Studio view. Courtesy James Newitt

Studio view. Courtesy James Newitt

Studio view. Courtesy James Newitt

Studio view. Courtesy James Newitt

Studio view. Courtesy James Newitt

Studio view. Courtesy James Newitt

‘The Rehearsal’ 2015. Video still. Commissioned by Carriageworks, Sydney. Courtesy James Newitt

‘The Rehearsal’ 2015. Video still. Commissioned by Carriageworks, Sydney. Courtesy James Newitt

‘The Rehearsal’ 2015. Video still. Commissioned by Carriageworks, Sydney. Courtesy James Newitt

‘To Attempt to Become Other, Secretly or Not’ 2016. Installation view, AR Sólido, Lisbon. Performer: Ana Trincão. Courtesy James Newitt

‘To Attempt to Become Other, Secretly or Not’ 2016. Installation view, AR Sólido, Lisbon. Courtesy James Newitt

‘Fossil’ 2019. Video still. Commissioned by the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney. Courtesy James Newitt

‘Fossil’ 2019. Video still. Commissioned by the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney. Courtesy James Newitt

‘Fossil’ 2019. Video still. Commissioned by the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney. Courtesy James Newitt

‘Fossil’ 2020. Installation view, Carpintarias de São Lázaro, Lisbon. Courtesy James Newitt

‘Fossil’ 2020. Installation view, Carpintarias de São Lázaro, Lisbon. Courtesy James Newitt. Image courtesy Eduardo Sousa Ribeiro and Carpintarias de São Lázaro

‘Fossil’ 2020. Installation view, Carpintarias de São Lázaro, Lisbon. Courtesy James Newitt. Image courtesy Eduardo Sousa Ribeiro and Carpintarias de São Lázaro

‘Fossil’ 2020. Installation view, Carpintarias de São Lázaro, Lisbon. Courtesy James Newitt. Image courtesy Eduardo Sousa Ribeiro and Carpintarias de São Lázaro

‘Delay’ (detail) 2018. Installation view, Contemporary Art Tasmania, Hobart. Courtesy James Newitt. Image courtesy Dark Mofo/Rémi Chauvin

‘Delay’ (detail) 2018. Installation view, Contemporary Art Tasmania, Hobart. Courtesy James Newitt. Image courtesy Dark Mofo/Rémi Chauvin

‘Delay’ (detail) 2019. Installation view, Appleton Square, Lisbon. Courtesy James Newitt. Image courtesy photodocumenta and Appleton Associação Cultural

‘Delay’ (detail) 2019. Installation view, Appleton Square, Lisbon. Courtesy James Newitt. Image courtesy photodocumenta and Appleton Associação Cultural

Outros registos:

Samuel Silva

Rui Castanho

James Newitt

Mariana Gomes

Daniel Fernandes

Diana Carvalho

Giammarco Cugusi

Rita Senra e João Pedro Trindade

Catarina Domingues

Cristina Regadas


Pedro Vaz

Luís Nobre

Joana Taya

Angel Ihosvanny Cisneros

Rodrigo Gomes

Ludgero Almeida

Francisco Sousa Lobo

Letícia Ramos

Valter Vinagre

Andrés Galeano

João Pedro Fonseca

Pedro Proença

Tiago Baptista

António Guimarães Ferreira

João Seguro

Isabel Madureira Andrade

Fernando Marques Penteado

Virgílio Ferreira

Antonio Fiorentino

Alexandre Conefrey

Filipe Cortez

João Fonte Santa

André Sier

Rui Algarvio

Rui Calçada Bastos

Paulo Quintas

Miguel Ângelo Rocha

Miguel Palma

Miguel Bonneville

Ana Tecedeiro

João Pedro Vale e Nuno Alexandre Ferreira

João Serra

André Gomes

Pauliana Valente Pimentel

Christine Henry

Joanna Latka

Fabrizio Matos

Andrea Brandão e Daniel Barroca

Jarosław Fliciński

Pedro Gomes

Pedro Calapez

João Jacinto

Atelier Concorde

Noronha da Costa

Pedro Valdez Cardoso

João Queiroz

Pedro Pousada

Gonçalo Pena

São Trindade

Inez Teixeira

Binelde Hyrcan

António Júlio Duarte

Délio Jasse

Nástio Mosquito

José Pedro Cortes








James Newitt is an Australian artist, based in Lisbon. He graduated from the Tasmanian School of Art with a PhD in fine arts.
He primarily works with video, text, installation, performance art etc. In his artistic practice James explores the relationship between corporal and mental, interaction of cinematic and performative states as well as an expanded documentary approach based on different possibilities of speculative narrations.
Recently he had an exhibition at the Centro Cultural Carpintarias de São Lázaro where he showed his new commissioned film «Fossil» that explores the lapses in memory and the gaps in language of a person who is recovering from trauma. 
James has held solo exhibitions at 
Appleton Associação Cultural (2019), Contemporary Art Tasmania (2019), Artes, Porto (2019), Lumiar Cité (2013), Gallery of Fine Arts, Split, Croatia (2010), Monash University Museum of Art (2008) and Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (2009, 2011). He has participated in exhibitions at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (2019, 2013), Carriageworks (2015), Queensland Art Gallery (2012), Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney (2010), Art Gallery of South Australia (2008) and film festivals in Australia and internationally. He was awarded a Samstag Scholarship (2012) to participate in the Maumaus Independent Study Program in Lisbon and he has undertaken Australia Council for the Arts residencies in Los Angeles (2008) and Liverpool UK (2011).



Interview by Dasha Birukova






DB: I’m very influenced by the concept of «estrangement» as discussed by Russian theorist Viktor Shklovsky, which was introduced in his essay «Art as a Technique» (it became a Manifesto of the Russian formal school of literary criticism). «Estrangement» means a transformation of familiar things into a strange, that is a basic law of art, according to Schklovsky. The actions become habitual when we dive into the unconscious, and the task of art is to extract them from there, to re-present in our consciousness, but as unrecognizable, strange, in which our perception can stay for a long time.
Does this concept of alienation apply to your practice?

JN: In recent works I have thought about the subconscious and the relationship between our subconscious and how memory functions. In a work like “The Rehearsal”, which I filmed in Lisbon in 2014, I was looking at subconscious and psychosomatic behavior. I was very interested in how trauma could produce uncontrolled physical movements or reactions, how some people who have suffered trauma experience disassociation for example. Early in my research for this project I investigated this particular case of a dancing plague that occurred in Strasburg in the XVI century. It’s a very strange and quite well documented phenomena that happened during an ongoing crisis, where people were living in poverty, starving, and that this crisis produced a trauma that was expressed through uncontrolled fits of dancing. It wasn’t a conscious expression, but as a sort of trance-like dance that became contagious, a collective mania that took over the town. I also looked at other forms of disassociation expressed through bodily movements like the tarantella and other trance rituals. In a work like “Fossil”, I tried to think about how a person with impaired cognition and memory might see the world, this was a question that came from a very personal experience. So, while developing “Fossil”, I started to think about how information is stored in the brain, how we access and communicate this information – especially if our neural-pathways are damaged – and how the subconscious might play into this. So, yes, things that are not logical like psychosomatic experiences and the subconscious are subjects that interest me.

DB: I think that the dimension of time is one the most challenging concepts to play with in art. That's why I like the concept of time and duration that Bergson talks about. He realized that science investigates mostly a linear concept of time, as a line, while time is mobile and incomplete. In some cases, time can accelerate or slow down, while for science it will remain the same. Thus, Bergson decided to explore the inner world of man, which is a type of duration, neither unity nor quantitative multiplicity. Duration is inexpressible and can only be displayed indirectly, through images that can never show the full picture. It can only be comprehended through the intuition of the imagination.
How do you play with time and duration in your works?

JN: I think that if you are an artist who works with the moving image, with video and film in particular, that it’s impossible not to address time as a material that can be manipulated or interrogated. I think the more I learn how to edit, the more I learn of possibilities of manipulating time. I remember, when I made a quite early work titled “Altered State”, I filmed a series of performances with individual people in different locations and I brought these people virtually together through a multichannel video to emphasize the relationships of their gestures and words. I had this feeling that I couldn’t cut the performances, I couldn’t manipulate the time that I had experienced while filming, because I felt that I had a responsibility to the original experience, and I felt that somehow, I wasn’t allowed to use that material as a raw material that could be chopped up, reorganized or manipulated. As I continuing making work, I’m trying to develop a more playful relationship with time, and to think about the time-based nature of the material I’m working with as something that has a plasticity, that can be manipulated and changed. With “Fossil”, maybe because it was dealing with issues of neural-plasticity and memory, I knew that didn’t want the work to follow the logic of a linear narrative. So in terms of the narrative structure, I felt like I needed to be playful with how time operated in the work. So I used a lot of repetitions and loops to create a sense of being trapped in a space, inside someone’s head, in a room, inside a sort of looping, stuttering structure that reflected the experience of being in a hospital, trying to recompose the world around you, in order to function independently again.

DB: In your opinion, how might the nature of performativity and a recorded performance for a screen respond to or address each other? How do you intertwine the cinematic and performative approach?
Could you tell more about your idea of «staging» the action?

JN: It’s interesting to think about how a live performance, something done by a fleshy human, might operate differently from a filmed performance that is projected as light onto the surface of a screen. One recent example where I tried to look at this relationship was for an exhibition in Lisbon in 2016 at AR Sólido - an independent space at Xabregas which has now unfortunately closed. The work was titled, “To Attempt to Become Other, Secretly or Not” and I developed it in collaboration with two Portuguese dancers, Vânia Rovisco and Ana Trincão. I began this work by looking into the figure of the Acéphale, a mythical being – a creature that doesn’t have a head. Bataille wrote about the Acéphale, it became a kind of image representing his secret society, because the Acéphale is this human-ish creature that doesn’t act in a rational way, for him it represents a liberation from rational thought. So, I worked closely with Vânia and Ana to think about how the Acéphale might move, how it might relate to its own body, how it might negotiate its environment, how it might feel its way through the world. I filmed Vânia Rovisco in a scenario, in the forest at night, as if this figure, the Acéphale, wasn’t aware it was being filmed and that the video captures this performance in a surreal landscape.

Within the exhibition, I installed a large screen for the video to be projected, so in the space you had the video of the headless figure in the forest, as well as some other objects and text elements, and during the opening I invited Ana Trincão to do a live performance in the gallery. The performance wasn’t something announced, or that an audience was organized to sit and watch, in this way I’m not really interested in staging a performance for a public, where people have to stop what they are doing, get together, watch something, appreciate it and clap once it’s over. I’m more interested in performance as a sort of rupture or intervention in a space or a situation. So with Ana, we rehearsed the performance so that during specific moments in the video, she would pause and begin to interact with the Acéphale, she would sort of mirror its gestures, she would stop whatever she was doing, and for a period of about 2 minutes she would also become headless. This was happening in various places in the gallery, sometimes behind the screen, sometimes between the people. After this 2 minute sequence, Ana would return to her ‘normal’ movements, not really interacting with anyone directly, but kind of disappearing into the crowd again. In this case I thought how the live performance might interrupt the format of the exhibition opening. That the figure that we see on the flat surface of the screen, has leaked out and influenced the behavior of a real, live, fleshy figure in the space of the gallery. I like this process of questioning the relationship between the audience, the screen and the performer. I try to find opportunities to produce behaviors, actions or gestures that don’t align with how we might expect conventional interactions to occur in a particular situation, like an exhibition opening and that these experiences are not framed or announced as performances, that they might occur maybe unnoticed and then disappear again.

DB: Sometimes you use documents as a starting point for your work. Do you relate your practice to documentary filmmaking? What kind of new possibilities do you think a document could bring to the art of moving images? Could you describe your particular strategy in this sense?

JN: Earlier in my practice I was making work which was not necessarily documentary, but engaged in documentary strategies like interview, observational filmmaking, ethnographic research, etc. and I guess my relationship to the subject was somewhat objective, meaning I didn’t ‘direct’ everything that happened in front of the camera. Around this time I wasn’t working with professional actors, I was encountering situations, images or events, recording them and then working with that material. I’m still interested in documentary practices, especially in experimental forms of documentary, expanded documentary or in self-reflective documentary filmmaking, however in recent works I’ve tried to shift towards a more speculative approach, working with actors and creating a structure for them to perform, writing is also an important part of this process. Despite moving towards a more speculative space, I still find my work emerges out of real experiences, be it a real story, real place or real documents. For example, a recent film “I Go Further Under”, is based on a true story of a young woman who disappeared from her life in Melbourne to live alone on a small island off the south coast of Tasmania, a place which could be thought of as being at the end of the world. I collected a lot of material to work with which helped give insights into her personality and her experience on this island. For example I found a collection of letters written to her by middle age men from around the world, it was like fan mail where they projected their fantasies of withdrawing from society and disappearing onto her, I found these documents very interesting. The letters allowed me to open up the work further into speculative territory, because it provided me a foundation to play with her story and to think about the film itself as a form of letter. “Fossil” was also based on a collection of personal documents. The starting point for the film was a novella I wrote in 2017. The Novella expanded on a series of memories and short texts that my mother wrote after losing her memory due to a cerebral aneurysm. These short texts don’t necessarily mean anything out of context, but they allowed me to focus on and extrapolate these memories into a semi-cohesive narrative. So, in a way it’s true that the documents play a role in my work, however and I try to use them as a point of departure.

DB: How do you work on the adaptation of the text? I’m talking not about narration itself, but more about visualization of abstract text or stream of consciousness?

JN: I’m interested in working with text that could operate on multiple and perhaps simultaneous registers, for example, it could be a voice off narration or text in subtitles, or text that performs a more graphic element in a film, or it could be a particular sound or discussion overheard. I’m curious to see how text can play these different roles, how these registers might reinforce a narrative or perhaps destabilize it, how they might be cohesive or exist in a state of conflict.

DB: Regarding your film «Fossil» could you tell me a little more about the book that the film is based on?

JN: I was invited to write a novella as part of a project called “Lost Rocks”, which is a beautiful, long-term, independent publishing project by an Australian collective called, ‘A Published Event’. Justy Phillips and Margaret Woodward who are behind A Published Event have invited 40 artists over 5 years to write short novella’s based on a missing rock. There is a long story behind this, which I won’t go into detail now, but basically they found a educational device a specimen board which named a collection of Tasmanian rocks and minerals, 40 of these specimens were missing, the rocks had just fallen off the board, so they are asking artists to write into the space of the missing minerals. I chose one of the missing ‘fossils’, I wasn’t quite sure why at the time, but I knew it could be an interesting material to write about. I had a sense that I would write a text around witnessing my mother suffering a cerebral aneurysm, losing her memory, and her subsequent attempt to regain this function. I remember Hito Steyerl writing that “ […] a thing is never just an object, but a fossil in which a constellation of forces are petrified. Things are never just inert objects, passive items or lifeless shucks, but consist of tensions, forces, hidden powers, all being constantly exchanged.” I thought this was really interesting in terms of memory, because the “Fossil” reveals a complex form or set of relations through an absence of the thing that it refers to. This seemed like a beautiful way to speculate on memory loss and to think about how the brain accesses information through a complex network of neural pathways. So, I wrote this text in 2017 and it functions like a stream of consciousness based on a collection of memories and short texts written by my mother. The following year I was invited by a curator at the Art Gallery of New South Wales to participate in a survey exhibition in Sydney called “The National”. We talked about different works and different possibilities of developing new work, and I spoke about this novella that I was thinking about transforming into a film. I was imagining how specific interactions, moments, places, gestures, confusion, repetition, a lack of ability to communicate, how all these things, that were important in the novella, might function in a film. So, I took some of these elements and started to transform them into a script. Then back in Lisbon I worked with Stenar Projects and two fantastic performers: Anton Skrzypiciel and Romeu Runa to try and find ways of making a film that wouldn’t just speak about memory loss, but would create a world were one could feel some of the sense of fragility and confusion that a person loosing their memory might feel. During rehearsals and filming I tried to find ways to play with Anton and Romeu, to sometimes trick or confuse them, to try and produce this sense of fragility or disorientation in a way that was not strictly rehearsed.

DB: I was thinking about the corporal relationship between two protagonists in the film, and I immediately thought about the concept of a body without organs. For Deleuze and Guattari, every actual body has a limited set of traits, habits, movements, affects, etc. But every actual body also has a virtual dimension: a vast reservoir of potential traits, connections, affects, movements, etc.
How did you develop this relationship in "Fossil"?

JN: I did a lot of research while writing the novella and preparing the film around memory, neuroplasticity and psychosomatic experiences especially related to trauma and the body. I read a lot of case studies, fascinating experiences where, for example, someone would stop to recognize their own leg, that after a trauma they would feel like their leg didn’t just not belong to them, but that it had never belonged to them. Or minor things, like people who might regularly drop their coffee cup without explanation, that some previous experience or trauma had been internalize, and that this trauma manifests as a physical estrangement with the body. Also, I thought about the experience of dependency, that if someone is going through a process of rehabilitation, that there is a level of dependency that can almost feel violent to enact. That sometimes during rehabilitation there can be quite intense push and pull between two bodies, one pushing the other to perform ‘normally’ again. There was a case of a neurosurgeon whose father suffered a stroke and lost capacity to walk or function normally. The neurosurgeon made his father crawl, like a baby, in an attempt to go write back, to rewire his brain from scratch. In the film we see these two men, they are both inhabiting a claustrophobic world and within this space they perform different physical and cognitive exercises, including memory exercises and gestures of care, just very practical things in a way.

DB: I’m fascinated with how you play with syntax and semantics of the speech in “Fossil”, you reduce the meaning to the sound but keep the layer of immanent sensation, based on semantics. Could you speak to the intention behind this ambiguity?

JN: One of the things that happened with my mother after the brain injury, was that she suffered Aphasia, which is a condition where you still know the words you want to communicate, but you can’t access these words, you can’t get them out of your mouth. It’s very frustrating for the person who has Aphasia because generally they know what they want to say, they can see the word but they can’t access it, so they have to try to find a way to refer to the object, or whatever you want to communicate, without using the actual word for it. So the person might try and use gestures for example, or might find another way of describing a ‘pen’ without saying the word ‘pen’: the hard, plastic thing that you write with. It happens because part of the brain related to language is damaged and the synapse aren’t connecting, so the words just don’t get out – obviously this is a very crude and oversimplified way of describing the condition but I like to also talk about it in a physical sense, that the words get stuck, that they need to be pulled out. So, I tried to think about the structure of language in the film, how it could be affected or disabled. I used these very simple dialogues: “how do you feel today?”, as a form of mundane, day to day conversations one might have with someone who is stuck, in a room, and within their own head. I started to make the dialogue more repetitive and disconnected, to show how language might operate when the synapsis are fractured. Also to think about these sounds as raw material, how language might not serve a narrative purpose but instead exists as raw sound bytes.

DB: Talking about an aesthetic dimension of “Fossil”, why did you choose black and white image, how does this monochrome vision charge your work?

JN: I decided to film in 4:3 ratio, which is an out-dated ratio and, like you say, the film is black and white. Working with DOP Mário Melo Costa, we made this decision, not to romanticize the work, but to create an image that would withhold references to any particular space or time. Carpintarias de São Lázaro, the space where I shot the film, looks almost like or an institution, or an abandoned hospital, or even a prison, it’s a contradictory space, which feels both stripped bare and charged with potential. In terms of color it’s an incredibly neutral space, in sense that it’s completely grey, we were lucky to film there, as it was exactly the atmosphere that I was imagining the scenario to be set in. I also didn’t want the characters have any color, I didn’t want their gestures to be charge with emotion that might be exaggerated by color. I used black and white to create an image of a functional space where two bodies are engaged in an exchange of dependency and care. Also, I used a data-mosh process – the glitches in the video – to help create a distortion of the image. I wanted the film itself to be confused in a way.

DB: “Fossil” could be described as a poetic film, one that comes closer to a sort of trans sensation with a non-linear structure of the narration. How did you work on the montage in this film? And what kind of montage strategy attracts you more? Do you follow the idea of montage as a manipulative tool? Or is it more your guide for the audience?

JN: Talking about editing, I tend to prefer to edit a month or so after I film if possible, in order to have some distance from the raw material and to help get clearer understanding of the structure I want to create. So after filming, when I was back to Australia, I started to edit “Fossil”. I felt that there was a certain fragility, confusion and repetition that was already present in the raw material but during the editing process I tried to bring a non-linearity to the narration, to create a disorientating space. I tried to find a structure for the film to create a world where you could inhabit a similar position to the characters in the film.

DB: How long have you lived in Portugal?

JN: I arrived in Portugal at the end of 2012. I came here with a scholarship to participate in the Maumaus Independent Study Program, it was a year-long program at the time. In 2015 I returned to Australia to continue teaching at a university school of art. For several years I divided my time between Tasmania and Portugal, but for now I’m based permanently in Portugal.

DB: As an artist, how do you see your life in Portugal?

JN: I’m not sure. I chose to live in Lisbon because I love being here and I’m lucky to have made some great friends, some of who also happen to also be artists, I also met my partner here and I’ve experienced incredible generosity and support making work here, sometimes through collaboration.

I’m from Tasmania, which is a small island off the southern end of Australia, an island with a small population and art scene. Living and working in a place like Tasmania can feel quite suffocating. Lisbon also has a relatively small art scene, which for different reasons can feel like a closed world at times. I think one of the ways of surviving here is to maintain ways of being active outside of Portugal, it’s a sort of catch 22 in a way.

DB: What are you working on right now?

JN: At the moment I’m developing a new film supported by a workshop program in Brussels called Sound Image Culture, which will be part of a museum exhibition in Australia in 2023 - a nice long term project to keep me busy. I’m also working on a commission for an experimental sound organization in Western Australia, it’s an invitation to make a short, new work with an Australian vocalist, almost like a blind date but we are doing it through zoom. There will be couple of things in Portugal coming up over the next year or so. My partner and I also had a baby a year ago, so I’m learning how to be a dad.