On the screen before you, a man plunges headlong into clear water, bubbles filling the frame as he starts to kick away into a blurry abyss. You’re drawn in and you inch closer; the video speeds up as if being wound forward too fast. Up and out of the water, the scene cuts to a stroll in the park. A step closer and the park quickly fades away and the man in the ocean returns. Take another step forward and the scene spins out again, this time to somewhere else.

This is Surface: Stranger in a strange land (2013), a new video work by Sydney-based artist John Tonkin, showing as a part of his current exhibition Experiments in Proximity at Breenspace.

Using a combination of HD video and Kinect motion sensors, Tonkin’s works explore ideas of perception and our relationship to the world around us. Grounded in psychoanalysis and the idea of ‘enaction’, where living things essentially enact the world they live in, Tonkin uses technology to provide insight into basic human behaviours. The two video pieces in Experiments in Proximity are reactive to the viewer’s proximity to and distance from the screen, reflecting the theory that as children we develop a certain sense of attachment to others, which is eventually informed by our desire for experience and novelty in distance, versus security and familiarity in closeness.

In Projection (sometimes I forget where I end and you begin) (2013), the sensor only responds to the viewer’s presence once some kind of ‘real world’ interaction has taken place – meaning at least two viewers must be present.

In Tonkin’s work, our movements command the world that is presented to us: everyday scenes change, fade in and out, speed up or slow down in reaction to our own movements and gestures. The artist has cleverly and seamlessly employed technology and interaction to hint at how we can enact or create our own perception of reality.

Experiments in Proximity shows at Breenspace until July 6

Level 3, 17–19 Alberta Street, Sydney