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Subject: etc

As I have noted elsewhere: “Screen Culture—the nomenclature is out there. A conjugation designed to expand the parameters of moving image organisations and their exhibition practices to incorporate multimedia and the digital arts and to encompass the output of all practitioners ‘working within the screen frame.’” I confess to an unhealthy predilection for creating and dissecting definitions. Seeking out ‘screen’ in a (generally less preferred) lexicon, I read: “a smooth surface, such as a canvas or a curtain, on which moving images etc may be shown.” I become obsessed with the idea that the subject of my current project is this ‘etcetera’. It troubles me, I lose sleep over it. I consider that Funk and Wagnalls may have put the etc in the wrong place. It is my goal to reposition it. So, I’ve packed up my theoretical premise and hit the road. I have named my axiom expandingscreen and I’ve just spent 30 hours on the way to Helsinki cleaving the title.

Subject: Muu, Helsinki; Date: Oct 17, 1998

Happy to discover that my visit coincides with Helsinki’s annual herring festival, I cross the marketplace each morning on my trek from Katajanokka island to Kiasma for the MuuMedia Festival.

Muu (‘other’ or ‘something else’) is staged by AV-arkki, an organisation which provides facilities for Finnish media artists and represents their work. The event began a decade ago with the Kuopio Video Festival in eastern Finland and has developed into one of the largest events of its kind in the Nordic countries. Like many organisations and festivals originally intended to represent video art, MuuMedia and AV-arkki are in the process of expanding their program in order to accommodate web art, CD-ROMs and interactive media installations. The necessity of creating appropriate exhibition environments is accentuated by the location of the festival within several spatial realms: museum space (Kiasma: Museum of Contemporary Art), gallery space (Otso), collective art space (Cable Factory) and continuously contested urban space (Mobile Zones). The special focus of MuuMedia 1998 is ‘global and indigenous’ a framework addressing issues of globalisation, indigenous culture, power and networked information.

The prominent and dynamic architectural design of the newly opened Kiasma provides the festival with its centre. A contemporary art museum, purpose-built in an age where exhibition practice is undergoing considerable transformation, Kiasma attempts to reorder art and information hierarchies by creating a responsive, anticipatory space for the reception of art in all its forms. The emphasis on communication flow and active or dynamic reception is conceptually expressed in the name itself which has its roots in chiasm: the intersection of 2 chromosomes resulting in the blending and possible crossing over at points of contact and also the X-like commissure which unites the optic nerve at the base of the brain. Despite its desire to embody these forward thinking principles, Kiasma in operation is not proving adequately equipped as the site for the screening component and the digital gallery. Dreadful acoustics (which equally impact on the media art in the permanent collection), bad projection design and handling, and an under-informed staff are resulting in loss of audience—the hundreds of visitors drawn to the building each day are not made properly aware of the festival and the committed audience are battling through a haze of interruptions and cancellations.

The Mobile Zones project is proving to be the most successful component of the festival. Curated by Heidi Tikka, the various works explore the possibilities of art as activism, examining the urban landscape and its transformations. Helsinki is busy with preparations for 2000 when it will simultaneously celebrate its 450th anniversary and its reign as European capital. Nick Crowe’s deliberately lo-fi community web project A Ten Point Plan for a Better Helsinki (find link at Kiasma site) required the participation of citizens who contributed proposals for the redesign of a controversial public space near Kiasma, while Adam Page and Eva Hertzsch investigated anxiety zones in urban space with their demonstrations of Securoprods, a transfunctional security gate/revolving door.

Subject: ZKM, Karlsruhe; Date: Nov 8, 1998

Three hours in the gardens surrounding Karlsruhe’s Schlossplatz (the only site to recommend the town aside from ZKM and a temporary beer exhibition) and I am still scrawling notes on Pavel Smetana’s The Room of Desires. Images in a darkened room are generated in response to information received from sensors bound to my wrists and forehead. Something allows me to recognise the constructedness of it, but this just serves to increase my anxiety at seeing my ‘psyche’ projected. Though private, the zone has the potential to become public, and the sense of surveillance is heightened by those white-coat clad attendants who swabbed me and taped me up.

The Room of Desires is one among many interactive installations that comprise the temporary exhibition Surrogate, the first showing in situ of work by artists in residence at ZKM’s Institute for Visual Media. The ZKM (Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie | Centre for Art and Media, www.zkm.de) is the realisation of an 8-year development project whose premises in a transformed munitions factory were opened in 1997. Consisting of 2 exhibition departments (the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Media Museum), 2 production and development annexes (the Institute for Visual Media, the Institute for Music and Acoustics) and an integrated research and information facility (the Mediathek), ZKM adopts an interdisciplinary approach to the presentation, development and research of visual arts, music and electronic media. Ex-Melburnian, artist and director of the Institute for Visual Media, Jeffrey Shaw, tells me that the departmental proximity “creates an environment where the museums reflect an ongoing, inhouse creative identity”, a dynamism enhanced by the potential for “the production zone to be transformed into a public space.”

I find pleasure in the Mediathek, a veritable treasure chest for an archive rat. A centralised database establishes instant access to 1,100 video art titles, 12,000 music titles (with an emphasis on the electroacoustic) and a comprehensive collection of 20th century art and theory literature. Download from what is probably the world’s largest CD-ROM jukebox system (soon to be converted to DVD) and receive at any of the 12 viewing stations (designed by French-Canadian media artist Luc Courchesne) or the 5 historically significant listening booths designed for Documenta 8 in 1987 by Professor Dieter Mankin. After indulging myself on a self-programmed Bill Viola, Tony Oursler, Gary Hill retrospective, I took some literary time out to read Donald Crimp’s On the Museum’s Ruin. In a study of Marcel Broodthaer’s Musee d’Art Modern series of installations/exhibitions which radically investigate the position of the museum, Daniel Buren is cited as claiming, “Analysis of the art system must inevitably be undertaken in terms of the studio as the unique space of production, and the museum as the unique space of reception.” ZKM is an institution formally enacting this kind of analysis.

Subject: AEC, Linz; Date: Nov 17, 1998

Watching snow fall on the not-so-blue Danube from the offices of ARS Electronica Center in Linz (www.aec.at). Spent the train trip from Karlsruhe to Salzburg reading Derek Jarman’s (sort-of) autobiography, Kicking the Pricks (Vintage 1996). Speeding through the Black Forest on his accounts of making-out at the old Biograph watching German soft core featuring semi-clad damens running through said geographical terrain. In 1987 Jarman says: “the Cinema is finished, it’s a dodo, kissed to death by economics—the last rare examples get too much attention. The cinema is to the 20th century what the Diorama was to the 19th. Endangered species are always elevated, put in glass cases. The cinema has graduated to the museum, the archive, the collegiate theatre...”

Jarman argues the case for the cheapness and immediacy of video. What strikes me, is the degree to which the moving image has impacted on the tenets of museology in the decade since Jarman establishes the museum as a static place. Paradoxically, the contemporary art museum is precisely the location of video art and media installations, and (in most cases) instead of the museum subduing media art, the development of new technological forms has necessitated a vast rethinking of the museum as a space of reception.

ARS Electronica Center is conceived and operates as the antithesis of Jarman’s museum. It services local and global industries, artists and educational institutions in addition to presenting and maintaining a museum space designed to anticipate the future of what commentators (and I guess that includes me) like to call “the information age.” Its integrated approach, which actualises the whole concept of convergence, produces an environment where the application of everything from virtual reality through computer animation to video-conferencing is applied in all disciplines in a manner that promotes practical and theoretical discourse between commerce, media art and education. Co-director of this ‘Museum of the Future’, Gerfried Stocker, tells me that the emphasis here is on process and “how to give things a value without a history.”

This radically challenges traditional systems of value and analysis in a manner that is arguably appropriate to the rapidity with which new technologies emerge. I find it difficult to assess a lot of high-end media art, and this has never been more the case than both here and at ZKM where the technology is so impressive in itself that the core elements of a work may indeed be the science of its construction rather than its artistic endeavour. I still favour works which don’t foreground the technological achievements over content. At ARS Electronica, a work like World Skin (winner of the 1998 Golden Nica for Interactive Art in the Prix ARS Electronica) by Maurice Benayoun and Jean-Baptiste Barriere will endure the potential redundancy of the environment within which it is conceived and produced. Enter the CAVE (AEC’s permanent 3-walled virtual reality environment) armed with a stills camera and move through a virtual landscape—a photo-real collage of images from different wars. Start to ‘shoot’, take images with the camera like a ‘tourist of death’ and you (visually) tear the skin off this world. It transforms into a white void, only shadow traces like cardboard cutouts remain. The experience is strangely connected to and distant from the bloody (non-virtual) reality of war.

Subject: etc; Date: Dec 6, 1998

I am allowing myself to be in process. There are not yet conclusions to be drawn. Perhaps the etc would be better positioned after “or a curtain.” Halfway through my research tour and I am suffering from the desire to see the debate which should be surrounding the planning of 2 moving image centres in Australia (Cinemedia at Federation Square, Melbourne, and the Australian Cinematheque at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney) become more urgent and more public. In the meantime, I am expanding my waistline on gluhwien, cheese and root vegetables.


Clare Stewart is Exhibition Co-ordinator, Australian Film Institute. Expandingscreen has been enabled by funds from the Queens Trust For Young Australians, the Australian Film Commission, Cinemedia and the Australian Film Institute.

Of related interest, see “Finnish shortcuts”, Melinda Burgess, RealTime 28, December 1998 - January 1999.

RealTime issue #30 April-May 1999 pg. 21

© Clare Stewart; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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