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ANAT, FOLDBACK ANAT, FOLDBACK
As one of few events in this year’s Telstra Adelaide Festival tackling the nexus between technology and art, the Australian Network for Art and Technology’s FOLDBACK project is bound to cause quite a commotion. Intended as both a celebration of ANAT’s tenth anniversary and as an opportunity to interrogate some of the central issues in new media art, FOLDBACK is a transmedia event focussing on media, techno-sound and screen culture. Featuring real-time performances by flesh and data bodies, the event will utilise virtual media to bring together a range of participants from some of ANAT’s most successful projects who continue to pioneer developments in cross-disciplinary art.

As coordinator of FOLDBACK, Director of ANAT, Amanda McDonald Crowley explains, “One of the things that strikes me is that media art is often referred to within a visual arts context only. It is important to remember that most artists working in this area really do work in very cross-disciplinary ways. The artists included in this event are all exploring and critiquing new modes of communication. They are pulling apart and reinventing the ways we are being told we can use communications technologies and exploring collaborative modes of art production in exciting new ways”.

Taking place on March 8, FOLDBACK will form a bridge between the themes explored at Writers’ Week and Artists’ Week. Drawing connections between the often divergent cultures of art and writing, FOLDBACK will include renowned cyberwriter, the USA’s eponymous Mark Amerika, elaborating on the frictions between hard and soft publishing, the mechanics of hypertext and the correlations between electronic art and writing.

VS You are the primary catalyst behind one of the first online publishing projects, AltX (http://www.altx.com), a venture which uses hypertext as a mode of constructing literary narrative. Tell us a little bit about what hypertext publishing is and how AltX uses this tool.

MA The first thing I would say about hypertext publishing is that it moves away from the Gutenberg-inspired print-publishing paradigm and enters more computer-mediated network environments. Ted Nelson, in the mid 60s, came up with the term “hypertext” to help describe a new kind of electronic text that practices multi-linear sequencing, that branches out and makes references by way of hotlinks. These links usually give the reader the option to choose what route they would like to follow. The thing about hypertext published on the world wide web that makes it somewhat gestalt-shifting is that once it attaches itself to a globally interconnected protocol like the internet, the boundaries between composition, publication and distribution start melting into each other. Writers become network-publishers, hypermedia curators, net art distributors etc.

When AltX started in late 1993, we were just learning about the potential of hypertext and we began making links to long documents that most people could just print up and read. But we soon came to realise that ‘true’ hypertext is something that cannot be printed—rather, it can develop into something more collaborative and multimedia. So with AltX, the model we developed for our ‘project’ or ‘work-in-progress’ is the network. We see the network-publishing space as transforming the computer from a word-processing machine (an electronic typewriter) that spits out paper and/or floppy disks, into something more immediate ie a hypermedia composition tool that is simultaneously a publishing and distribution tool.

VS You’ve indicated in the past that hypertextual publishing “suggests an alternative to the more rigid, authoritarian linearity of conventional book-contained text”. At the same time you are the author of several books yourself. What do you perceive are the tensions between the two modes of publishing?

MA Good question. The first, most obvious tension, is the struggle that takes place in what Walter Benjamin might have called “the literary production of our time”. My experience is that there is a kind of ‘false consciousness’ being promoted today via outmoded literary forms like, for example, the novel. Having written and published two fairly popular yet very avant-novels, The Kafka Chronicles and Sexual Blood, I know the contemporary book world pretty well and still read a lot of books and respect a lot of the writing coming out of the alternative press scene. But the mainstreaming of so-called ‘literary’ books as mass-media by-products, especially these ‘suspension-of-disbelief’ linear narratives, disgusts me.

The most interesting literature, to me, is that literature which breaks out of the mould of conventional realism and its need to predictably tell a story with ‘real’ characters, plots, settings, etc. Sorry, but my life doesn’t read like this. It’s much more multi-digressionary and has moments of linkage or connectivity that come to light due to associative thinking, parallel processing, collaborative networking, intuitive writing etc. And so what better way for younger, more adventurous writers who know this to be true—but have been quite literally bound by the mainstream book publishing industry—to break out of this rigid structure than to start experimenting with both their writing practice and their political or cultural work vis-a-vis the web?

VS Tell us about GRAMMATRON and Hypertextual Consciousness, two of your most prominent works? Will we be seeing them in FOLDBACK?

MA Yes, I hope to be able to, in the context of my remarks, showcase parts of GRAMMATRON (http://www.GRAMMATRON.com) and perhaps HTC and AltX too. GRAMMATRON started as my third novel. I had written about 30 or 40 pages of narrative that took place in a near-future cyberworld where writers and artists were becoming hypermedia avatars teleporting their multimedia work to immediate global reception. This was in the very early part of 1993, way before Netscape, MSExplorer, Real-Audio, Java, etc. The more I looked at the story, the more I realised that this world was going to soon become our collective reality and I immediately decided that, instead of writing another cyberpunk novel, I would reboot the project and build it more as a “public domain narrative environment”.

The day that I released the current 1.0 version of the project on the net, it was written up in the New York Times and soon thereafter many other international media sources covered it too, thus bringing in a huge audience, more than my books by far. But what’s been most interesting about the project’s reception is that it’s had much more effect, much more attention, in the art world, especially the electronic arts, than in the literary world, which sometimes looks like it is a flailing cockroach that’s just been sprayed with chemicals.

As for HTC, it’s the companion theory guide, a kind of critifictional manifesto for a new way of writing critical theory. I think it’s time to start playing around with theory more, not shy away from it, especially since most artists and/or intellectuals are, in the end, slightly turned on by it. That’s why I decided to use both abstract language and the language of desire and sexuality throughout its screen action.

VS You’ll be embarking on a national tour following FOLDBACK. Are you aware of collaborative writing projects which are using online media in Australia?

MA Yes, I’m aware of some of them. I’ve published many voices from Oz on AltX, starting with Ken Wark and Rosie Cross (geekgirl) in early 1994 and Francesca di Rimini (aka gashgirl) and members of the Electronic Writing Ensemble like Linda Marie Walker, Teri Hoskin and Jyanni Stefensen, as well as young radical writers like the group Mindflux and many others. I’m also looking forward to finding out about many of the other high-energy writing projects that are developing around the country and will be seeking ways to increase the amount of collaboration and exchange that is already taking place between AltX and emerging new media artists in Australia.


ANAT and Ngapartji, FOLDBACK, Ngapartji Multimedia Centre, 211 Rundle Street, Adelaide, 1998 Adelaide Festival, March 8 12 noon http://www.anat.org.au/FOLDBACK

RealTime issue #23 Feb-March 1998 pg. 18

© Vicki Sowry; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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