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Christy Dena, Magister Ludi, 2014, in collaboration with Marigold Barlett, Trevor Dikes, Cameron Owen Christy Dena, Magister Ludi, 2014, in collaboration with Marigold Barlett, Trevor Dikes, Cameron Owen
JONATHAN PARSONS, ARTISTIC DIRECTOR OF THE HIGHLY SUCCESSFUL ISEA2013, WAS SUBSEQUENTLY APPOINTED TO THE SAME ROLE FOR MELBOURNE-BASED EXPERIMENTA. DARREN TOFTS SPOKE WITH PARSONS ABOUT HIS PROGRAM FOR THE ORGANISATION’S 2014-15 BIENNIAL, RECHARGE.

Experimenta’s last biennial Speak to Me was topical in terms of its theme of intimacy. This year’s Recharge seems much more reflective about Experimenta itself, media art and the notion of a bienniale: what’s your thinking on these issues?

It’s both. The theme emerged in response to researching current and recent work from media artists here and internationally. This investigation process coincided with having just joined the Experimenta team in the newly created role of Artistic Director. It’s perhaps not surprising that the 6th International Biennial reflects some broader thinking about the meaning of the organisation’s name and the role of biennials in general.

What do you mean?

Biennials by their very nature, in repeating presentation formats, are always in part a survey of current practice. As a curator of these types of visual arts ‘festivals’ you have an opportunity to not only document what’s happening in the present but to also act as a catalyst to foment future developments and directions within the artistic community. Through the presentation of the works and their associated public programs you hope to stimulate conversations and networks that act as a ‘recharge,’ inspiring artists to take the next steps in their practice, find new collaborative partners and for audiences to become more curious and adventurous.

This will be my first biennial since I took on the position, so it’s timely to reflect on where Experimenta has been and where it may go, particularly as it approaches its 30th year of operation in 2016. Not only have I been thinking a lot about what it means to be working in one of Australia’s key media arts organisations, but also the name ‘Experimenta’ itself. While the exhibition title refers to some of the great work happening now it also looks forward to consider what role experimentation plays in culture as it can transform the way we look at the world and recharge our views.

Raymond Zada, Acknowledged (2014) video Raymond Zada, Acknowledged (2014) video
courtesy the artist
In thinking about this biennial’s theme, along with my associate curators, Elise Routledge and Lubi Thomas, we wanted to focus attention on artists whose work is inspired by and entangled with the past. Arguably all artists look to the past in creating their work but we were particularly interested in asking the questions: does knowledge change when it is presented in different technological forms and cultural contexts? Through processes of experimentation and by producing unconventional perspectives, can artists illuminate existing knowledge for new generations? The artists in the biennial are alert to both the intimate and the broader cultural contexts through which they move and live. By listening, watching, thinking and making, they recharge knowledge and meaning systems, reinvigorating these systems or radically transforming them.

Experimenta has really broadened the scope of the Biennial in that the exhibition’s touring component has become such a strong part of getting the work to a broader public. Where is it touring after its Melbourne installation?

Experimenta produces the only biennial in Australia that travels nationally. It was very clear as we set up the tour after the exhibition opens in Melbourne that we could have continued touring it well beyond the middle of 2016 from the number of requests we have had to present the exhibition elsewhere. This is a real testament to the work of my predecessors who established this model in 2003 and have toured every biennial since then. Through this Experimenta has been instrumental in developing audiences for media artwork across Australia. We plan to tour Experimenta Recharge throughout 2015 until the middle of 2016 and will visit Mildura, Newcastle, Brisbane, Cairns, Warrnambool, Albury and Morwell.

Tell me about the EMARE initiative. This is really exciting in that it consolidates the profile of the biennial as an event involving international partnerships.

The EMARE initiative is a clear indication of Experimenta’s standing internationally. When the European Media Art Network was looking to follow on from their successful residency exchange program with Mexico in 2011-12, they decided they would like to broaden the exchange to involve two countries outside of Europe, choosing Canada and Australia. Having decided on Australia as one of the participating countries it was Peter Zorn, from the Werkleitz Centre for Media Arts in Halle, Germany, who came to Australia to research potential partners and led the application to the European Union. Experimenta was already on his list before he came because of its profile internationally.

Multi-channel sound installation by Abel Korinsky, Experimenta: Recharge Multi-channel sound installation by Abel Korinsky, Experimenta: Recharge
photo courtesy Korinsky Brothers
The two other Australian partners in this two-year residency exchange program are The Cube at Queensland University of Technology led by Senior Curator of Digital Media Lubi Thomas and Andrew Johnson, Co-Director of the Creativity and Cognition Studios at the University of Technology Sydney. Two of the European artists participating in this exchange program will be featured in the Biennial. Experimenta is hosting Abel Korinsky as part of the three-member artist group Korinsky, who are all brothers, in Melbourne with support from RMIT’s International Artist in Residence Program and the Goethe Institute. He will create a new work for the Biennial entitled Big Bang, an immersive sound installation inspired by the recent announcement by researchers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre that they have documented soundwaves from soon after the birth of the universe. Korinsky’s work asks, ‘What would it sound like to hear all the sounds of the past and present? How would it change our perceptions of time and of death?’

The other artist to feature in the Biennial through the EMARE initiative is Anaisa Franco, a German/Brazilian artist currently in residence at UTS. Three of her interactive sculptures will be presented from her Psychosomatic series, two existing works and a newly created piece. These works will react to the presence of audiences and embody different human emotions. This will be the first time these artists have been presented in Australia and indeed, with the exception of Maitha Demithan from the United Arab Emirates (see cover image), the four other international artists represented in the Biennial will be introduced to Australian audiences for the first time. The culmination of the EMARE initiative will be a group exhibition of all of the participating artists in Halle, Germany in October 2015. This will feature four Australian artists including Matthew Gingold who has previously exhibited with Experimenta.

There are many critical views about the end of media art, or assertions that it should simply be part of the art world generally. What’s your response to this, especially in relation to the work in this year’s Biennial?

I certainly think that it is maturing. Gone are the days when the incorporation of digital media into an artwork automatically made it cutting edge or experimental. With that a certain youthful energy and dynamism has dissipated. This is felt primarily by those who remember the heady days of the 80s and 90s when we saw the invention and proliferation of the personal computer that gave birth to the sector. At the same time, audiences for this work have greatly expanded. I’d say there are larger audiences who on average are having richer experiences. You had to be a pretty dedicated audience member for this work in the early days—so often you would see exhibits not actually working, so by default the work often had to be viewed as conceptual art. As the artists and presenters in this field became more familiar with the technological tools the works have become less about the wow factor of new technology and arguably for audiences the engagement has become richer.

Cake Industries, (Jesse Stevens and Dean Paterson) Simulacrum (detail) 2014-2016, 3D modeled plastic portraits, installation, performance. Cake Industries, (Jesse Stevens and Dean Paterson) Simulacrum (detail) 2014-2016, 3D modeled plastic portraits, installation, performance.
photo courtesy the artists
Having said that technology is still rapidly evolving. There is a new generation of technologies that, as they become more affordable, are being picked up by artists as the early adopters. Such examples in the Biennial include Cake Industries’ Simulacrum, a re-invention of classical portraiture through the use of 3D printing. So it’s not that the ‘new’ has completely disappeared from media arts, it’s simply that now we have a richer and more diverse range of tools and practices. I expect in the next few years we will see more artists using lightweight virtual reality headsets such as Oculus Rift that have been made for immersive gaming.

And perhaps a few spoilers…

In this year’s Biennial you see all of these forces at work. There are exhibits drawing on photography, sculpture and installation, electronic sculpture, sound art, robotics, live art, biotechnology, film and video. There are artists who have come from computer programming while others are from traditional art schools; artists engaged in gaming, who sit on the edges of current definitions of art, such as Christy Dena. Her interactive game Magister Ludi, was especially commissioned for the Biennial. TeamLab’s 100 Years Sea refreshes traditional Japanese screen painting through animation and explores the impact of rising sea levels predicted in 2009 by the World Wildlife Fund for Nature. Commenced in the same year, this animation will run for a period of 100 years. So media art now occupies both the mainstream and the edges of aesthetic practices engaged with technology. I hope the diversity of artists participating in this year’s Biennial is a reflection of the thriving and dynamic culture that is media art.

Featured on our cover this issue is the 24-year old Emirati artist Maitha Demithan. Demithan takes photographs of her family in everyday traditional dress and uses a small flatbed A4 scanner to fragment and recompose the images in order to digitally enhance them, especially the colours, as well as playing with two-dimensionality. She writes "the pose, body language and particular scan quality also include an emotional moment." (sarasist.org). Demithan's scenographies feature in RECHARGE: Experimenta 6th Biennal of Media Art.


Recharge, 6th International Biennial of Media Art, RMIT Gallery, Melbourne, 28 Nov, 2014-21 Feb, 2015; touring to 2016; http://experimenta.org/recharge/

RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 pg. 5

© Darren Tofts; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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