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Strange interlude: a stitch in time

Grisha Dolgopolov enjoys being propelled towards new horizons at PICA’s Future Suture

Grisha Dolgopolov teaches Television and Popular Culture at Murdoch University. His current research is on Russian junk TV -especially game shows.

Retarded Eye Team (Vikki Wilson and Cam Merton), Radium City: Harvesting the Afterlife Retarded Eye Team (Vikki Wilson and Cam Merton), Radium City: Harvesting the Afterlife
"The only living life is in the past and the future…the present is an interlude…[a] strange interlude in which we call on past and future to bear witness we are living."
Eugene O’Neill, Strange Interlude, 1928

In the 1970s, “Suture” was a popular term for procedures by means of which cinematic texts would confer subjectivity upon their viewers. Not only a medical process, it was also a way for thinking through constant audience reactivation through sequences of interlocking shots. Although no one doubts the capacity of new media art to activate an audience, that activation has all too frequently been one-dimensional: either cool data processing or hot-palmed mouse clicking. The Future Suture exhibition at PICA (Perth Institute for Contemporary Arts) for the Festival of Perth was surprisingly different. This engaging, difficult and exciting web art installation by 4 Perth artist collectives took an unexpected turn into humour. Clearly that is their bandage for the haemorrhaging hubris of our strange interlude.

Future Suture is no eye candy, but hard chew multi-grain mind cookies. Audiences had to work hard and fast to make sense of and gain enjoyment from the work that was interlocking the old into the new. With imaginative stitching all 4 installations explored ways of sewing previous subjectivities to the gash opened by the technological transformations of future horizons.

Horizons (http://www.imago. com.au/horizons - expired) was minimalist in terms of room decoration, but big on intertextuality and cultural resonances. Malcolm Riddoch, one of the artists, explained that “the site’s basically a self-reflexive boys’n’their toys kind of thing, linking militarism with a specular approach to knowing and perception through a games interface, but fully web functional.” The project works on a number of levels and has some fascinating things to say about time, indiscriminate targets and horizon theory. On one level this is a simulated geo-scopic rocket launching game resplendent with nasty voiced instructions for nose-coned views of hyper-intertextual destructive scopophilia—part Operation Desert Storm with hay-wire meteorology, and part firecracker home video—with a fair whack of Heideggerian theory as payload. Yet this rocket game also resonates with the naturalised absurdity of scud missile video playback and so-called radar targets that are in fact schools. Participants select a site on mainland Australia and launch a rocket at it gaining a view of the world from the rocket’s nose cone at 500m. The indeterminacy of the target acquisition is sublime. The program blurb proclaims, “Horizons is a non-profit public service funded by the Federal Government of Australia and freely available to all Internet citizens world-wide.” This is satanically perceptive. The Federal Government does in a sense facilitate the technology for launching attacks on Australia from anywhere in the world. But of course we can now stand proud that the attacks are self-inflicted and that our technology still calls Australia home.

In contrast, Radium City (www.imago.com.au/radium_city - expired) by the Retarded Eye collective achieved a funky juxtaposition between installation and screen. The setting was welcoming techno-boudoir baroque. In one corner sat a little Mac storyteller, the rest was dominated by an enormous Italianate bed with mirror and 2 TV monitors showing male and female soap stars getting deep, while below them the electronic bedspread pool was swelling with aerial urban images stitched through with endless binaries. The project sought to position the viewer as a sleepwalking flaneur via science fiction scenarios of the virtual future city that continually re-wrote themselves via a digital process of automatic writing. Here new technologies were mixing it with old techniques on a constantly refurbished palimpsest. The ideas were a heady mix. The pull of binaries was a buzz. The bed and the multi-plot storybook became 2 magnets. The interlude between was strange, but the text kept rewriting itself, mutating over time.

Of all the installations, Project Otto (http://www.imago.com.au/otto - expired]) was the most dependent on physical presence and manipulation of the environment. This huge and hungry hardware project was a dynamic bandaging of an unusual combination of old and new technologies. The networking interactions spiralled through radio, image, sounds, web and the tactile stimuli of a metal trolley on a rough-hewn floor. The stunning images of bodily close-ups sprawled across the wall like a Persian rug were activated by a mobile antenna trolley that picked up different radio frequency emissions from seven overhead disks that in turn generated sequences of deeply textured soundscapes. The images could be further engaged via a Dr Who-like console box. This was a good sweaty interactive space. It was damn sexy the way the installation totally activated a tactile, aural and intimate subjectivity that stimulated the imagination. The mix of radio and web, the old and the new, people in the gallery space and the site on the web, was tangible. As is the enormous potential of this project.

Tetragenia is aptly described as a “trojan web site that accumulates consumer profiles under the guise of ‘caring’. Participants are harassed in a prolonged, strategic email campaign.” Our hell is excess data, corporate-speak, dietary ethics, common sense advice for life, electronic surveillance and technological abuse. Tetragenia turns this into an art—ridiculing the new human face of corporations, the wealth of waste and electronic intrusions. At the same time, it offers eminently reasonable nutritional and ethical suggestions that loop in on themselves showing something a little less benign. It’s a call to the consumers of the world to unite to promote ethical trade practice; and it cuts a fine line between a new seriousness and a classic piss-take. This absurdist installation tests the limits of the traditional ethics of privacy and marketing with harassing emails and data-frenzy. It is exciting to finally come across web art that not only engages with the contemporary info-excess but also does so with great comic timing. However, the timing of constant server breakdowns was deeply aggravating but, as Marshall McLuhan once said, “If it works, it’s obsolete.”

When it comes to imaging future horizons, as Malcolm Riddoch ruminated, the “horizon is the rocket eye view of the world. The spatial limits of the horizon is carried with us so that the horizon can never be reached.” This can be seen as a cautionary metaphor for rocketing into future shock. But if we consider that by looking back, the past becomes another horizon—does this mean that we can never remember the point at which we were, or at which the horizons looked broad and welcoming? Or that history’s horizons are carried with us but cannot be seen from the present and can never be reached in the future? This made me wonder, what’s the big deal of getting to the horizon? Then again no one is happy to stick around in the strange interlude of the present. The problem is that if the future is not sutured to past horizons, sun-blindness is inevitable. Future Suture’s solution is to bandage these wounds with some serious humour.


Future Suture, curator Derek Kreckler, joint initiative between FTI (The Film and Television Institute) & IMAGO Multimedia Centre Arts Program, Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, February 11 - March 7; links to 4 projects at http//www.imago.com.au/future_suture [expired]

Grisha Dolgopolov teaches Television and Popular Culture at Murdoch University. His current research is on Russian junk TV -especially game shows.

RealTime issue #30 April-May 1999 pg. 24

© Grisha Dolgopolov; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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