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The urge to write this article as some kind of hypertext is almost overpowering. Just imagine: I could lay it out in a variety of fonts. I could zig-zag the text across the page. I could get a photo of Ross Gibson, creative director of the major exhibition space in the new Cinemedia complex in Federation Square, and I could colour his face with the reflected light from a monitor, smother it with a thousand lines of Zeros and Ones. We could all look ever so new and exciting.

But that’s not the point. At least Gibson doesn’t think so, and it’s a philosophy he wants to apply to his curatorship of the digital culture focused Platform 1.0 Gallery in Federation Square. While the foundations of the complex are currently being pile driven, eventually the entire basement will be a massive underground space dedicated to new media and operating under the overall definition of the “history of moving image culture.”

It is an approach which hopes to avoid two popular new media gallery cliches. 1) The Staple Gun Technique: in which a ‘new’ collection is attached with duct tape to the fringe of an existing exhibition or gallery space, just to prove that the curator is aware that new media does exist. 2) The New for the sake of New Technique: in which an application is made for funding or space to put together an exhibition of ‘new’ work, and once the project is given the green light the curator feels it necessary (considering his/her ‘new media’ brief) to exhibit only that work which screams out how new and fresh it is.

And while the official opening of the project is not until May 2001, Gibson has already begun negotiations with international artists and is assembling a wish list of local talent. The aim is to create an ongoing environment for art. The building itself is a synthesizer, offering access to shared resources worldwide through the web, and a chance on the floors above Platform 1.0 for seminars, workshops and public search and research facilities. It aims to be the performance of exhibited culture in time, something traditional galleries have never done well. This gallery is aiming to refigure itself in real time and although Gibson shies away from the concept of creating interactivity for its own sake, he wants to “create a situation in which production, interpretation and examination occur simultaneously.”

More interestingly, Gibson wants to give digital culture an historical context, acknowledging that even the newest work does not exist in a vacuum. One of his primary concerns is to create an historical canon for the gallery, a concept which is alien to the more traditional arts for several reasons. Firstly because new media is often not accorded any sense of history—seen instead as a kind of artistic pimple which bursts onto the scene from nowhere, says a whole lot of irrelevant things very loudly before disappearing back into irrelevance—and secondly, because it is an impossible task for virtually any other medium. A gallery of physical culture may be able to acknowledge the history of its medium, but it cannot put it on display. Says Gibson: “The museuming of digital culture is challenging the curators of physical culture who have often seen their task as limiting the public’s access to great works of art, because every time you allow people access to them, the more dangerous it becomes. Not only physically, but intellectually. Repetition devalues the work.”

This is in striking opposition to digital culture, which is often born of repetition, which accepts mass production as one of its strongest points. One of the greatest things about new media Gibson says is its “non-exclusive behaviour.” It is completely feasible to gather a collection of the best digital culture has to offer because the concept of a facsimile or copy does not apply. This is especially important with an art form which already occupies a tenuous position in the eyes of the general public. It is important, Gibson stresses, to “make sure the stuff you show is cogent...people’s opinions are low enough as it is.”

This sense of inclusiveness extends beyond the work itself, to the relationship of the gallery with other groups. Although Cinemedia’s emphasis will be its own presentations, Gibson wants to emphasise its continuing commitment to maintaining and strengthening its associations with other organizations. “If new media teaches anything, it is that communal culture is productive. New media, like pop culture, shares its power with group reference. The more the better.”

In terms of content, Platform 1.0 has no specific brief. The aim is “not to fit work to a label, but to label the work after the fact.” Nevertheless, several themes are already becoming apparent: the representation of the urban environment, of ecological systems, of surveillance and detection exist already in the work produced and will be represented in the final line-up of creators and works. However, although what exactly this work will be and how it will be presented is still a grey area this far out from the launch date, even now two issues seem particularly important: the transience of much digital culture (its location on the edge of a specific time-frame reference point to maintain its relevance) and the removal of much of the work from its native habitat (taking it from the computer screen in somebody’s bedroom and essentially hanging it on a wall). How will the gallery manage to push itself as a permanent collection of the best digital culture has to offer if the whole concept is by definition fluid? And how will the space manage to maintain the integrity of work designed for intimate, close-quarters experience in a room the size of an aircraft hangar?

In an effort to circumvent the first issue, Platform 1.0 aims for a high turn-over of work, a space in a continual state of metamorphosis. Also, the existence of lightning fast electronic delivery systems and the storage capacity of the modern computer means that work can be changed, moved and stored at high speeds. A digital gallery can display and keep work in a far more efficient manner than a traditional gallery. It has the ability to stay much closer to the pulse. Apparent transience is not necessarily a weakness either: it is also its greatest strength, and the notion of disposable or mass produced work does not lessen its value as work which can be re-analysed and re-experienced.

The second issue is more difficult. Digital media, especially on-line works, are designed as highly personal objects to be displayed/experienced on a 15 -17 inch monitor in someone’s bedroom or office. It would be impossible to recreate this environment in a public space, if only because you can’t walk around it naked at 3am with a cup of Milo and believe it or not, this does affect the work. Where other art forms have organised, institutionalised delivery systems, where painters work to be hung and writers to be bound, digital artists can find themselves refigured by delivery systems, by the setup of end-users’ computer systems, by the vastly different types of environment in which their work is eventually viewed.

This is of course not true of all digital media art—an incredibly diverse form —but is an example of just one of the challenges of presenting it. And it is a challenge which Platform 1.0 aims to counteract using the environment itself. In the design phase the space is an underground complex, a dark space, which will be built and re-built to accommodate the needs of each work on a case by case basis. I like to imagine it as resembling the simulated natural habitats at modern zoos as compared to the cement cubicles of yesteryear.

In fact this re-presentation of work in a slightly different context can be seen not only as the gallery’s greatest challenge, but also its greatest asset. It could be argued that what makes Platform 1.0 so exciting is that it will be a dedicated display of digital art not shoe-horned into a space beside other art forms. Galleries, like museums, are laced with value judgements. From their architecture down they are designed to demonstrate the worth of the objects they display. The fact that Platform 1.0 is also a large, government funded project which aims to present as ‘worthwhile’ something the general public might have its doubts about, and to allow a level of interactivity not available in other galleries, provides the space with a rare opportunity.

Where traditional galleries provide end points, a point at which people can look back at ‘great’ art and acknowledge its historical importance, Platform 1.0 could be an opportunity to acknowledge the here and now of digital art, to see it as close to its time of production as possible. A chance to put your feet in the blocks, see art in process, and maybe even start running yourself.

RealTime issue #32 Aug-Sept 1999 pg. 4

© Alex Hutchinson; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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