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art vs apparatus

christine collins at EAF’s symposium on the future

Christine Collins is an Adelaide based artist who has exhibited in Glasgow, Rotterdam, London and Mexico City's National Centre of Culture.

Freidrich Kirschner, Person2184 Freidrich Kirschner, Person2184
THE ORIGINAL AIM OF THIS SYMPOSIUM EXPLORING ART, CULTURE AND NEW MEDIA WAS TO DEFINE CONCEPTS AND PROCESSES CHARACTERISTIC OF THE BEGINNING OF THE 21ST CENTURY. SOME OF THE TOPICS THAT EMERGED IN RESPONSE TO THIS PREMISE MIGHT HAVE BEEN ANTICIPATED, SUCH AS INTERACTIVITY, WHILE OTHERS MIGHT NOT, SUCH AS FASCISM.

Asked what the decisive theoretical and practical developments of this decade are (if we consider that the discourses we are using in 2007 are quite old, postmodern at best), the broad range of speakers, from disparate specialities and geopolitical/cultural backgrounds nibbled at the question and shared portions of their own specialist knowledge. Definitive new developments, concepts or ideologies however, were elusive. It seemed instead that ‘old’ ideas, modern and postmodern, were being utilised—but in a new way.

Finding a common language, for this assortment of specialists, was at times difficult and reaching a consensus was impossible (there were even occasional intellectual fisticuffs). This doesn’t diminish the relevance of the symposium (or others like it). The significance perhaps resides in the importance of what Andreas Ströhl described as ‘dialogues’—two way communication—in contrast with discourses, which are one way, continually raining down upon us.

Ströhl (Director, Munich International Film Festival) presented the ideas of Vilém Flusser, a philosopher (1920-1991), not well known in the English-speaking world but increasingly influential in Europe. Ströhl discussed Flussers’ ideas of the apparatus (technology producing technical images), the apparatus behind the apparatus (put simply, the systems that determine which of these images appear—from broadcast media to art galleries) and the operators of the apparatus. He suggests a war between art and the apparatus; the apparatus digests art and reproduces it as aesthetic output. Art can struggle with the apparatus by creatively abusing the technology and putting the apparatus to use against its own program. In more simple terms, Ströhl suggests “the apparatus produces pictorial diarrhoea,” or, in a way, “David (art) challenged Goliath but Goliath simply ate him up.”

Debate about the possibility or the failure of the internet to operate as a dialogical medium and the ‘disappearance of interactivity’ in new media art underscored some of the discussion which ensued. There were those who did see the internet as a dialogical medium, with the possibilities and potentiality of interactivity (another David perhaps), while others viewed it as fascistic. Meanwhile Paul Majkut (investigative journalist, professor of literature, USA) pointed out that ‘a Coke machine is interactive’ and argued that interactivity in digital art is an impostor, posing as intersubjectivity and unable to carry empathy.

The obvious limitations of 90s-style interactive art were easily identified: that interactivity required two individuals rather than an interaction between machine and individual. No one could determine the agency of new media or networked technologies in the interaction between two individuals, precisely relocate ‘interactive art’, nor determine why it may have ‘left the building’. However, Eddo Stern’s art practice, which had traversed various approaches to interactivity, provided some kind of practical response.

Stern, an artist and computer game designer, had shifted from producing ‘interactive’/virtual reality works in the 90s to machinima works, which translate ‘interactive’ computer games into linear video works. (Put very simply, machinima is filmmaking in a virtual environment). Stern presented Sheik Attack (1999), a machinima piece, which juxtaposes edited scenes shot in war games with a soundtrack of traditional Israeli songs. He tackles both the debate on the Zionist ‘ideal’ and the relationship between the ‘fantasy of war’ and its real life counterpart. (Stern is Israeli and has done military service). Also picking at the seams between the politics of the game, the screen and the world, was Death Star (2004), an edited series of sequences shot in different games devoted to violence against Osama Bin Laden, screened along with the soundtrack from Mel Gibson’s The Passion of Christ.

Stern’s practice has now returned to interactivity with works such as the Tekken Torture Tournament Performance, where participants receive electric shocks corresponding to the injuries sustained by their onscreen avatars. Having variously interacted with interactivity in both his art practice and gaming passion, Stern perhaps provided the last word on the topic: “not playing massive multiplayer games now is like going through the 60s without taking drugs.”

I suspect Paul Majkut disagreed. He advocated that spoken language is truth and mediated language is not. He saw a delineation between analogue and digital media, arguing that the speed, power and illusion of simultaneity characterising the digital renders it fascistic—that it is a quantitative exchange of information rather than a qualitative exchange of knowledge. Majkut reminded us that the map is not the territory and confessed that he was proud to be a loser (taking sides with some of the other important losers, art and Marxism).

The discussion that followed moved from the word fascism to the ‘aestheticisation of politics.’ Whilst not everyone agreed with all of Majkut’s ideas, notions around the aestheticising of politics seem pertinent as we watch global warming finally reach the tipping point into mainstream political debate, only to be neutralised and aestheticised on programs such as Channel 10s’ one-off overview program, Cool Aid: The National Carbon Test.

If the ideas of Ströhl and Majkut seem reminiscent of those produced in the 20th century, perhaps this relates to the similarities in the contexts of these times—rapidly developing new technologies and horrendous aggression. In her examination of the political motivations for constructing the crowd as dangerous and the role of new portable technologies in the development and psychology of the crowd, Sydney-based media artist and theorist Anna Munster also considered whether we need new concepts for the new millennium or make do with older unfashionable ideas, looking for what is new in the old.

Whilst there were no definitive answers to the symposium topic, Freidrich Kirschner’s art practice provided the best response that could be hoped for. Kirschner, a filmmaker and visual artist, also creates machinima works. In Person2184 and The Journey, he uses the framework of Unreal Tournament 2004 to run beautiful film sequences he has constructed, creatively capitalising on the technology of the game and offering a critique of the game from within. Kirschner is also responsible for creating moviesandbox, a kind of movie-making toolkit, which allows the user to create and animate characters and scenery and also film them, to produce movie type sequences within the Unreal Tournament game. In a sense, Kirschner limits the limitations of the game, so that the character options, movements and rules are more open. For example, he has developed the milkscanner, a device that uses—amazingly—milk, a Tupperware container, Lego and a webcam to scan objects to adapt them as characters to be used in a ‘movie.’ The possibilities for developing a character explode with this clever and quirky device. The incorporation of everyday materials and the availability of instructions make the works freely accessible (see Kirschner’s website, www.zeitbrand.net).

Kirschner described his approach by comparing the board game Risk and playing with Lego. In Risk, a war game where players aim for world domination, the rules are derived from a previous reality, the game is determined by the rules and the space of the game is fixed (the board). With Lego, the rules, if there are any, are formed by your own perception of reality and the space of the game is any environment into which you put it. The former is simulated play, the latter, creative.

Maybe Kirschner could be considered a little ‘David’, struggling against the ‘apparatus’ with his art. If so, he does it in a new way, both critiquing and constructing from within, from a position of knowledge and passion about new technology, rather than from without (taking an oppositional position of deconstruction from outside the medium).

I hope Goliath doesn’t eat him up.


Experimental Art Foundation, The Ideology of the Imaginary in the 21st Century; Mercury Cinema, Adelaide, March 1, 2

Christine Collins is an Adelaide based artist who has exhibited in Glasgow, Rotterdam, London and Mexico City's National Centre of Culture.

RealTime issue #78 April-May 2007 pg. 25

© Christine Collins; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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