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Melbourne independent filmmakers

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Nick Ostrovskis


Brain Surge

Persistence of Vision

by Dirk de Bruyn

This article was originally published in the Melbourne Super 8 Group Newsletter, No. 130, November 1997.

Every Friday night at about 10:30 p.m., the Lounge at 243 Swanston Walk, Melbourne, transforms from a café to a nightclub. The transition is like dusk descending. The mood changes as the upstairs space darkens up. The crowd changes, it is no longer so important to talk, more important to look and pose as the sound slowly takes over. Coloured cloth is slowly draped through the space and Nick Ostrovskis is there in the background setting up his four Super 8 projectors. With a light strapped to his head he looks a bit like a miner inspecting a coalface. The projectors are placed on pedestals in corners, near the roof, in much the same kind of places you would expect to find surveillance cameras in a high security prison or at the casino. The Super 8 projectors are small and unobtrusive. It takes awhile to set them up, people have to be moved, the ladder has to be put in the right position, the loops checked, focus just has to be right and at just the right angle, with the right speed and rhythm.

The images start to flicker as the projectors are lined up and focused during this period of transitory atmos. The first two loops of a butterfly and a frog with other scratched shapes are projected onto a maroon wall. The frog is split, projected onto a corner, kind of zoomed in and out like in Ostrovskis' film Brain Surge (16mm, 16 mins, 1992).

The frog and butterfly are slightly radical avatars to animate and weave into the nightclub space. They suggest something, not fully formed, incomplete. Traditionally, the symbol of the butterfly has been used to represent the psyche itself, to suggest an inward flight of the mind. Its two pairs of wings represent four parts of the mind, two highly developed, the other two not. The amphibious mobility and cycle of the frog is like an eternally returning to an embryonic state. Nick's frog resembles an embryo, and because it is placed in a loop, an embryo in an eternal freefall. Taking a Jungian tack, the frog as embryo symbolises the new-born self, suggests a creativity turned inward, the sexual drive so subliminated.

Brain Surge

Inside the eroticised and celebratory cave these animated symbols are ephemeral graffiti, light splashed against the walls of a cloistered public space. The loops are short visual Haikus, mantras, they are like words or phrases continually stuttered out. It is interesting how perception works with the repetition of imagery. With every cycle the imagination seemingly adding something new or changing it. Next week it actually will be something new. Next week it will be abstract patterns. The mood will be slightly different. There is also a series of Roller Blade images planned - stiletto heels and thongs on roller blades and a Karate night and some African based imagery is being developed as well. It has got to the stage of producing images specifically for this site.

Nick has been doing this every week for a year now, taking over the film loop show from Hector Hazard when he went back to England. It had started because the manager, Michael Kelly, had seen a screening of Hector's in a take away coffee lounge on the other side of Swanston Walk and invited him to do something at the Lounge. Now it is part of the furniture, regular as clockwork, real grassroots stuff, a great workshop / crucible to try out ideas, images, check out the reaction and see how things are moulded by the beat (which at times is almost physical).

Of the other two projectors one is set up to screen onto a blue cloth and the other onto a composite red and yellow. These coloured sheets are hung down from the roof, the last projector includes an anamorphic lens that breaks one image into many. These images are also loops of butterflies and frogs, in squares, zooming in and out. These loops run at different speeds, slowly than the other two, at 6 fps. Varying the rhythms in this way allows a syncing, a melding with the music, in fact the music kind of drives the loops' rhythms. Nick says that presently he is using black and white images, some off-cuts from Brain Surge and other films. The contrast of the black and white projects clearly onto the coloured sheets and walls and also over the artwork that is placed around the walls. Initially white sheets were used with more coloured images but that became too predictable. The Super 8 projectors and the film loops are quite resilient. Once they are running, that's it for the night. The 20-second loops run 5 hours non-stop and can last up to 5 sessions if he wants to reuse them that many times. That's quite a few thousand passes through the gate and seems a lot better than the life of 16mm. film. Cement splicers work the best, cause less broken sprockets. Which projectors were the most resilient and kindest to the films also had to be worked out. It turned out that the most appropriate were not the most expensive ones.

The centre of attention is not these loops, of course, but the music and the evolving mass on the dancefloor. There is also one of those rotating mirror globes helping out. The artist's brief is to provide a backdrop. It is like set design. It's a business. Most punters there would not be conscious of his contribution. Nor would they know that he is a unique and accomplished film artist. Fiercely independent, self-made, who has developed some outstanding techniques, bits and pieces which have filtered their way through the show during the year. In 1996 it worked the other way too with the creating of his Super 8 film Lounge Loops (3 mins, with sound by Chris Knowles).


Nick was introduced to film making in 1982 via a course on Super 8 film making run through RMIT Union Arts by Chris Knowles while Chris was Artist in Residence. He promptly went out and bought 10 rolls of Super 8 rolls and shot his first film, Backyard, where he put his camera through its paces with single frames, zooms, pans, etc. Involvement in the early Fringe Network screenings followed and a further introduction to "artist made films" through a program of local experimental work put together by Corinne Cantrill at the Glasshouse Cinema again under the auspices of RMIT Union Arts then run by John Smithies.

Apart from the rephotographing techniques and abstractions quite a bit of time lapse has also been produced when working in jobs that had panoramic views worth recording. That strain dried up in 1989. A change of surroundings will eventually change that. Some of it has shown up at the Lounge; bits of the sun moving across a building, ships moving through port. The output of film work has remained prolific, innovative, searching and experimental. The most recent films include Lens Spasm (16mm, 3 mins, 1995), Rough Geometry (Super 8, 5 mins, 1993), Architectural Symbols (Super 8, 8 mins, 1993), and Stained Glass Landscape (Super 8, silent, 8 mins, 1993).

Nick gets paid for the film presentation at the Lounge (like I said, it's a business). Most options make the artists pay for the dubious honour of having their work included. The Lounge presentation falls and rises on the artists' ingenuity. This activity is not subsidised by any cultural or arts funding grant. It is out there in the market place. He is unperturbed and completely unfazed about a recent funding rejection for a grant to make a film: nobody owes him a living. He will do it anyway. There are five films waiting to be made, 45 minutes worth of material waiting to be sharpened up in this ongoing obsession. Part of this upcoming work is a 16mm film Figure Drawings that reworks and reanimates images created while attending figure drawing classes. Some of these images, again, have found their way onto the walls of the Lounge. Ostrovskis is also philosophical about the emergence of the kind of work he is involved in creating and the seeming corresponding emergence of Digital Media. He finds a lot of the way computer visuals cold and bland, lacking the sensual and illuminating texture of film and feels that these things go in cycles. Therefore it is only a matter of time before filmic visual art is re-emphasised, before interest in it is re-ignited. Certainly the animated visuals at the Lounge could not be done as effectively (both economically and visually) any other way. This is artistic practice of self-sufficiency, making the most of things, taking on opportunities as they arise coupled with an unswerving belief in one's path. What is priceless is the depth of experience and commitment that comes with it.

Dirk de Bruyn, November 1997.

See also Quotes from articles on Nick Ostrovskis.

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Melbourne independent filmmakers is compiled by Bill Mousoulis