattt’s themes. These works were included in an important retrospective of Moffatt’s films and videos at New York's MoMA in 2012, which offered a comprehensive look at her moving-image oeuvre.