Peter Callas. Copyright Mauritizio Pratezi.

Peter Callas

Participant category:Artist exhibiting at the Harris Museum & Art Gallery and speaker at the conference

Artwork:Postscript (2004) and Our Potential Allies (1980/1999)


The image series titled Circle of Confusion of which Postscript is a part is a meditation on the Trionfo della Morte (‘The Triumph of Death’), an early 14th century fresco cycle in the Camposanto in Pisa. The Trionfo was one of the earliest of the frescos to be executed on the walls of the Camposanto — Pisa’s monumental cemetery — as part of what became the most ambitious fresco project in medieval Italy. Nearly the entire cycle, involving numerous artists and taking about 150 years to complete, was destroyed in a cataclysmic fire resulting from a stray American bomb during the liberation of Pisa in 1944. Although badly damaged, the Trionfo was one of the only surviving parts of the vast opus.

The Trionfo cycle consists of four parts, the Triumph itself (with Death personified as a fearful flying spirit), the Last Judgement, the Inferno, and the Lives of the Monks. It is attributed to Buonamico Buffalmacco, a figure who until recently was known about only reflexively through some highly amusing anecdotes recounted in Boccaccio’s Decameron, which, perversely — given the shrill propaganda which seems to permeate these frescos — portrayed him as the quintessential prankster.

Ondavideo, Pisa arranged permission for me to shoot in three locations: the Trionfo della Morte frescos in the Camposanto; the 19th century handcoloured engravings of the frescos by Carlo Lasinio on exhibit in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo; and the Trionfo cycle sinopie in the Museo delle Sinopie in Pisa. I also went to a number of other locations to photograph the landscape and related historical imagery. Whilst travelling through Italy we were trapped in extraordinarily thick but highly localised mist (nebbia) on several occasions. This reminded me of how we now look at the remains of the fresco, separated from it not only by its blistered surface with the missing parts floating like obscuring clouds, but also by the great gap existing between that age and our own. Nonetheless, I was struck by how much the landscape en route led me further and further into the Trionfo paintings.

I deliberately sought out contexts in which I might imagine the participants in the Trionfo occupying, including wilderness hermitages such as the Franciscan complex at La Verna, where the background panoramas of Postscript and Liberators were filmed. I was startled at La Verna by a web of crucifixes scratched in with keys, coins, and stones into a long moss wall. They had the same plaintive note as the outstretched arms in the Trionfo’s Last Judgement – which now seemed to reach across the centuries. The very ambiguity of Death itself is the fog that this fresco has, in time, come to be about. Its meaning has shifted from one of ultimate and threatening certainty to one of profound uncertainty.

This project has been assisted by the Commonwealth Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.


Peter Callas is a pioneer of the artistic use of the electronic image in Australia. Over the last three decades he has utilised a wide variety of electronic and digital media to create an ongoing series of cultural ‘portraits’, making challenging work from varied locations, often during sustained periods of residence, in places such as Papua New Guinea, Japan, the United States, Germany, Brazil, Italy, and at Sanskriti Kendra in Delhi, India.

His persistent themes have been to address the issues of transcultural identity and the ‘reanimation’ of history. Many of his video and photographic works are in the permanent collections of numerous museums worldwide, including the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York; Kawasaki Museum, Japan; Kunstmuseum, Bonn, Germany; Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, Spain; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; and the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne. Callas has held retrospective screenings of his video works at MoMA, New York; Kunstverein, Cologne; ICA, London; and the Berlin Film Festival. His 2006 retrospective, Peter Callas – The Invisible Histories of the Present, at Millenáris Park, Budapest, Hungary, was held across two galleries and showed 20 moving image works simultaneously along with a comprehensive collection of his print works.

In 2002-03 Asialink toured Peter Callas: Anti-Terrain, a major solo exhibition of Callas’ video and photomedia print works, to Galeri Petronas, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; the Art Museum of the China Millennium Monument, Beijing, China; the Jeongu International Film Festival, Jeongu, Korea; and the National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai, India. Callas’ video works have won numerous awards including First Prize, Bonn Videonale; Golden Switchblade Award, New York International Video Festival; Honourable Mention, Ars Electronica, Linz, Austria; World Graph Prix, Euro Video Fest, Lisbon; Grand Prix, International Festival of Video Art, Locarno; and Best Computer Art, Videobrasil, São Paulo. He is also a recipient of the New Horizons Award for Innovation in New Media, International Society for the Arts, Sciences and Technology, Berkeley, USA.

Callas’ works have been included in a number of significant group exhibitions worldwide including in/compatible, Transmediale, Berlin, 2012; Parallel Universes, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, 2012; Exchange and Evolution: Worldwide Video Long Beach 1974-1999, Long Beach Museum of Art, Long Beach, 2011; Figuring Landscapes – artists’ moving image from Australia and the UK, Tate Modern, London, 2009-10; Modern Means: Continuity and Change in Art, 1880 to the Present – Highlights from the Museum of Modern Art, New York, Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, 2004; the Clemenger Contemporary Art Award Exhibition, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2003; oZone: Australian digital media art, Pompidou Centre, Paris, 2003; Heterosis – Digital Art from Australia, Centro Cultural Conde Duque, ARCO, Madrid, 2002; Animania: 100 anni di esperimenti nel cinema di animazione, Pesaro, Italy, 1998; Kwangju Biennale, Korea, 1995; Multimediale IV, ZKM, Karlsruhe, Germany, 1995; Video: Two Decades, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1992; Australian Perspecta, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1981, 1989, and 1991; 1st Biennial of the Moving Image, Reina Sophia, Madrid, 1990; 1st Adelaide Biennial, 1990; Traversals: Instructions to the Double, Long Beach Museum of Art, 1990; Video and the Computer, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1989; Continuum `83, Video Gallery Scan, Tokyo, 1983; and the Biennale of Sydney, 1982.

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